The Growing Role of CDOs and AI in U.S. Agencies

November 09, 2020

Will future governance of the United States be operationally administered mostly with artificial intelligence (AI)? 

Predicting the future is commonly considered a fool’s errand. That’s especially true when we just now are scratching the surface of how to master machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), the two applications of artificial intelligence most prevalent in the current workings of the federal government. 

Still, it’s not unreasonable to answer the above question by acknowledging that, yes, governance by AI is very real, and is only going to get more and more real. 

To whatever extent some forms of AI are at work in the public sector, performing or supporting basic functions involving law enforcement, processing IRS forms, paying out taxpayer benefits, answering citizen queries online, and keeping us safe and secure, a fast-growing allocation of resources, research and thought is going into what one in-depth study unflinchingly calls “Government by Algorithm.” 

That exhaustive, 122-page report, subtitled “Artificial Intelligence in Federal Administrative Agencies,” was submitted to the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) by researchers from New York University and Stanford University. They call their findings “a first-of-its-kind snapshot of the current state of federal government development and deployment of AI.” 

After closely analyzing “possible AI use cases at the 142 most significant” federal administrative agencies,” the authors concluded that, “Across the federal government, we are beginning to observe the dawn of a new chapter— perhaps even a digital revolution—in how government does its work. Nearly half of surveyed agencies have experimented with AI/ML. AI-based governance tools already touch virtually every aspect of government, from enforcement to adjudication and from regulatory analysis and monitoring to citizen services. And though the sophistication of many of these tools lags behind the private sector, the pace of AI/ML development in government seems to be accelerating.”

And yet, even given that bold statement, it’s fair to say that, essentially, we still  are in the genesis stage of AI’s evolution as an unprecedented, game-changing agent of how government operates, is structured, and serves its constituents.