While artificial intelligence is a multifaceted phenomenon, there are some shared perspectives among government officials. They’re pondering the workforce implications of AI and the emerging role of data as a driving force for improvement. They’re developing a small-steps approach to AI implementation, and they’re wrangling with potential ethical issues.
Here we’ll take a deep dive into some of these views.
Despite concern among workers that AI could automate them right out of a job, federal leaders seem unified in their view that the purpose of artificial intelligence is to augment rather than displace the conventional workforce.
“We are not replacing people,” notes Captain Michael Kanaan, US Air Force Enterprise Lead for Artificial Intelligence and co-chair of the US Air Forces' Cross-Functional Team on Artificial Intelligence. “Any organization that starts with driving down costs or replacing people I think is creating an environment for a lot of perverse behaviors. This is about doing things better. This is about serving your customer better. This about taking care of your employees better.”
At all levels of federal government, people are mired down in mundane tasks and routine work that could be offloaded onto AI. A key promise of this technology is that it will free workers to tackle higher-level work.
“If you're already a knowledge worker and your engineering team comes with solutions that automate 20 percent of your tasks, chances are you can fill that 20 percent with other tasks that are more meaningful,” says Michael Karlin, Team Lead – Data Policy for the Canadian Department of National Defence.
Rather than taking jobs away from people, “I think ‘job transformation’ is more likely,” says Presidential Innovation Fellow Jeff Starr. “If my job is going to be changed by bringing machine learning methodology into my organization, the question is: How do I adapt to that?”
Across the boards, workers will need to have a better grasp of the ways in which data can be used to drive federal processes. They don’t have to know the nuts-and-bolts of how AI works, but they will need a higher level of data literacy all around. “I don't think we need 10,000 data scientists to descend on government,” says Presidential Innovation Fellow Justin Koufopoulos. “It's about having those critical thinking skills -- some analytical ability, some understanding of data.”
All our experts agreed that engagement is a key strategy here. Given widespread skepticism, neither the business nor IT can just foist AI on the workforce. There will need to be deep, meaningful conversations around the uses of AI and its potential for worker augmentation. Training will be integral to long-term success.