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Digital Transformation Q1 2024

Implications of AI for public services: outlined risks and benefits

Artificial intelligence and machine learning concept
Artificial intelligence and machine learning concept
iStock / Getty Images Plus / amgun

Jos Creese

Associate Director, Socitm

Learn AI’s impact on public services and how to navigate risks while maximising benefits. Explore insights on regulation, compliance and harnessing AI value.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already everywhere. It is not just the top new technology trend for 2024; it will drive innovation (and digital risk) for the next decade. But this has two serious implications for the public sector:

  • How to respond to international, national, community and citizen threats from AI, without hampering innovation by introducing hurried regulation
  • How to harness this new technology to improve services, reduce cost and deliver social, environmental and economic value, whilst maintaining public trust and controlling risk.

AI risk, compliance and regulation

There are many potential AI problems, from expansion in cyber threats to unintended bias that can compromise the basis of equality and democracy. If these can be contained, the potential benefits of AI will massively outweigh the risks.

One of the biggest concerns is AI’s ability to plausibly make things up and magnify shortcomings in data or bias. Detecting this in complex AI algorithms can be tricky, especially in public service scenarios often supporting vulnerable people. This means the pace of adoption of AI in the public sector will need to be moderated by the need to first address trust, liability, bias, reputation and ‘errors’.

Our research indicates that AI will enhance
rather than replace human activity.

Harnessing AI value

Socitm’s ‘digital trends 2024’ report states that AI is a significant technology development, but the majority of public service leaders will take a cautious approach in the coming year. ‘Data readiness’ and strong governance with accountability, will be keys to success.

Early applications will be in areas such health diagnostics, customer service automation, data consolidation and reporting, in optimising a range of administrative functions and workflows . Decision-making hierarchies that previously relied on the collective responsibility of various professionals will gradually be improved.

Our research indicates that AI will enhance rather than replace human activity, by designing simpler processes, structuring resource allocation, and providing ‘trigger alerts’ when risks or deviations from ‘the norm’ require further investigation, investment or intervention.

AI public sector AI trend summary

Overview of opportunity:
•Specific application areas, such as health diagnostics
•Citizen service interfaces and workflows connect data, services and organisations with greater automation
•Data analyses gaining new insights and improved individual and team productivity
Risks and challenges:
•Managing bias, error, ethical concerns and reputational risks
•Skills shortages in the public sector
•New cyber risks from AI used as an attack vector
Where to start:
•Ensure a good base of policy, accountability and risk before deploying at scale
•Ensure human intervention is always present as a ‘safety valve’
•Develop in-house skills, senior/political awareness and leadership
Early benefits:
•Increased service automation
•Insight into opportunities for early intervention and preventative action
•Improve outcomes by understanding complex data relationships across service functions
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