Digital transformation: Artificial intelligence in the public sector

Artificial intelligence in the public sector
© Andranik Hakobyan |

Here, we look at the digital transformation of government, focussing on the role of artificial intelligence in the public sector

Former Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, once remarked that: “I believe the creation of the Government Digital Service is one of the great unsung triumphs of the last Parliament.” Today, the role of the Government Digital Service (GDS) as part of the Cabinet Office concerns the digital transformation of government. On the GDS’s blog, they sum up what they are all about in their own words. “We’re a centre of excellence in digital, technology and data, collaborating with departments to help them with their own transformation. We work with them to build platforms, standards, and digital services.” (1)

Artificial intelligence in the public sector

Recently, the GDS has published joint guidance with the Office for Artificial Intelligence about how to use and build artificial intelligence (AI) in the public sector. (2)
In A guide to using artificial intelligence in the public sector, we learn that AI could change the way we live and work, for example, several public sector organisations use AI for tasks ranging from fraud detection to answering customer queries successfully today. While it is estimated that AI could contribute 5% of the UK’s GDP by 2030, ethical, fairness and safety considerations must be taken into account
The paper also gives a very useful definition of AI, that includes the following: “At its core, AI is a research field spanning philosophy, logic, statistics, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive psychology and economics
“AI can be defined as the use of digital technology to create systems capable of performing tasks commonly thought to require intelligence
“Machine learning is the most widely-used form of AI, and has contributed to innovations like self-driving cars, speech recognition and machine translation.”
One of the many case studies highlighted in the paper concerns the Department for International Development who partnered with Columbia University, the University of Southampton, and the United Nations Population Fund “to apply a random forest machine learning algorithm to satellite image and micro-census data.” Another is about how the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) uses AI to improve MOT testing.
The paper also draws our attention to the fact that AI can benefit the public sector, such as giving more accurate information, predictions and forecasts that result in better outcomes, more accurate medical diagnoses or automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks to free up the valuable time of frontline staff.
However, with an AI project, you need to consider several factors, including AI ethics and safety the paper urges, such as data quality, fairness, accountability, privacy, explainability and transparency, plus costs. The paper also notes that you need to ensure that your AI system is compliant with GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), including the points that concern automated decision making.
“Automated decisions in this context are decisions made without human intervention, which have legal or similarly significant effects on ‘data subjects’. For example, an online decision to award a business grant.
“If you want to use automated processes to make decisions with legal or similarly significant effects on individuals you must follow the safeguards laid out in the GDPR and DPA 2018.” (3)

Industrial Strategy

This article draws on a few highlights from the paper and it is well worth taking time to read the extensive information contained within.

The paper refers to the Industrial Strategy White Paper, which places AI and Data as one of four Grand Challenges, with support of up to £950 million in the AI Sector Deal.

In 2019, the then Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright, provided his own thoughts on AI whilst underlining the innovation taking place in the UK’s ‘tech for good’ sector.

“Britain is already a leading authority in AI. We are home to some of the world’s finest academic institutions, landing record levels of investment to the sector and attracting the best global tech talent, but we must not be complacent.

“Through our AI Council we will continue this momentum by leveraging the knowledge of experts from a range of sectors to provide leadership on the best use and adoption of artificial intelligence across the economy.” (4)

GDS: Working hard to make their services work better

In closing, it was recently highlighted on the website of GDS that they are working hard to make “services work

better for their users”. During recent years, we learn that hundreds of services went through user-centred digital transformation and as such, now meet GDS’s Service Standard. The GDS supply more detail about this in their own words as this article about the digital transformation of government is near the end.

“Thousands of user-centred design specialists are working alongside digital, policy, and operations professionals to make services less complex, easier to understand, and simpler to use.” (5)

This fits in really well with the new legal regulations that oblige public sector bodies to make websites and apps accessible. (6)



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