Governing for the future: predicting public sector technology in 2030

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In 2030, what we currently call ‘government’ will look radically different. We’ll see an increasing trend towards decentralised ownership and control, where IT decision-making takes place on a much more localised level and authorities collaborate on broader issues where necessary.

This trend is already evident today. For example, the health sector is in the midst of transitioning away from large, centrally-procured ICT contracts towards smaller, decentralised contracts. Local sites will operate independently, but can collaborate efficiently and securely to provide the best possible services.

Emerging distributed models like blockchain and social media are further evidence that this cultural shift has started, but it will be far more prolific in ten years’ time. We reflected this growing trend in our BT Business and Public Sector restructure earlier this year; with the appointment of six new regional directors, we’re adapting our business to place greater focus on delivering our services on a regional and devolved basis. To stay competitive, organisations across every industry need to prepare for these changes quickly.

The automation age

The evolution in public sector technology will be due in part to the advent of AI and automation that we are likely to see over the next ten years. According to a report by BT entitled The Future Workplace, over one third of IT decision makers are already using some form of AI or automation technology, and just under a third are planning to implement AI and automation tools in the next two years. Of those who plan to invest, 62 per cent are optimistic that this technology will make their organisations more effective.

The UK public sector in particular has embraced technologies such as AI. 95 per cent of public sector organisations are already using at least one form of disruptive technology, compared with 85 per cent of those operating in the private sector. Legal, policy and public-facing decisions that were once solely human, such as those in courtrooms or hospital theatres, will become the domain of decentralised computation, based on the harvesting of trillions of data points

In late 2016, UCL computer scientists developed a prototype AI ‘judge’. This software analysed data patterns to predict courtroom outcomes; in 79 per cent of assessed cases, the AI verdict was the same as that delivered by humans. Although much more testing and learning remains to be done, this is surely a sign of our future legal system. The ethical and social implications of such a revolution necessitate widespread debate and legislative adaptation, with legal, scientific and technology experts weighing in.

Disruptive decision-making

This “Fourth Industrial Revolution” will likely lead to a new ecosystem of preventative decision-making. If distributed processing can crunch data to feed vote-based decision making, it will revolutionise the way we live.

 

In real-world terms: How you run a police force, for example, would radically change. Millions of computational units mixed with previous data and real-time sensors would mean a police force largely managed off predictive algorithms, which could herald a new era in operational efficiency.

 

BT, for example, is already working with the Metropolitan Police to increase productivity and streamline the force’s organisation, and AI and Machine Learning may well prove to be the natural next step.

 

Inevitably, there are fears that the advent of machines and new disruptive technologies will deskill and decrease our workforce, as well as engendering a lack of empathy and human reasoning in sensitive situations. Such a vast quantity of data means that decisions will have to become computational, which could signal an end to the place of emotion in decision-making, from local planning to a doctor's advice.

Future authorities need to make provisions to ensure that humans are available when needed and that these machines integrate rather than replace. Appropriate delegation between bots and humans, mobility, collaboration and efficient information-sharing will be key.

A successful government will emphasise the need for educating and preparing humans for their changing roles in this impending automation age. Implemented correctly under careful legislation, BT envisions a collaborative future strategy which capitalises upon technological creativity and innovation to play to the strengths of both people and machines.

Despite public fears, leading IT-decision makers increasingly tend to concur; as many as a third of the IT decision-makers that BT interviewed predicted that these new technologies would actually create more jobs, and 97 per cent say they’re already seeing the benefits of new disruptive tech.

Future education, future innovation

At BT Innovation Week, we saw a number of hugely exciting AI-related projects, from customer service chat-bots to staff rostering tools and neural networks. But with these exciting developments come changing roles and responsibilities for humans. The future I’ve described calls for those with the power of tech decision-making to take responsibility today, ensuring that we promote a sustainable culture of human qualities.

We believe we’ve done this In BT’s partnership with the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, where we focused on establishing a common and reliable platform for local GPs, social care professionals and hospitals to store and share electronic patient records. Local sites operate independently, but can collaborate efficiently and securely to provide the best possible services.

However we believe there is a lot more we could do as tech is still used to drive divisiveness, alienation and fear. As well as encouraging tech literacy for all – for example, integrating tech-focused teaching into the school curriculum - there will be calls for authorities to take the development and preservation of uniquely human traits such as respect and empathy equally seriously. Governmental provision of financial backing for business ventures that prioritise uniquely human traits is a widely advocated first initiative.

Education and legislation will be crucial in this preparation, and authorities must take action. The recent creation of the UK Select Committee for AI is a promising first step in the right direction. As the automation age inevitably draws ever closer and we see human roles evolve with the advent of machines, it is high time for authorities to prepare for the changes to come.

Philip Baulch, CIO BT Major Business & Public Sector
Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock