The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has identified the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies as one of the challenges of public administration due to concerns over bias, security, and transparency.

A paper released last week by NAPA’s Election 2020 Working Group says that AI has numerous benefits, but that concerns with the technology need to be addressed by the next presidential administration as AI continues to move forward.

“The concept of AI is based on the idea of building machines that are capable of thinking, acting, and learning like humans,” NAPA said. “A more accurate definition might start by stating that AI is not a specific technology unto itself but is instead a broad concept whereby machines are programmed to perform tasks that one could call intelligent or smart.”

Problems with AI tools that need addressing, according to NAPA, include: 1) they can produce biased results if they rely on biased data; 2) they raise cybersecurity concerns because threat actors can do damage very quickly exploiting AI; and 3) the use of AI tools without transparency into how they work may lead to public confusion about key decisions are made.

The working group made five recommendations for the incoming administration in 2021 to better harness AI tools for the Federal government:

  1. Build trustworthy AI by “establishing a single, authoritative, and recognized Federal entity” that focuses on AI’s effects and leverages existing investments to create guidance and solutions;
  2. Use an ethical framework to identify and reduce bias in AI;
  3. Build intergovernmental partnerships and knowledge sharing around public sector uses of AI;
  4. Increase investments in AI research and translation of research to practice; and
  5. Build an AI-ready workforce.

“AI and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) have the potential to spur economic growth, enhance national security, and improve the quality of life,” NAPA detailed. “In a world of ‘Big Data’ and ‘Thick Data,’ AI tools can process huge amounts of data in seconds, automating tasks that would take days or longer for human beings to perform.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.