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Applied AI in Public Administration

"We’re not living in the golden age of AI, but we are living in the golden age of AI-enhanced productivity." - Miranda Katz, Wired Magazine 2017

How can AI transform public administration?

Many diverse and complex tasks are carried out the in ministries, government agencies, regions, municipalities and other organizations serving the public. A lot of data is used, and a lot of historical data is available, a lot of rules needs to be followed and a lot of rules have to be interpreted. This is a great starting point for applying AI.

"Cognitive technologies have the potential to revolutionize the public sector - and save billions of dollars."

The abovementioned is the headliner for the executive summary of a Deloitte  report on the "AI-Augmented Government" - a government utilizing AI alongside the “existing” intelligence.  

Artificial intelligence requires training, testing, and validation before solutions can be put to use. The technology also requires transparency, especially in the context of the public sector. But the potential in combining government processes with artificial intelligence are grand.

In Denmark, public authorities have already seen this potential and work proactively with new technologies that can assist public servants in finding patterns, matching data, and automating manual processes.

Automating and Augmenting Government: Relieve, Split up, Replace and Extend

Process automation and -augmentation can be approached in many ways. Deloitte describe four non-discrete categories, as overlapsping will occur, depending on the type of task and organization:

Relieve

The technology takes over mundane tasks such as answering standard questions in a call center or giving the caller access to AI-enabled queries, freeing up worktime for more valuable tasks.

Split up

The technology breaks a task into steps, automating as much as possible while letting a human supervisor finish the remainder. For example, AI-assisted translations helping employees communicate with citizens not speaking the native language.

Replace

An AI-supported solution completes a full process. This could be sorting of mail based on AI that can read addresses and sort the mail accordingly. Today, this method is fit for simpler processes, but it is expected that in the future AI will handle increasingly complex tasks.

Augment or Extend

This is where AI really fits in - but it is still early days for great solutions. The ambition is to combine workers and technology with "AI Assistants" that (preferably) help them carrying out tasks that were not possible before.

AI-supported tools are developed and employed today. This include solutions for call centers, support for processing forms and applications and solutions for legal assistance and fraud detection. Other AI solutions are relevant for the diverse and broad areas of assignments the public sector handles when it comes to taxation, crime, energy, depfense, transportation, planning and more. Our focus here is primarily on AI technology for legal case processing in relation to handling forms, applications and enquirers.

"People thought that AI cannot become as creative as humans or as special as humans. It's not true."

- Nadira Azerman, CEO of Scriptbook

Compared to other areas of interest for investors, there has not been a lot of venture capital investments into technology for public administration. That might be changing.

Looking into investments in legal tech - technology supporting legal work - which covers more than just AI solutions, they are modest compared to other sectors such as finance and healthcare. But the level of investment is on the rise.

In Q3 of 2017, $226 million was invested across 74 deals. This is an increase by 43 percent over 2016. At the current run-rate, 2017 is on track to see more than $300M invested across 100 deals. This is just investments in start-ups, so what is going on at IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, etc. should be added to this figure.

Legal tech annual global financing graph

Three areas with huge potential for AI in public administration

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Natural Language processing

Artificial intelligence can significantly reduce the time and improve efficiency in legal work. NLP and text analytics can summarize thousands of pages of legal documents within minutes. A task that would take a human counterpart several days and account for a higher risk of errors. Interesting companies include TextIQ and eBrevia.

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Legal assistants

Legal assistants can, for example, help teams sort through case law to find details relevant to new cases and get updates when new material relevant to a case is discovered. Interesting companies include Casetext, ROSS Intelligence, and Judicata.

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Chatbots

“Chatbots” have the potential to reduce the load on call or customer service centers. Chatbots, or just bots, are typically linked directly to a customer service agent who can be used for more complex queries, and has the ability to “learn” the correct way to answer queries. Chatbots are being developed to help apply for Visa or assist with immigration. Examples of this is VisaBot and Boundless Immigration. Other solutions, like DigitalGenius, analyzes incoming messages, predicts and routes case handling, provides agents with accurate suggestions and automate responses.

A more detailed look into the AI-powered solutions

DigitalGenius, ROSS Intelligence, and Casetext, companies also mentioned above, have developed solutions with a huge potential to change public administration. To illustrate the idea behind the different solutions and the potential impact look down below.

Two public agencies looking into applying AI

The Danish Immigration Service and the State Administration are both looking into applying AI to help with complex case processing, quality inspection, and more.

The Danish Immigration service

US_logo_RGB_WEB.pngThe Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen in Danish) is the administrative branch of the Danish government responsible for processing cases related to foreign nationals wishing to visit or stay in Denmark for an extended period.

Major case areas handled by the Immigration Service include applications for asylum, family reunification, visa, applications for permanent residence, citizenship and housing of refugees. A selection of key figures from 2016:

Some of the major cases handled here are the application for asylum, family reunification, visa, permanent residence, citizenship, and housing of refugees. 

Udlændingestyrelsen numbers-1.pngSource(s): Tal og fakta på udlændingeområdet rapport 2016

While it is still early days when it comes to using AI in The Danish Immigration Service they are actively looking into advanced automation and making use of “Big data”-solutions. The Danish Immigration service is already highly digitalized, so there is a lot of high quality data available. Therefore using AI is a logical next step.

In 2017, a new unit was established; The Data Group. It is a cross-functional unit with a business data focus. The main purpose is to ensure the availability of the right data at the right time at a high quality.

Along this initiative, a business development initiative is discussed, using data even more than the already intensive use today. Some of the AI scenarios discussed at The Danish Immigration Service are better tools for quality controls and tools for helping employees prepare cases, by finding relevant case material in the huge amount of both structured and unstructured data available.

The State Administration

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The State Administration (Statsforvaltningen in Danish) is a cross-ministerial body responsible of handling a variety of issues on behalf of the state.

The State Administration processes cases relating to adoption, name change, separation- and divorces and child custody. All tasks belonging to The Ministry for Children and Social Affairs. The State Administration also handles selected issues belonging to the other Ministries, such as Ministry of Health, Ministry of Immigration and Integration, Ministry of Justice and others.   

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 Source(s): Statsforvaltningens årsrapport 2016

When it comes to it-supported work and service processes, The State Administration is at the forefront of Danish public organizations. A testimony to the latter was how the organization was awarded the "Digitalization Award" of 2017 (Digitaliseringsprisen) for their work on the “Family life – overview in difficult times”-solution developed to support families during divorce or separation and ensure a “360 degree view”.

The State Administration is currently discussing how AI can be utilized as a part of new projects. There are quite a number of project candidates, but not all require advanced AI solutions. Some are “just” based on traditional software development and advanced automation products. But in other projects the AI technology’s capability to process and discover patterns in large data sets  can be an immensely valuable tool.

Below are three scenarios where The Danish Immigration Service and The State Administration are thinking about using AI technology as part of a solution. The cases have yet to be implemented, but are all project candidates being discussed as part of the ongoing digitalization and automation in the two organizations.