Artificial intelligence is set to exceed almost all human capability across almost all industries. Furthermore, it is also expected to augment human labor. In the finance industry, AI is already behind financial planning and investment; in medicine, diagnostics systems backed by AI are proving to be way more accurate than doctors in the diagnosis of cancer and heart disease. I could go on but it is probably sufficient to say that there are hundreds of use cases that represent well over $6 trillion in value over 19 different industries.

But where do governments come in? How will AI impact local, national, federal and international governments?

Waking the Governments

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many public sector agencies are already working with AI technology. In the federal government, AI-powered interfaces are being used for customer service and AI-backed software is being used for the automation of mundane tasks and in the update of legacy systems. The first phase is in place, with investment in legal adjudication, infrastructure planning, citizen response systems, and fraud detection.

But, aside from these investments, the government is still way behind public sector companies in the integration and deployment of AI. As you would expect.

The augmentation of the government through AI is vital to the modernization of the public sector.  Applications based on AI can potentially reduce work backloads and taking on mundane work to free up workers for more important tasks, not to mention reducing costs. Deloitte reports that the documentation and recording of information cost more than $16 billion a year in wages, spread over half-a-billion staff hours. Add an extra $15 billion in the procurement and processing of the information and it is clear to see how AI can transform the bureaucracy that surrounds governments.

It is argued that technology affordances are critical in overhauling governments and hauling them into the modern world. Taking democracy into the Big Data era can go a long way towards a reduction in public sector dysfunction. Machine learning and sensor technology could reduce regulation while reinforcing and increasing oversight.

Deep learning is representative of a resolution in machine-use for decision making, management, forecasting, classifying data and in synthesizing information. If deep learning tools were used and built on, we could see significant improvements in service delivery, in raising public service work and awareness.

It could also result in governments being remade altogether!

A Digital Leviathan

In the USA, action required on many different issues has been somewhat stymied by toxicity in federal politics and demographic polarization. Those issues include gun control, immigration reform, welfare reform, even faith in the government itself.

In China, an entirely different type of government model is being pioneered. The new economic thinking is worlds away from the previous soviet-style of planning that led to oppression and scarcity. Now, Big Data is being used to shape the markets with the potential to leapfrog over democracy. With Big Data, China is using AI and sensor technologies to bring in a kind of ‘techno-utilitarianism’ that could fast overtake the current way of making decisions.

The big question is, can this type of model work for other governments in other countries? If it can, where does that leave democracy? Western thinking, indeed, their fears, are that China is fast heading towards digital autocracy and on a scale that could never have been imagined until now. Given that China is one of the fastest expanding countries in the use of AI, and the fact that they have one hell of an influence over the developing world, it begs the question, what government systems are necessary for the management of a society driven by artificial intelligence? And is there any potential for real exploitation in a system of algorithmic control and management that is vast.

The biggest question facing governmental adoption of AI is whether or not it would destroy democracy. In reality, AI is a disruptive technology and, once it is let out of the box, it cannot be put back in.

It is a mainstream technology now and it must be integrated effectively into the way we make decisions, now and in the future, especially in government institutions. It is a fact that certain government functions will be eliminated altogether by AI. But new tools will also be introduced that can augment democracy, including open government and smart citizenship.

Instead of democracy OR technocracy, the future is likely to be a mixture of both.

We do know that centralized systems are being left in the dust, that top-down decision making will soon be a thing of the past. According to the former head of Obama’s Open Government Initiative, Beth Noveck, representative democracy is now in crisis, that of legitimacy. The rationale behind closed decision-making systems, where citizens are only involved in the voting process or in interest groups, is now way in the past. We live in an era of networks and the only way to go forward is with the right tools to bridge algorithms using decision-making that is wholly collaborative.

In simple terms, digital democracies are required to build on the capabilities offered by Big Data and AI and that is where governments will see the biggest changes.