In some industries, the use of artificial intelligence is a fairly new development. That’s not the case when it comes to government. For many years now, the U.S. federal government has made widespread use of AI in defense, intelligence and public safety applications, along with various other applications that improve government accessibility and efficiency.
Today, many federal agencies, along with growing numbers of state and local entities, are capitalizing on the opportunity to put AI to work to reduce administrative burdens, resolve resource allocation problems, and accelerate complex and time‑consuming tasks. These initiatives make the government more efficient at serving its constituents while freeing employees for higher-value work.
Here’s one example of the gains made possible with AI. In the 1990s, the U.S. Postal Service started using machine vision methods to recognize handwritten addresses and automatically route letters. The modern version of this technology now helps sort 25 billion letters per year, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in operational costs.1
Today, government agencies are exploring creative ways to use AI in countless other applications, from identifying and managing chronic and pandemic diseases to improving food security and sustainable agriculture. In many ways, the potential use cases for AI in government services are limited only by resource constraints and the reach of the human imagination.
In a sign of this trend, government spending on cognitive and AI solutions is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 54.3 percent through 2021, followed by ongoing year-over-year growth for the next several years, according to IDC. These investments, the firm says, will be “driven by long-term public sector goals of reducing spending and improving citizen services.”2
Common use cases
The potential use cases for AI in government are as broad as the functions of government itself. Here are some examples of the way governmental entities are capitalizing on artificial intelligence and the power of high performance computing.
- Public safety — In times of public safety emergencies, AI systems can greatly improve access to information for emergency responders. Emergency responders, for example, can use image and data processing capabilities in AI systems to more accurately pinpoint danger zones and to more effectively target responses to catastrophic weather events, natural disasters and other threats to public safety. In one such application, U.S. governmental entities are now piloting an AI-driven system called AUDREY to assist first responders in synthesizing high-level data while at the scene of an emergency. This human-like reasoning system provides insight that first responders may not have in the crucial moments of an emergency, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.3
- Customer service — Conversational AI platforms, such as chatbots and virtual customer assistants, can greatly improve access to information for both the public and governmental employees, while automating time‑consuming customer-service functions. These tools can help users get questions answered quickly, without clicking through complex websites or spending time on hold waiting for a customer-service agent to become available. A case in point: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency operates a chatbot named “Emma.” This computer-generated virtual assistant answers questions based on users’ own words, in English or Spanish. Emma provides immediate responses to questions about services, guides users through the agency’s website, and finds information based on the user’s questions and search terms.4
- Information searches — National, state and local governments strive to make public information readily available to citizens. AI systems can make it happen. They can quickly categorize and search through massive amounts of documents and images to help people find the information they seek in real time. One example: A paper from the Harvard Ash Center cites the case of a state government that uses AI to help users search more than a million pages of documents.5 Tasks like that would be all but impossible to do manually.
- Social services — With the ability to search through and make sense of massive amounts of unstructured information, all the way down to handwritten notes, AI systems can help predict the need for case-worker interventions to protect vulnerable individuals, improve child welfare and decrease substance abuse. In another benefit for social service agencies, AI systems can ease the administrative burdens on case workers, which contribute to high staff turnover rates. A Deloitte study notes, “AI-based technologies can be put to use in human services to help agencies alleviate the considerable administrative burden on caseworkers, free up time for more critical tasks, improve decision-making, and deliver better, faster services.”6
- Translation — National, state and local governments have a constant need for language translation — from local agencies that need to communicate with immigrants to intelligence and law enforcement operations that need to search through documents in many languages. With the language-processing capabilities available in today’s AI systems, governments can greatly reduce their translation burdens. As Deloitte notes in its study on AI-augmented government, “Machine translation has obvious implications for international relations, defense, and intelligence, as well as, in our multilingual society, numerous domestic applications.”6
- Facial recognition — With today’s computer vision capabilities, AI systems can help government and police agencies recognize faces to verify identities and spot suspected criminals in crowds. In New York State, for example, a Department of Motor Vehicles facial recognition technology program has identified tens of thousands of possible cases of identity theft, helping the state crack down on fraud, identity theft and other offenses.7
- Fraud detection — Governments can use AI systems to search through complex financial documents and datasets to detect suspicious patterns and questionable data that could be indicators of fraudulent activities, from tax evasion to the filing of benefit claims for deceased people. In these efforts, AI systems can run checks against diverse datasets and apply thousands of rules to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate activities.
- Cyber‑security — Government networks, computer systems and software programs are continually subject to threats from bad actors — from cyber-criminals seeking personal information on public websites to rouge states focused on espionage. AI systems are helping governments fight back by analyzing millions of data points in real time, continually searching for vulnerabilities and identifying suspicious behaviors. Even better, they can be trained to automatically block suspicious traffic in real time.
- National defense — AI is now one of the essential keys to defending our nation against foreign and domestic threats. From analyzing drone footage and protecting forces on the ground to guiding combat systems more accurately, AI has applications throughout the military. In an indication of the growing importance of AI to national defense, a U.S. Defense Department agency plans to invest up to $2 billion over the next five years toward new programs advancing artificial intelligence.8
A DoD case study
MIT Lincoln Laboratory supports research and development work aimed at solutions to problems that are critical to the United States. The research conducted at the federally funded Department of Defense R&D center spans a wide range of fields that increasingly use AI technologies, including space observations, robotic vehicles, communications, cyber security, machine learning, sensor processing, electronic devices, bioinformatics and air traffic control. MIT Lincoln Laboratory takes projects from the initial concept stage, through simulation and analysis, to designing and building working prototypes.
National, state and local leaders are focused on creating more efficient, secure and responsive government. In these efforts, artificial intelligence is one of the keys to success. With AI, governments can reduce administrative burdens, improve services, cut costs and solve some of the really hard problems we face — like protecting our nation from a growing range of threats.
Ready to learn more?
For a close-up look at the use of supercomputing resources at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, read the Dell EMC case study “Petaflop Performance.” To learn more about unlocking the value of data with artificial intelligence systems, explore Dell EMC AI Solutions.
1 “Reflections on the status and future of artificial intelligence,” Eric Horvitz, Hearing before the Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, United States Senate, November 30, 2016.
2 IDC, “U.S. Government Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence Forecast, 2018–2021: Federal and State and Local Should See Moderate Growth,” March 2018.
3 Department of Homeland Security, “Snapshot: Public Safety Agencies Pilot Artificial Intelligence to Aid in First Response,” October 16, 2018
4 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Meet Emma, Our Virtual Assistant.”
5 Hila Mehr, Harvard Ash Center Technology & Democracy Fellow, “Artificial Intelligence for Citizen Services and Government,” August 2017.
6 Deloitte, “AI-augmented human services,” October 18, 2017.
7 New York State, “Governor Cuomo Announces Major Facial Recognition Technology Milestone with 21,000 Fraud Cases Investigated,” August 21, 2017.
8 The Washington Post, “Defense Department pledges billions toward artificial intelligence research