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Leaning in to the Potential of A.I.

By Joe Mahoney
Contributing Author


Cutting wait times for services and streamlining access to records are among numerous ways generative artificial intelligence can make county governments more responsive to constituents relying on their programs.

Now, as more and more uses for the emerging technology are identified, local governments have the opportunity to be in the vanguard in harnessing the potential of AI.

To facilitate the expansion of the role of AI in government services, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has set up a task force to help prepare counties for major transformations in the way data is processed, shared and harnessed in ways that promise to make government more efficient.

"I'm encouraging county officials all across the state to lean in on becoming better informed about the power of artificial intelligence," said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of NYSAC and one of the charter members of the new national task force.

AI is technology that enables machines to complete tasks by mimicking human intelligence. It involves creating computer processes that can understand, reason, make decisions, and solve problems, similar to how people do. 

AI is already becoming ingrained in the way health and financial services are provided and promises to have considerable impacts on the administration of elections, said Matt Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, and Seamus Dowdall, the organization's associate legislative affairs director. Both have been assisting the work of the  task force.

"Generative AI will touch almost every part of county government," Chase said. "It will revolutionize how we do procurement. The speed of procurement is going to have to increase significantly, just to keep up with the technologies."

Chase said the technology can automate the schedule for purchasing supplies and can improve the coordination of record keeping and case coordination at courts and county jails. 

County and local assessors will also find benefits in incorporating AI in determining real estate values, he suggested

Chase also stressed the need for local governments to have information technology systems connected to high speed internet.

"If you don't have that high speed internet, you're not going to be able to tap into this revolutionary technology," Chase said.

Acquario noted the task force is developing a special report designed to be a toolkit for county governments that will define the terms bandied about in discussions and podcasts regarding artificial intelligence and explain why the technology should become a major focus as they review their methods of interacting with the public.

He lamented that too often the topic is met with disinterest.

"When I talk to county officials about this, the first reaction is:  Instantly glazed over...boring....and 'I don't want to talk about that,'" Acquario said. "We have got to move on beyond the reaction that this is somebody else's problem."

Moreover, he said, there will likely be detrimental consequences for counties that fail to avail themselves of fast-evolving AI technology.

"New York county officials need to pay attention to artificial intelligence because there are other governments around the United States that will be harnessing the power and they will produce products that people will want," Acquario said. "People will move to places where programs are run better and are more efficient and serve them better. So resources being what they are, taxation being what it is, we just have to do a better job of serving the public."

AI is expected to be beneficial to local governments by automating repetitive tasks, streamlining citizen services and interactions, enhancing decision-making through the production of additional data and improving cyber security.

Dowdall said the task force has sought input from federal officials as well as private industry experts. The panel recently released a generative AI primer for county leaders, a document that will be expanded upon when the tool kit is completed this summer.. The primer is available on the national organization's web site --

How well AI is initially integrated into government platforms will impact the parameters of the vast potential the technology has for improving hundreds of tasks performed by the public sector.

Though Congress has yet to pass any significant AI legislation this session, President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that directs federal agencies to vet future AI products for potential national security risks.

In New York, NYSAC, through Acquario's role with the national task force, has opened dialogues with AI industry leaders to help county governments prepare for an expansion of using cloud-based data storage services and AI to shape solutions needed by agencies and the people they serve.

Jayson Dunn, executive government adviser for Amazon Web Services, was a featured speaker at NYSAC's annual legislative conference in February.

Amazon Web Services has been working with governments interested in using AI's potential in cloud computing platforms to enhance the administration of services.

Dunn noted AI has helped reduce costs for storing images captured by police body cams while improving access to the data when it is needed by prosecutors or others. The technology also has the potential to assist local governments striving to reduce unnecessary duplication of records.

Advances in quantum computing, meanwhile, are expected to assist both the private and government sectors to churn through massive amounts of data in microseconds, Dunn said.

Companies such as Amazon Web Services, have been  assisting local governments and other clients in making generative artificial intelligence more accessible.

The rapid advancements in AI is pointing to the scenario painted in the futuristic "I, Robot" film from 2004 eventually becoming reality as robotics play a larger role in data management, analysis and planning. Dunn said.

"That is when you are going to see things really begin to change, and that is not far off." he said about looming breakthroughs in generative artificial intelligence.

Studies suggest that investment in artificial intelligence will generate some $935 billion in societal value by 2035. A Deloitte analysis, meanwhile, has forecast that artificial intelligence will generate $41 billion in savings for federal and state governments.

Of the challenges ahead in embracing use of artificial intelligence, with local governments often constrained by available resources, Dunn said, "It's an interesting balance between the art of the possible and the reality of the feasible."


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