Richard Semple explains how AI is impacting Williamson County, Texas.

Apr 01 2024

TAGITM 2024: CIO of Williamson County, Texas, Says to Keep an Open Mind About AI

Richard Semple encourages colleagues to develop parameters for the safe use of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to significantly alter how government services are delivered, says Richard Semple, CIO of Williamson County, Texas.

In a presentation at the 45th annual Texas Association of Governmental Information Technology Managers conference, held in San Antonio, Texas, in April 2023, Semple shared his thoughts on using the technology effectively and responsibly.

In advance of TAGITM 2024, StateTech spoke with Semple about his session, “AI Will Change Everything”; AI’s role in increasing operational efficiency; and what governments can do to prepare for its expanded use.

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STATETECH What aspects of AI did your 2023 TAGITM presentation touch on?

SEMPLE: It’s going to change the way we do our jobs. We’re getting more general-purpose AI tools; that’s starting to drive some of the current and near-future changes.

I talked through some of that, and then gave practical examples of where AI can change government in ways they maybe hadn’t thought of, like our animal shelters or court systems. And I wanted to talk through some of the drawbacks and risks of fake information.

A big thing for our local animal shelter, and I’m sure many around the country, is that we don’t have a large staff taking care of a lot of animals. If we look at AI tools that can help monitor the animals and their behavior patterns — and when those behavior patterns change — AI tools can give direction to the staff that an animal might need some additional care.

Also, having some self-service tools with AI to help people get matched with the right animals for their lifestyle, based on interactive questions and data about the animals — there are a couple of ways to improve things.

STATETECH If you were to give a presentation on AI now, what would you update or change?

SEMPLE: It’s such a rapidly developing field; it’s hard not to be behind as soon as you hit save on the PowerPoint slide.

I probably didn’t include enough about developing guidelines and policies. We had some discussion, especially at the end, about opportunities and partnerships and how we can leverage this.

READ MORE: StateTech’s conference coverage of TAGITM 2024.

STATETECH How are governments utilizing AI, or how could they be using the technology?

SEMPLE: There are obviously internal benefits if we start using more AI-based cybersecurity tools. For example, some of the bad actors are using AI-based tools that help create better spear-phishing campaigns. So, we need some automated and AI-based tools on the cybersecurity side.

On the more public-facing side, I’ve seen several examples of generative AI tools that are used to communicate, in terms of answering questions folks ask in natural language, with data pulled from the website and other documents the governments have. There is a good chance to increase citizen engagement with some of those tools.

STATETECH How can governments use AI responsibly?

SEMPLE: The biggest thing for us was not to completely block the use of those tools. This is one of those consumer-level technologies now. Folks are going to use it, whether we bless it or not.

Everything you type into ChatGPT becomes property of OpenAI, so we needed to get information out there about that. We published guidelines for our users on how to use AI tools safely and ensure we’re not putting sensitive information out that’s not for public release.

We walked them through a number of scenarios and said don’t rely on generative AI to give you an accurate answer. While it may help you write a letter to a particular audience, the content is still your responsibility. You need to check it afterwards.

Richard Semple
This is one of those consumer-level technologies now. Folks are going to use it, whether we bless it or not.”

Richard Semple CIO, Williamson County, Texas

STATETECH Can any structural elements either facilitate or make AI use challenging?

SEMPLE: One thing we’ve been working on here is data classification. Because if you’re going to have any system scrape internal or sometimes even public-facing systems, the data needs to be appropriately classified.

That could be basic search engine stuff, or much more advanced AI tools. Appropriately classifying it is a huge step, but it is a really good one for AI, so that those tools know the context of that data and whether or not it’s appropriate to include in the training. 

STATETECH What AI-related priorities should governments be focusing on today?

SEMPLE: We shouldn’t focus on how these tools are going to replace our IT or a particular department. We need to look at tools that can allow a person to do a lot more than manual tasks and leverage those tools, because we’re never going to have enough staff

EXPLORE: State and local organizations assess using AI responsibly.

STATETECH How can governments position themselves now for future AI use?

SEMPLE: It’s on not just the IT departments but the leaders of every county government organization to educate themselves about AI tools and what risks and benefits are out there for their departments. Because it’s going to be part of their lives, whether they like it or not.

Look for opportunities to move forward in smart, safe ways with solid planning. If you need to engage partners that have experience in implementing it, that’s much better than trying to go it alone. 

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the TAGITM 2024 Annual conference. Follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @StateTech and the official conference Twitter account, @TAGITM. Join the conversation using the hashtag #TAGITM.

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