Turing Institute: Government transformation awaits as Generative AI emerges

New research suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to automate a wide range of tasks performed by civil servants in government services. Specifically, generative AI (GenAI) could further extend the automation capabilities. However, experts and unions caution that the implementation of new technology should prioritize benefits for all rather than using it as an opportunity to reduce jobs.

The researchers at the Turing Institute found that the government carries out approximately one billion citizen-facing transactions each year across nearly 400 services. They focused on 201 services that involve decision-making and exchange of information with the government, such as voter registration or applying for a national insurance number. These services require significant effort and have the highest potential for time-saving through automation.

Out of the 143 million complex but repetitive transactions within these services, 84% could be easily automated. This represents a significant opportunity, according to the researchers. AI has the potential to enhance government responsiveness, efficiency, and fairness. Even saving just one minute per transaction with AI could result in hundreds of thousands of hours of labor saved annually. Achieving responsible and accurate automation with AI will require significant effort, but the benefits justify the necessary investment.

The researchers note that there is considerable excitement within the government about the potential of AI to improve public service productivity by automating complex but repetitive tasks. Many government services involve complex administrative and bureaucratic decision-making processes, leading to delays and increased costs for both the government and the public. However, the rise of generative AI offers the possibility of faster and citizen-oriented government services, improving public satisfaction while cutting costs and bureaucratic overhead.

While the 201 decision-based services identified by the researchers account for only 15% (143 million) of the total 965 million yearly government transactions, they are among the most time-consuming and provide the highest potential for automation. Various tasks, such as recording, preparing, sorting, classifying, and filing information, as well as verifying accuracy and storing documents, could significantly benefit from automation. Different government departments vary in their automation potential, with driving and transport, education and skills being the most automatable, while benefits, childcare, parenting, and national security are less automatable.

The researchers emphasize that replacing professionals with AI is not feasible or desirable, especially in public services. However, AI can enhance individual and departmental productivity by streamlining bureaucratic tasks, freeing up time for workers to focus on tasks requiring human judgement, creativity, discretion, and decision-making.

Moreover, the rise of generative AI may further increase automation potential in the public sector. The researchers found that 14 out of 20 decision-based services with a low percentage of routine tasks could benefit from generative AI. These services include benefit applications, visa applications, and services for businesses and self-employed individuals.

Governments have long sought technological solutions to increase civil service productivity and reduce its size, with varying success. However, AI appears to offer new opportunities. For example, Derby Council aims to save tens of millions of pounds by implementing generative AI across its services in the coming years.

Experts argue that AI primarily affects tasks rather than jobs, and by driving efficiencies, it can allow staff to focus on higher value-added activities. This could involve addressing complex queries, providing new services, and leading to new jobs that require different skills. However, a strategic workforce plan aligned with AI adoption is essential to realize these benefits and mitigate any risks.

Public service unions warn that while new technologies like AI have the potential to transform service delivery, their introduction and use must be careful and responsible. Insufficient resources and staff shortages already burden healthcare, education, police, care, and local government organizations. If AI can streamline repetitive and bureaucratic tasks, it may free up staff to focus on more public-facing elements. However, AI should not be seen solely as a means of cutting costs and making redundancies. Collaboration between unions, employers, and ministers is necessary to ensure that AI is used in a way that benefits everyone.

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