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AI and Technology: Is Government Ready?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Troy Chavez
February 2, 2024

The policy docket for Congress is hefty and will take strong bipartisanship to carry the weight. However, the 118th congress has passed the least amount of legislation since the Great Depression. There are numerous internal and external threats to our nation and Congressional malaise is not helping our current disposition.

The world seems to be in a continual unravelling since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. We are still reeling from its effects on our economy, international security and unstable foreign relations. The world has changed immensely during this terrible transition of uncertainty and unwavering frustration.

Among the many issues facing governments, technology will historically transform our world into what has been termed the 5th Industrial Revolution with the advent and advancements of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This issue can be lost in the cycles upon cycles of news hitting us daily. Nevertheless, government and technology will soon collide like two-ton trains.

In the Economist, in its The World Ahead 2024 issue, internationally, regulating AI is a paramount concern. According to Ludwig Siegele of the Economist, AI “blurs” into three risk factors:

“AI powered software that, say, interprets medical images, may not be perfectly accurate. Large language models (LLMS), which power ‘generative AI’ services such as ChatGPT, may display prejudice or bias. And some fear that the most powerful ‘frontier models’ could be used to create pathogens or cyber-weapons, and might lead to superhuman ‘artificial general intelligence’ that could even threaten humanity’s survival.”

AI can divulge into apocalyptic and dowery conversation. But that doesn’t mean AI is out to get us or we must hide under rocks and become new age luddites. We must embrace this innovative—and yes, exciting—technology. When dealing with the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan constantly chided, “Trust but verify” so much so, Michail Gorbachev, former Soviet Union leader, jokingly said “You repeat that at every meeting.” Reagan’s stolen Russian proverb, translated from “doveryai no proveryai,” holds salient advice for AI regulators in the United States and around the world.

We still have a long way before AI regulators attach wheels to their policies. It was not until 1979 that the world’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), finally moved out of its hotel office space in Vienna and into a legitimate space for its monumental task of regulating nuclear armaments (the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945).

Ultimately, it is probably best for the United States and international community to regulate efficiently instead of expediently. AI is not a new concept, but it is only recently being utilized in a cadre of industries (e.g., in hospitals and police stations). Therefore, it is imperative to begin thinking about how this will affect our country’s security and societal integrity.

It must be stated that AI is not the only digital conundrum facing policy makers and governments. Hackers and malware ransoms have taken local governments by storm. During 2021, state and local governments experienced an uptick in ransomware attacks from the previous year. Local governments are ill-equipped to manage hackers and ransomware insurgents. This is a federal issue and exposes national security holes and potential pitfalls lying ahead. This is concerning because of how unproductive the 118th Congress was. The world of politics in the United States is not in a bipartisan mood.

In early December, I conducted an interview with James “Jim” Weaver, the Secretary and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the North Carolina Department of Information (NCDIT). In our sprawling hour long interview, we discussed concerns for the state of North Carolina and the broader issues encircling AI and new age technologies. His greatest concern fomented around the minimal time left to account for these issues. He referenced politics which can be pulled into a thousand directions yet end up at the same destination, street-level bureaucrats. Government is by construction, supposed to be nonpartisan, and largely, it is. Nonetheless, public policy and government legislation are soaked in politics.

For those like Secretary Weaver, this dichotomy can be frustrating. I could write a thousand solutions in this article, but most will be pushed aside due to budget constraints, and the other side will be swept away in politically charged terms and persuasion. I do believe there is indeed still time to accomplish legislative battles against the swiftly evolving world of technology and AI—but without proper support, focused interest from legislators, and general agreeability, we will begin sliding into institutional decay.

We must remember that persuasion comes in many shapes and forms. If there is one piece of advice to be given to public administrators across the country it is: remember you are a professional and expert in your field. When appropriate, ensure the full truth is told and hold onto it for as long as possible.

The upcoming year is going to bring many challenges and novel developments in AI and technology, but as public administration officials, handling these issues means understanding the global fervor encompassing our current lives. People are angry. Yet, stewards and statesmen of good governance understand this to be the norm, and navigating these waters will be tough, but not impossible.

Author: Troy Chavez, M.P.A. is a PhD candidate at Liberty University with a masters in public administration and works in government doing community relations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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