GDS chief points to increasing use of AI and biometrics

Kevin Cunnington outlines plans for Government Digital Service over the next 12 months

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is aiming to explore the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and biometrics in more services over the next 12 months, according to its chief official.

Kevin CunningtonKevin Cunnington has outlined the plans in a blogpost that also sums up the progress of some of its programmes over the past few months.

While the blog is short on detail on future plans, he says GDS is looking at how technologies such as machine learning and voice control could be used in existing services such as GOV.UK, and relates it to the possibilities for new learning streams at GDS Academy.

This could include AI, geospatial data and distributed ledgers – which underpins blockchain technologies – and will be available to all departments.

It also reflects some of the work taking place under the GovTech Catalyst programme, announced last November, in which programme officials will work with an Office for Artificial Intelligence and industry to develop the role of the technology in public services.

“Our team will help government departments and public bodies identify challenges they face that could be solved by new digital technologies,” Cunnington says. “We will then act as a ‘front door’ to tech firms, giving them a clear access point where they can put forward their innovative ideas.

“Once a finalised product is created, the public sector body can then choose to buy it from the tech company.”

He also points to an effort to develop a workforce plan for the digital, data and technology profession, which he says will provide a full picture of what it looks like across government.

Brexit role

Along with this, he emphasises the GDS’s role in supporting other parts of government through the Brexit process, with an emphasis on the use of shared platforms. In January the organisation revealed that it is creating an EU Exit Secretariat to help deal with the digital issues around Whitehall connected with the UK’s impending departure from the EU.

Cunnington also outlines the progress of some elements of GDS’s work, saying that more than 175 services across government are now using one of the common components it creates. He points to the use of GOV.UK Notify by organisations such as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the Department for International Trade and local authorities such as Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Altogether more than 22.3 million notifications have been sent through Notify so far, and more than £39.3 million in payments has gone through GOV.UK Pay.

There is also a nod to work on the other major platform developed by GDS, GOV.UK Verify for online identity assurance, with reference to its use by organisations such as HM Revenue & Customs and HM Land Registry. But no figures on its usage are given, nor is there any reference to the recurring criticisms of the programme.

In addition, the GovWifi single log-in for government is now available at more than 340 locations across the country. GDS recently began an effort to take the service from public beta to live and increase its use more widely across the public sector.

The blog also makes no reference to recent reports that there are plans to move the responsibility for data policy and governance away from GDS and into the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0