IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Do Gov Tech Suppliers Need to Provide More AI Education?

For some executives and other experts, the answer is "yes," and they are showing the way. Optibus and Motorola have set their own approaches to deepening understanding of artificial intelligence, with more to come.

No technology commands as much buzz right now as artificial intelligence. But that doesn’t mean everyone really knows AI — especially in the public sector, usually relatively slow to take on new digital tools.

That might be changing, at least judging from several recent efforts from academics, government technology suppliers and other experts.

One example comes from Optibus.

The Israel-based seller of public transit software in May launched the Optibus Academy for Universities.

Behind that rather vague name stands a precise mission: bringing “long overdue AI tools into the classroom [to] prepare students to build the public transportation networks of the future,” according to a company spokesperson.


Via one-day and “embedded” workshops that run for a full semester, and programs at career fairs, the gov tech supplier aims to raise AI awareness and education, and prepare students for careers as decision-makers in the public sector, said Amos Haggiag, Optibus CEO and co-founder.

“We would like students and academics to view AI platforms as a key tool in planning and operating transportation,” he told Government Technology. “We would love for Optibus to be that go-to platform for every operation and a must-have skill on students’ resume.”

Ask just about anyone about artificial intelligence and you are likely to get many dystopian views shaped by pop culture — say, “The Terminator” or “The Matrix” franchises — or worries that reflect warnings from scientists and engineers. AI, too, often is seen as a way for students to cheat or a threat to jobs and paychecks and even long-established economic systems.

“Anything that is new is going to be scary,” Haggiag said.

But no matter how one views AI — or how disruptive it will be — the reality is that public agencies, from cities to states to higher education systems to the federal government, are turning to ChatGPT and other AI tools for a quickly growing list of jobs: traffic and utility management, weather forecasting, budget planning, law enforcement, the drafting of press releases, climate resilience and tutoring are a few current examples.


“This is a really exciting time for cities to benefit from the new tools,” said Lena Geraghty, director, sustainability and innovation, for the National League of Cities. “A healthy wariness is really good, but thoughtful consideration can also be important.”

As cities slowly but surely test, buy and deploy AI, local leaders need to ask better questions about the technology, and gov tech suppliers need to do more to support those conversations via facts and education, she said.

Those conversations also should go beyond the basic uses of AI. They need to take into account the risks to cities poised by AI systems that might be biased, including racially, lest local governments open themselves up to new rounds of political criticism and liability.


For obvious reasons, public safety comes with its own set of severe risks around AI that include not only potential racism but life-and-death decision-making.

“We have to accept that AI sits not just in the hands of those who are well-intentioned but also potentially bad actors motivated to pollute the world with misinformation,” Mahesh Saptharishi, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Motorola Solutions, wrote in an email interview.

Saptharishi said the company works hand in hand with public safety clients on AI training, and on how to demonstrate to community members the positive ways AI can be used, such as in performing much quicker data analysis to, say, find a missing child.

The company’s Summit 2023, a gathering of Motorola Solutions customers, devoted several workshops to framing AI in such ways, he said.

“In each of these examples, AI is used to assist and accelerate human decision-making, not to replace it,” he said. “The belief that a human should always be in the loop is central to Motorola Solutions’ development and deployment of AI technology.”


On a broader level, another new educational push might also help public officials ask better questions about AI and view the technology in deeper ways.

In early May, InnovateUS, a training ground for public agency professionals, launched a free, interactive video providing information about how to use generative AI such as ChatGPT.

InnovateUS said the video is the first of other planned installments meant to spark conversation about how the public sector should use AI. Questions and feedback from earlier videos will help the organization create new ones.

That reflects the emerging theme when it comes to AI education for the public sector: It’s a lengthy effort that has just started, work that will no doubt evolve as AI does.

That’s how Haggiag from Optibus sees it, describing the “long-term investment” in students who in the coming decades will be leaders in the public sector and gov tech.

“They are going to join the workforce with a higher sense of awareness about the application of AI and will be more open to AI than previous generations,” he said. “B2G tech vendors play a major role in that awareness and education because we are the ones that best understand the technology, its applications and how the industry is already using it.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.