Skynet or Safety Net? It Depends
“It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” - Godfrey Reggio
The expectation we all have for new technology is that it should make things easier, faster, and more accessible. So why do we accept government services which make things harder, slower, and less efficient?
New technologies continue to permeate our everyday lives, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, blockchain, and soon 5G and edge computing. Here’s how some of these technologies will eventually (slowly) impact the way governments provide services for their citizens:
Artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly become a staple of everyday life. From Alexa and Siri to several automated electronic trading platforms. AI has the potential to massively overhaul how people interact with their government and vice versa. Several companies already offer “chatbots” which automate the customer service experience across a myriad of industries. Some government agencies have already implemented AI chatbots to help with licensing and case intake. As we’ve seen in Texas, outdated technology and strained human workers caused a massive backlog in unemployment applications due to COVID-19. Could artificial intelligence assist state agencies to better their customer service and provide cost savings for policymakers?
AI has the potential to greatly expand the accessibility of government by automating some of the everyday contact points the public has with its government. While AI and chatbots can provide a greater response to mundane problems, AI still has a way to go to solve complex human interactions.
Perhaps no other government technology has been as contentious as the use of facial recognition software and hardware. While the private sector has implemented biometrics for everything from airline security to buying beer at a Seattle Seahawks game, several governments have reversed course on using facial recognition for law enforcement use. Even some providers of facial recognition software have started to refuse to sell their programs for law enforcement use. While biometric technology has a place in society, the laws that govern its use are few and far between. Texas actually has a fairly progressive biometrics privacy law that prohibits private entities from capturing biometric data without consent and requires businesses to protect biometric data similar to other identifying information.
With the recent policy conversations regarding police training and reform, it is possible we’ll see a dramatic decrease in the use of facial recognition for government agencies in the future.
To understand the potential impact of blockchain technology on government, it’s important to understand what blockchains are and how they work. This video quickly summarizes the basics of blockchain technology:
Blockchain helps address some of the fundamental issues governments have had creating, maintaining, and protecting the sensitive data they collect from citizens. The built-in security features of blockchain technology help prevent fraud and abuse of government data and documents through constant decentralized checking of data.
The practical applications for blockchain technology in government include ballot protection, identity management and verification, and streamlining of licensing.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of blockchain technology is the decentralization of stored data. Because the encrypted data stored in blockchains are not housed on one computer or server, it is impossible for hackers to steal information just by hacking one node of the network.
Future of Govtech
As the rate of technological advancement increases in the private sector, the public sector is struggling to keep pace. During this potential restructuring of government due to COVID-19 and civic unrest, governments need to prove responsiveness to their citizens’ needs more than ever. AI and blockchain have the potential to effectively restructure how governments interact with the public, but the advancements of the public sector might quickly lap governments’ capabilities.
The government of the future will primarily be in the data management business. “Smart city” technology, which provides data feedback from everything from roads to streetlights to garbage trucks will help policymakers make better decisions regarding the ROI of government services. By having better data, spending on things like transportation can become more efficient and address problems faster.
Collecting massive amounts of information and data is one thing, actually utilizing the data in a timely and efficient manner is another important step towards improving government. New technology like edge computing and 5G have the potential to make government decision-making more responsive. By moving the transfer of data from remote cloud servers to highly localized data points, government can reduce costs associated with bandwidth, cut down on the latency of data transfer, and provide better utilization of data collected.