Apr 01 2024

Cities Can Use AI to Enhance Public Services and Streamline Internal Operations

Artificial intelligence can tackle challenges in public safety, transportation and workplace productivity.

For many local government leaders, artificial intelligence was not a concern before the mainstream rise of generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT and Google Bard (now Gemini), in 2023. Now, a recent Bloomberg Philanthropies poll of 100 global mayors found that 96 precent are interested in using generative AI. Cities, towns and villages are at the forefront of this AI evolution.

From determining how to harness the benefits of AI while mitigating the risks to navigating necessary public conversations about its uses, local leaders can shape how AI impacts their communities. Current use cases of AI are focused on enhancing public service and optimizing internal operations.

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Local Governments Explore AI for Citizen Services

AI presents numerous opportunities for local governments to enhance public services. From assessing infrastructure conditions to improving community engagement, AI can make government processes more efficient and improve resident interactions. In the poll, city leaders reported the most interest in leveraging generative AI for transportation, infrastructure and public safety.

In transportation, AI can be used in conjunction with traffic sensors to count and predict vehicle and pedestrian flows, detect vehicles moving in the wrong direction, and even prioritize fire trucks and ambulances at red lights. Cambridge, Mass., is using an AI-powered system and connected sensors to collect data on traffic safety and automatically adjust traffic signals to accommodate the needs of drivers in real time and reduce vehicle emissions.

AI solutions can also help cities with crowd monitoring by collecting and analyzing data from sensor and camera systems to provide place-based insights for decision-making. For example, AI can determine when and where there is high or low foot traffic in order to support economic development, planning and tourism efforts, or anticipate attendance at community events so that public safety departments can implement crowd control measures.

DISCOVER: Local governments should enhance digital services now.

How Agencies Use AI for Internal Operations

AI presents opportunities for cities to automate routine and formulaic government services and streamline their resident interactions. In recent years, many cities and counties have set up chatbots to respond to resident questions. The chatbots can address simple and frequent questions or requests and leave more complicated inquiries for staff to address. As generative AI has evolved, chatbots are gaining the ability to respond to a wider array of resident inquiries, connecting residents to appropriate resources on a city website or passing along a message to the right city staff member.

Just as the introduction of computational tools such as the electronic spreadsheet increased efficiency and organization in the workplace, AI-powered tools provide the next wave of opportunities to streamline and optimize internal operations. Despite concerns about how AI will disrupt the workplace, early research suggests that, on the generative side of AI, machine learning technologies such as natural language processing, which allows computers to understand and interpret human language, reduce the burden and time spent on certain tasks, especially for new or less skilled workers.

In local government, staff can use generative AI to reduce workloads and automate routine tasks. High-impact use cases include drafting written content in multiple languages, summarizing and making notes on long reports, optimizing software coding, and analyzing qualitative information from surveys and public meetings. As more use cases become apparent, local officials are taking steps to guide the internal use of AI in city governments to ensure safe and ethical usage.

CONSIDER THIS: Recommendations for state governments to develop an AI blueprint.

What Security and Risks Do Agencies Face With AI?

Local governments can also harness AI to fortify cybersecurity efforts and protect sensitive data from cyberthreats. AI-powered software analyzes network traffic patterns for anomalies that indicate unauthorized access, and AI-powered anti-virus solutions detect and quarantine malware. These tools ensure that sensitive data is shielded and that public services are delivered safely.

While AI offers real advantages to local governments of all sizes, it is not without its risks. As with any emerging or evolving technology, local government leaders have the opportunity to shape how AI impacts their communities. Staying informed about effective use cases and applying these solutions to real-world problems will ensure that local governments are harnessing the benefits and mitigating the risks of AI.

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