Unlocking Public Sector Artificial Intelligence

Summary 

AI holds the potential to vastly improve government operations and meet the needs of citizens in new ways, ranging from traffic management to healthcare delivery to processing tax forms. But many public institutions are cautious about harnessing this powerful technology due to concerns over bias, privacy, accountability, transparency and overall complexity. Drawing on the Forum’s global convening power, network of experts and quality of insights, the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution has partnered with forward-looking stakeholders across sectors to co-design guidelines that will empower governments to confidently and responsibly procure AI as well as guide their own internal development of technology that utilizes AI. 

The Challenge

Artificial Intelligence (AI) adoption in the public sector promises to increase productivity through efficiency (doing things better) and the creation of completely new services (doing things differently). AI might help to streamline back-office processes, automate routine operational tasks and meet the needs of citizens in new ways, ranging for example from traffic management to healthcare delivery and processing tax forms. 

Yet public institutions are nonetheless rightfully cautious about harnessing this powerful technology. 

While officials are increasingly aware of the importance of data for AI-powered solutions, the data needed is often neither accessible nor discoverable. Existing data protection frameworks and ethical considerations add further layers of complexity. Even if they manage to get access to the right data, policy and procurement officials often lack the appropriate expertise to make strategic buying decisions for AI-powered solutions. As a result, they tend to reduce perceived risk by purchasing from large and well-known suppliers. This point relates to a broader cultural issue: without cultural alignment, civil servants will fail to fully realize experimental mindset needed to innovate or work effectively with smart machines and AI software.

The Opportunity 

In order to harness the benefits of AI technologies for the public sector whilst minimizing their potential disruptive impacts, the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution has partnered with forward-looking stakeholders across sectors to co-design guidelines that will empower governments to confidently and responsibly procure AI as well as guide their own internal development of technology that utilizes AI. At the same time, governments’ significant buying power can drive private - sector adoption of these standards even for products that are sold beyond governments. Further, as industry debates setting its own standards on these technologies, the government’s moral authority and credibility can help set a baseline for these discussions. 

To this end, the Unlocking AI in the Public Sector Project will produce two core outputs:

(1) High-level Principle-based guidelines for AI procurement presenting the general considerations to be taken when procuring AI-powered solutions. 

(2) Workbook for policy and procurement officials guiding them through every step of the procurement cycle; from the need recognition to service acquisition 

Contact us at: AI@weforum.org