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AI can improve public services delivery: UN-Google report

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a helpful tool for governments in the Asia Pacific region to deliver public services, revealed a new UN-Google report. The study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Google cited case studies highlighting the importance of partnerships between governments and technology firms for the delivery of public services.

Among the case studies that the report mentioned included an AI initiative in India that informs farmers of the best sowing date to increase crop yields. The state governments in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka teamed up with Microsoft to develop predictive AI services to help smallholder farmers to improve their crop yields and give them greater price control.

Since 2016 three applications have been developed. The report discussed two of these apps — the AI sowing app and the price forecasting model.

Both of the AI applications improved the lives of smallholder farmers in southern India by bridging information gaps and mitigating growing environmental risks. These AI services have the potential to increase crop yields, prices and incomes, the study concluded.

“The best part of the project is that the investment required by the farmers to benefit from the technology is minimal: all they need are a mobile phone capable of receiving text messages and a subscription to the most basic mobile phone services,” said the report.

Clearly, to make a technology accessible and affordable is a crucial step towards technology for inclusiveness.

“On the path to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, governments in Asia and the Pacific are urgently pursuing innovative means to deliver effective, efficient and fair public services. Frontier technologies such as AI hold promise to reimagine how the public sector can better serve sustainable development needs,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

The report also features insights as well as context-specific recommendations from deployments of AI in a variety of sectors: health, justice, agriculture, environment, insurance and social welfare. Public-private partnerships will become increasingly important to complement government initiatives with industry knowledge and expertise, said the report.

Amid the rapid pace of technological development, the report recommends that governments develop frameworks to regulate these partnerships and encourage more public information on AI projects to foster a landscape conducive to informed decision-making on AI partnerships.

Since applying AI in the public sector is still at an early stage of development, setbacks and a trial-and-error process may be inevitable. Case studies in the report highlight how a competitive selection process may spell the way forward to discover and initiate pioneering AI technology in public service delivery.


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