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Nesta chief says AI positive for public service jobs



Geoff Mulgan says gloomy futurologists have it wrong, and that the technology could be used in anticipatory regulation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to create new types of jobs for humans in some public services, according to the chief executive of national innovation foundation Nesta.

Geoff Mulgan (pictured) has made the prediction in a blogpost that sums up 10 ways in which he expects AI to change the way governments will work, along with a forecast that the technology could also be used to anticipate the need for new forms of regulation.

He takes the more bullish view on the job prospects from AI, saying it will not replace professionals such as doctors or teachers as they have skills that could not be replaced by automation.

Instead, they are more likely to augment what they do, and in future doctors will work with diagnostic AIs and teachers with personalised learning AIs.

“Indeed, we forecast job numbers in some public services – like teaching – to grow not shrink in the UK and US, and my guess is that today’s futurologists will turn out almost as wrong as their predecessors, who consistently misunderstood how real labour markets work,” Mulgan says.

He also points to new jobs in supervising AIs, but acknowledges there is a big task in restructuring jobs and helping many existing workers to adapt.

Complex understandings

His prediction on AI’s role in anticipatory regulation rests on its ability, sometimes exceeding that of humans, to understand complex and interconnected systems in private and public services. This would make it more likely to anticipate opposing problems and crises and trigger regulatory action where necessary.

But he warns, however, that governments are still largely to recognise this potential and are tending to invest heavily in AI for military and intelligence services but not so much for the more routine parts of public administration and criminal justice.

Mulgan’s other predictions are largely familiar, pointing to an increasing role for AI in areas such as automating everyday processes in public services, pattern recognition, improving interactions with citizens, processing data from sensors and cameras, targeting social programmes and accelerating education.

Oscillation risk

“The risk is that governments will oscillate between over-enthusiasm as they buy into misleading hype and disillusion when the promised results don’t materialise,” he says.

“The answer is that they need more in-house capability to be smart customers and commissioners; more serious R&D and experiments; as well as more serious efforts to deal with public trust and legitimacy, like the UK’s promised new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.”

The predictions have come a few days after Nesta’s director of government innovation, Eddie Copeland, proposed 10 principles for the ethical use of algorithms in decision making. Mulgan refers to this as a crucial element in the future use of AI in public services.

Image from Nesta

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