Sofia Ihsan, Trusted AI Lead at EY, explains her stance on activating AI in the public sector
The UK Government has a clear ambition when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI), and activating AI in the public sector. While the UK is already a leader, the aim is to make Britain a global AI superpower.
Indeed, the Government’s own research shows that more than 1.3 million UK businesses will use AI by 2040 and spending on AI is expected to reach more than £200 billion by the same date. However, in contrast to the private sector, AI adoption in the public sector has a long way to go.
AI in the public sector has some very distinct challenges. It’s particularly beset by tighter budgets, work within strict measures when it comes to taking on new technology projects, has a lack of technical skills, and in many areas is still reliant on legacy technology.
However, there is a clear appetite for change. For example, AI has the potential to make a significant difference in health and care settings through its ability to analyse large quantities of complex information. That’s why the NHS Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (NHS AI Lab) was created and tasked with bringing together government, health and care providers, academics, and technology companies to help realise AI’s potential.
For the implementation of AI to be effective, it should cover three transformational pillars: function (the part of the organisation where change will happen), people (who will deliver the benefit) and technology (the tools and partners employed).
“The UK Government has a clear ambition when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI), and activating AI in the public sector. While the UK is already a leader, the aim is to make Britain a global AI superpower.”
However, there are some fundamentals to unite public organisations and their partners around getting the right investment in and understanding these projects: the benefits AI could deliver for the public sector in particular and ensuring the ethical use of AI. And that’s what we’ll explore here.
The application of AI in the public sector
One of the biggest benefits of AI is its ability to streamline processes. This doesn’t mean eliminating the need for humans, but instead helping them with their role to ensure that back-office processes are tightened up so they can focus on bigger picture tasks – such as driving legislation to better support citizens or developing business strategies that work towards improving public sector experiences.
The use of AI in the public sector can improve efficiency and effectiveness, thus increasing overall productivity in classically manual processes. For example, whether this is using AI to support medical diagnosis or screening for resource optimisation and allocation, which involves assigning scarce resources, such as doctors, nurses, police officers, and paramedics, to locations and activities where they are more likely to be highly utilised.
“It’s not always about throwing out the old technology to bring in something radically different, but instead working with the right partners who can be trusted to deliver complex transformations at scale.”
The public sector can use this current implementation of AI to build forward-looking solutions based on employee and citizen needs, but this requires a multifaceted approach across scientific disciplines, industries and government. The UK’s National AI Strategy was developed in recognition of this need for collaboration to make AI a success, and it’s a notion we’ve seen reflected in our work in the sector.
Ethical use of AI
It’s widely known that the future of AI rests in the implementation of an ethical framework and adhering to the regulations that surround it, particularly when using, storing, and handling data. In fact, we know the Government is soon set to release a whitepaper covering the regulation of AI.
What we can say now, is the ethical use of AI ultimately comes down to trust. People are increasingly aware of the value their data holds and they do not take kindly to those who fail to protect it, making data ethics, regulation, and security essential to consumer or citizen trust.
Ethical AI isn’t just about preventing bias, it’s also about being to explain why a course of action has been suggested or a decision has been made. To ensure citizens feel comfortable sharing their data, organisations need to be clear and transparent about how that data will be used and be able to provide an appropriate explanation as to how an outcome or decision was reached for those impacted. Citizens also want assurance that should there be an error or a problem they have a clear path to getting this addressed – accountability. This will create a virtuous circle: the more people that trust you, the more data they’ll share with you; the more data they share, the better your AI – and ultimately, your organisation’s outcomes.
Moving forward we can expect to see organisations intensify their focus on issues of AI governance including security, privacy and ethics to make sure that trust is at the cornerstone of any new solutions.
AI is not the preserve of the private sector
When reflecting on the past, present, and future of AI we must remember one thing – AI is not solely reserved for private sector use. Whether it’s a local council, a non-for-profit or a global private corporation, the value AI can deliver is huge.
We believe that it’s not always about throwing out the old technology to bring in something radically different, but instead working with the right partners who can be trusted to deliver complex transformations at scale.
By having an in-depth understanding of AI’s future potential, leaders across both the public and private sectors can make sure they’re setting their organisations up to succeed and doing so responsibly.