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DATA & AI


Taking innovation to the next level


Harnessing AI for public services adds value to everyday tasks


BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN


The public sector has been slow to embrace artificial intelligence but there are signs that the appetite for innovation, spurred on by a global pandemic, is paving the way for change. In March, the Scottish Government published its long- awaited – and Covid-delayed – national AI strategy, which will be the foundation stone for the de-


velopment of a much talked about, but occasionally misunderstood, technology. Troughout the strategy, which


was “applauded” for its scope and ambition by international AI experts, there has been a strong emphasis on ensuring that the development of artificial intel- ligence within public services, and supporting its use in the wider economy, is done in a way that is “trustworthy, ethical and inclusive”. When faced with a technology


that frequently garners negative media attention – stoking fears that robots may replace humans, or that we end up becoming mere ciphers in a world driven by automation – there is an understandable political sensitivity to tread carefully when it comes to adoption. But there are many reasons to


10 | FUTURESCOT | SUMMER 2021


be optimistic. Te benefits can be – and are already being – realised by harnessing data in a way that makes public services more antici- patory and intelligent, saving time, resources, cutting waste and obviat- ing the need to perform repetitive, unnecessary tasks. Tink of chatbots streamlin-


ing back-office functions in local authorities, many of which rely on inbound inquiries being answered in the same way, time and again. Or paper forms that have to be issued, captured and then transferred man- ually to outdated systems, where data is locked in – and no-one is much the wiser. How much better to redesign


those processes, use some analyt- ics to see where the demand is coming from, and present the data in a dashboard, allowing council


workers to see in real-time where complaints are coming in about potholes or bins not being emptied. And the results? As well as provid- ing a more efficient service, you end up with a workforce freed up to do things that really matter: finding out crucial information about vul- nerable citizens and doing more to engage directly and look after them. Consulting, transformation and


digital services firm Capita has been involved in the development of the national AI strategy, which was conducted with expert input from across the public, private and third sector realms.


Alan Crameri, technical lead, solutioning, data & AI at Capita, says it “aligns well” with the values his company wants to bring to bear in the creation of services that yield a public good. “What’s good about it from our perspective is that our director of AI, Tirath Virdee, was part of one of the working groups on AI products and services who contributed to that strategy – and the focus on trustworthy, ethical and inclusive AI is absolutely part of our thinking,” he says. “Our position, also, is that data


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