Public Sector Increasing Investment in AI, But Workforce Remains Apprehensive: Gartner


Government organisations around the world are adopting artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help them achieve their public purpose or mission, but government employees are still concerned about the technology’s impact, according to Gartner.

Thirty-six percent of government respondents in the 2021 Gartner CIO survey indicated that they planned to increase investment in AI/machine learning in 2021.

Chatbots or conversational agents are leading the way in government AI technology adoption, with 26 per cent of survey respondents reporting they have already deployed them. A further 59 per cent expect to have deployed them within the next three years, according to the Gartner Digital Transformation Divergence Across Government Sectors survey.

However, a separate Gartner survey found that AI technologies are still viewed with a level of uncertainty, especially among the government employees who have not worked with any AI-backed solutions. More than half (53 per cent) of government employees who have worked with AI technologies believe they provide insights to do their job better, compared to 34 per cent of employees who have not used AI.

“Automation, insight and intelligence are all interconnected priorities for government leaders”, said Dean Lacheca, senior research director at Gartner. “But the operational and services delivery workforce are absolutely critical to the success of any attempts to automate or augment their ways of working. Leaders can generate more acceptance by clearly linking the technology to practical outcomes that benefit government employees and support mission objectives”.

While chatbots and conversational agents are currently the most widely adopted, the most significant AI technology for governments in terms of planned adoption is machine-learning-supported data mining. Sixteen percent have currently deployed it and a further 69 per cent plan to in the next three years.

Beyond the two leading AI technologies, government organisations also plan to implement more specialised AI solutions, such as geospatial AI (GeoAI) which uses AI methods to produce knowledge through the analysis of spatial data and imagery. The lower uptake reflects the fact that it is more relevant to sub-sectors of government such as defence and intelligence, transportation, and local government.

Also Read: Emerging Tech Trends That Organisations Must Track: Gartner

Public sector workforce remains uncertain about AI

Forty-two per cent of government employees surveyed who have not worked with AI solutions understand that AI is a means to getting work done. But only 27 per cent of these same respondents believe AI has the potential to replace many tasks, worsening to only 17 per cent when it comes to what they consider to be skilled tasks. Perception improves among those employees that have worked with AI solutions.

A higher proportion of those who have used AI (31 per cent) believe it is a threat to their jobs, compared to 24 per cent of those who have not worked with AI. However, 44 per cent of those who have used AI believe it improves decision making. Thirty-one per cent said AI reduces the risk of making a mistake, but 11 per cent thought it made more errors than humans do.

“Senior executives in the public sector must address the early apprehension among the government workforce by showing how technology helps them to get their work done. Then continue to build confidence in the technology through exposure, use cases and case studies,” Lacheca said.