A common refrain we hear at xFact from our friends in the government is that “Time is our biggest challenge. We’re unable to allocate enough of it on our long-term goals because a lot of our pie gets thrown at resource intensive short-term necessities.” This dilemma is hardly new. Since Ancient Egyptian tax collectors in 3000 B.C, humans have tried to balance spending time on a forward-looking vision of their labor with the reality of cumbersome tasks essential to accomplishing their goals. Fortunately for humanity, there has been an unrelenting and intellectually driven push to solve these issues with technologies that save time, reduce costs, and increase efficiencies. From the plow to the internet, people have been able to invent things that have allowed us to work faster, smarter and better. The advent of AI promises to be an epoch along this vein that should surpass any previous technological advancements and will permanently reorient how labor hours are spent throughout a swath of government sectors.
In order to capitalize on this historic technological development, we must first abandon any dangerous and preconceived notions we have about modern AI. The Matrix, Skynet and proclamations of existential doom caused by a technology that creates a replacement species are far-fetched. Most of the practical applications of AI today are analogous to things that are ubiquitous in our daily lives: your printer, trash compactor or toilet – simple tools that can efficiently accomplish the tasks that you have neither the time nor want to do. If we can temper popular fears of intelligent supercomputers, we can reframe our understanding of AI and start to see the enormous value in its potential.
AI technologies are, in fact, tools that complement human labor with a level of efficiency, accuracy, and speed that was previously impossible to achieve without them. From robotics to Natural Language Processing (NLP), the range of AI products that can deliver these critical value-adds is myriad, but their end function is essentially the same: to make people’s jobs easier. AI can process large amounts of data, classify documents, make predictions, and increase efficiency in ways that are far superior to human-only processes. However, the creative, emotional, and perceptive capability of AI is far inferior to that of people, and this relative skills gap creates opportunities for an AI-human synergy. By allowing AI and people to do what they do best, a transformational change can occur within our governmental efforts to be more constituent-friendly.
Deloitte University Press recently published a comprehensive white paper on the industry potential for government and AI in its 2017 piece “How much time and money AI can save the government.” In it, we see several key insights and projections that help crystallize this potential:
In 2017, government employees spent huge amounts of time on paperwork. A recent governing survey of state and local officials found that 53% had trouble getting their work done in a 35-to-40-hour week due to excessive paperwork burdens.
For both federal and state workers, by far the most time-consuming activity is documenting and recording information, a task capturing 10% of both federal and state government work hours;
It is estimated that federal and state workers spend at least 20% of their time on tasks they consider unimportant:
Augmentation with AI frees up 25% of labor hours for more complex tasks;
It’s important to remember that these savings do not mean that workers will be replaced, simply that they will be reoriented to other, more important tasks. xFact’s intelligent form-processing product, Specto, is an illustrative example of how the use of AI can improve productivity and cost savings. Government agencies throughout the world are often inundated with an endless stream of paper forms from their constituents. Parsing through them, collecting data, and documenting all this information is a tedious task that consumes time, money, and resources. These mundane tasks divert government workers away from higher level functions. By enabling workers to focus on more important objectives, products like Specto create a new paradigm for what is possible within government agencies by reallocating time and resources towards goals that were previously impossible.