By Alfred Kim
The future holds exciting prospects with the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Public policy will have to develop accordingly to facilitate this new tool; AI may also become an asset for public policy itself.
There is a common misconception that there have been signs of conscience development. Although no one is ruling out the possibilities of science fiction becoming a reality, recently published papers show that AI entities only perform tasks involving human level intelligence, without human consciousness. Automation and AI are used interchangeably, but it is important to distinguish the two. AI entity involves machine learning, pattern seeking and self-decision making. Automation lets machines perform repetitive, monotonous tasks.
There have been interesting developments and implementations of AI in government. Ray Greenwood (AI and Machine Learning Domain Expert with SAS Australia and New Zealand) emphasises that their main goal is to help make better use of data for stronger decisions. The first step involving simply increasing efficiency of data management through automation. This is because much of human capital that could be used elsewhere is used in data management. Implications of AI in other sectors include cybersecurity, DevOps, manufacturing, healthcare, city planning, education and more. Deloitte also shared their take on the impacts of AI on organisations, discussing the current situation with AI benefits such as innovation, optimisation, and creativity.
Whilst there is a focus on making data management negligible to human capital, Greenwood has acknowledged that investing in improvements in data storage, extraction and management systems are not necessarily critical to AI. Currently and in the near future of government, we can see AI helping in terms of efficiency and lessened time consumption, cost savings and increased productivity. Statistical analytics have been produced in several different government agencies such as health and energy departments, where empirical evidence is more easily applied.
However, we still do not know to what extent AI can strengthen government decision making. The focus is on improving efficiency of analysis and automation, for now. Empirical evidence-based policy still lacks acknowledgement from the general population, and the fact that we do not know what to do with AI in government means that more research and development is needed before we see any significant changes take place in evidence-based policy. This is the critical part of AI.
As with all developmental entities, AI brings new challenges where public policy is involved. In contrast with SAS, Clare Curran (Minister for Government Digital Services and Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, May 2018) reported their first step to involve “formalising the government’s relationship with Otago University’s NZ Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies.” As the use of data becomes increasing inflated, the ethical challenges presented to those involved in the data also increase, involving everyone from citizens to government, business and academia. These challenges include unemployment, inequality, human behaviour and interaction with AI, bias, security and more. The World Economic Forum summarises these ethical issues in a very concise and profound manner. Curran concluded the report by stating that “Ultimately, New Zealand’s AI journey is approaching a crossroad, where we either choose to proactively help shape AI’s impact on our economy and society, or we passively let AI shape our future lives. To shape, or be shaped?”.
We do not know everything that is possible with AI. Its wide scale applicability of practically all sectors predicts immense impacts to the economy and society. To put it into perspective, the increased efficiency AI brings to the table is only the beginning, the computational power of future AI may drive many innovations to come. The world is rushing to gain and advance this computational power, and it is understandably causing wide confusion to citizens, even some panic, because of the ethical challenges rising numerously and rapidly. It would make sense to hold those directly involved in the development of AI responsible and accountable for keeping this development safe and positive.
The Public Policy Club is a non-partisan club at the University of Auckland that aims to encourage, educate and involve students from all backgrounds in the education and development of political knowledge. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PPC.