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3 Ways AI Can Make a Splash in Government, Fast

At a recent gathering of public- and private-sector technology leaders, discussions included several examples of how AI can help the public sector without piling onto time and resource burdens.

The State of GovTech 2023 event in Foster City, Calif., on Nov. 14. Photo by Hlib Shabashnyi/CivStart.
With AI offering promise to help government address its struggles hiring and retaining skilled workers, many in the public sector are somewhere in the process of learning about, evaluating or experimenting with the technology.

But they need it to make a big difference, fast. So how can AI do that?

At the recent State of GovTech 2023 conference in Foster City, Calif., public- and private-sector leaders and experts gave several examples. Here are three highlighted during the conference:

1. Finding answers in large data sets

Oftentimes, AI acts as a “super search” tool, helping users find what they’re looking for without requiring exact language matches. That could be helpful in government, where people and systems scattered throughout multiple departments hold pieces of the answer a constituent or government employee might be searching for.

“A helpful case study for this is when people are asking questions and looking for information and the AI is able to answer that, because a lot of information in government is very fragmented, there are a lot of silos where one person from one department is holding all the information and someone else like myself is looking for the information,” said Vivian Nguyen, a city councilmember in Everett, Mass., and co-founder of the gov tech startup Legislaide. “And I can't find that person, even though he's answered the question a million times, and someone else has come to him to ask that question. But I don't know that, I don't know who else has asked that question, and tracking down that answer is already such a tedious task. And I think that's where AI comes into play, where it can give you the correct information the first time around.”

2. Formatting for compliance

Much time is spent in government ensuring that documents are formatted a specific way, often to comply with laws and regulations. In Los Altos Hills, Calif., City Manager Peter Pirnejad has been evaluating AI as a way to help his staff handle tasks associated with municipal meetings. Putting together minutes for meetings is a time-consuming process, but AI can both transcribe audio into text and search through text for specified information, then spit out those words as a formatted document.

“If it saves my staff 80 percent of the time … right now it probably takes them two to three hours to put together just action minutes,” Pirnejad said. “If they could do that, and they just have to make sure the motion is correct, it's a huge win.”

That’s a similar problem Nguyen is seeking to solve with her startup, Legislaide. The company has created technology to write ordinances, resolutions and other legislation in the correct format.

3. Live-action assistance

Representatives from Verint, a customer engagement technology company, described their approach to AI for government call centers as narrow and pointed. That is, they don’t seek to deliver a single solution to handle many tasks, but instead built chatbots with very specific functions.

One of those functions is guiding call center agents on how to respond while they’re on a live call.

“It helps … as a transcription engine that listens to the call and can help send the agent some pop-ups that say, ‘Why don't you say this?’ or ‘There's overspeak, somebody's talking over you. Maybe stop talking, let them talk’ — those types of things, where bots are really enhancing the agent rather than taking people's jobs,” said Cody Short, an account executive with Verint.

Chatbots can also perform administrative tasks that might otherwise bog down managers, such as scoring calls to make sure call-takers met checklist items such as greeting the caller.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.