Take a look around the typical home or car today, and you can see the impact of digital technology on your everyday activities. Organizations of all kinds are using new technologies to deliver game-changing products and services impacting all levels of society. As more parts of our lives take on digital characteristics, it's time to take advantage of computing power that can simplify the relationship between humans and technology to make us all more productive.
That’s where artificial intelligence comes in, using computing power to automate routine tasks and provide insights that improve productivity for individuals and organizations. While AI is being rapidly applied for commercial use, it's also being adopted by government agencies, making them more efficient and effective in their missions. Working side-by-side, the human/AI partnership can handle the challenges of our increasingly data-driven economy while enabling innovation that enhances and broadens current mission capabilities.
What is AI, anyway?
Simply put, AI is a collection of advanced technologies that lets computers sense, understand, act and learn more like humans. When agencies successfully apply AI models to their data and procedures, they can improve productivity, reduce risk, serve citizens better and free up employees to work on more creative and complex jobs.
AI takes advantage of vast amounts of available data, programming languages that mimic human logic, advanced math and the use of smaller, cheaper and more powerful electronics to mimic—and even improve on—human judgment and analysis. This all happens at blazing speeds.
How does it work? Here’s one example. Think about how our world is increasingly connected by hundreds of millions of sensors, cameras and mobile devices through the internet. It’s possible to train AI to analyze that fire hose of incoming data, model our multilayered human thought process to interpret images, see patterns and report aberrations with superhuman speed and great precision. It’s not just number crunching. It’s the application of human-like logic to understand data and to improve that logical thinking process over time through repetitive learning.
A more effective government is already at work
All around the federal government, AI is making an impact. One example: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has investigated the use of machine learning and natural language processing—two important AI components—to become more efficient in processing incoming comments from the public about its regulations. Its findings: potential savings of up to 300,000 employee hours and millions of dollars annually. “AI lets you do more with less or broaden your mission with the same resources. It will be commonplace within a couple of years,” said Ira Entis, managing director of strategic solutions of Accenture Federal Services.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has deployed EMMA, an AI-powered conversational interface that acts as a virtual assistant. It’s a tool that uses perception, planning, memory and reasoning to answer plain-English questions that come into the agency and guide visitors, in either English or Spanish, to the right spots on the agency’s website. “This is AI as the UI. It’s a new way to interact with the agency, and it extends the agency’s capability 24/7. Every citizen-facing agency can employ a similar interface, and if they do, we’ll realize a huge improvement in customer service across the government,” said Dominic Delmolino, chief technology officer of Accenture Federal Services.
Freedom to work more creatively
So, is AI smart enough to make us humans…obsolete? No, but AI models can seamlessly integrate with the experience workers are already having, augmenting manual processes as an assistant, reading and understanding forms, helping with data entry and making guided recommendations that can reduce errors and even remove potential bias. As AI enables analysis of dauntingly vast amounts of data, it can help employees achieve significant productivity gains of up to 30 or 40 percent*, according to Accenture research, even with tasks that are already automated. “AI opens up new approaches for delivering services. Instead of requiring a workforce to plow through routine work, that low-hanging fruit is swept away so they can be more creative in applying techniques or mission processes to achieve their goals in new ways,” said Delmolino. “I see AI as a productivity booster.”
Computers that think like we do
There may be some lingering concern about AI taking jobs, but that’s not really the issue. AI is going to help agencies accomplish the totality of their missions more efficiently and effectively. “The reason those people took those jobs in the first place was to serve the public and execute the mission of their agency. AI puts them closer to that mission,” said Entis.
AI unlocks the trapped value of data and applies advanced analytics to large data sets to predict trends and deliver new insights. It can do so in an unbiased and consistent manner, offering transparency and increasing citizens’ trust that their data is being used responsibly on their behalf. Automating routine processes and providing transparent guidance and advice to citizens with helpful AI facilitates a better experience with public services, now and in the future. “For decades, we’ve had to adapt our human behavior and think like computers to get them to do what we need them to do. With AI, computers are increasingly able to think like us and adapt to our needs, among them the need to be responsible and attentive to objectivity and trustworthiness,” said Delmolino.
Technology underpins a better government
Ultimately, the role of AI is to transform the relationship between people and machines, improving how we live and work as individuals and a society. “Just as the introduction of computer technology in the past has helped government employees work better, smarter and faster, AI offers those employees new tools to help them make decisions more efficiently and effectively,” said Biniam Gebre, managing director of management consulting for Accenture Federal Services. We’ll use AI to reinvent processes and remove not only time and distance constraints but also human limitations. AI processes will improve themselves as they work, combining data in fresh ways to unlock new ideas. AI technology is less of a tool and more of a partner, a smart, fast and indefatigable helper that makes it possible for everyone to do better and more meaningful work.
Amazing types of AI
Below are terms that are key to understanding how a collection of technologies can work together to enable human-like behavior:
Virtual Agents: Interactive characters that exhibit human-like qualities and communicate naturally with humans to answer questions and perform business processes
Machine Learning: Self-tuning applications that can:
- Learn to reconfigure or adapt to new or changing inputs
- Analyze data and uncover patterns
- Identify outliers within data by searching for items outside clusters
- Predict a user’s rating or preference for a given item
Semantic Technologies: Software that encodes the meaning separately from the data in order to enable machines and people to understand what’s happening at execution time
Video Analytics: Software that applies computer vision techniques on videos to detect events and patterns
Biometric Identification: Systems that verify a user’s identity by extracting and comparing his or her unique biological characteristics or traits to those registered in the system
Augmented Reality: Systems that use computer-generated sensory input, such as sound, video or location data to augment or supplement live images of a real-world environment
Affective Computing: Technologies that detect the emotional state of a user and respond accordingly
Robotic Process Automation: Systems that use software to mimic the work a user performs on a computer to automate tasks that are highly repetitive, are based on unchanging rules and use structured data as inputs
Intelligent Automation: Systems that automate complex physical world tasks, can learn by experience and improve through repetition
Learn more from Accenture Federal Services: Harnessing the power of AI.
*Source: "Why Artificial Intelligence is the Future of Growth," Accenture 2016.