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In a recent podcast, we explored the potential for emerging intelligent technology to benefit governments and their citizens. In the latest episode, some of my Microsoft colleagues joined me to look at how governments can build trust in their AI and IoT projects. This requires careful, gradual implementation; proper respect for data privacy; and the application of transparent, highly secure methods.

Governments need to highlight transparency and good intentions

While AI and IoT in government may seem like futuristic concepts, we already work with cities, regions, and countries around the world that have rolled out intelligent technology to make people’s lives easier. But governments still face obstacles to implementing technology at the scale they require. Chief among these is trust.

The thought of authorities collecting and analyzing data with machines can easily cause concerns for citizens. People are unlikely to feel comfortable with administrations using their personal data. This is especially true when they don’t know what that personal data includes, let alone how governments will process, share, and protect it. And previous high-profile mistakes do little to inspire confidence.

The public sector, therefore, must build trust with their citizens through transparency and communication, highlighting to citizens the reasons and benefits for any projects and initiatives that use data or AI.

Want people’s trust? Make their lives easier

When we spoke on the podcast, Spencer Stern, who works with municipalities across the Midwestern United States, said that it comes down to reducing the friction and bureaucracy that most people associate with government services. If somebody can avoid multiple trips to city hall to get a building permit, and instead manage the whole process from application to approval from their computer or phone, that’s a win.

Los Angeles, for example, has its City Hall Internet Personality, a chatbot that responds to internet, phone, or email queries 24 hours a day. It means citizens get quick access to city services without frustrating wait times. This builds confidence—and confidence, in time, becomes trust.

Ethics, privacy, and the potential of blockchain

As we understand more about how AI systems behave, governments must make sure they use it in ethical ways. This means maintaining human oversight of automated systems to avoid the kinds of mistakes that become headlines. It also means being transparent with citizens about how their data will be used and why it’s being collected.

Europe is leading the way here. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gives citizens unprecedented control over how their data is collected, used, and shared. It also imposes heavy financial penalties on data-collecting organizations (in the public and private sectors) for violation.

Blockchain could provide a way to engender trust in transactions of any nature between government and citizens. It’s a distributed ledger—a mutually agreed-upon and unmodifiable list of transactions—that has the potential to verify identity and reduce fraud. Omar Rashid, who works with governments in Latin America, told me that blockchain could act as a form of independent evidence and help mitigate corruption.

Hear the full discussion

Steve Rosenboro, a senior attorney at Microsoft, summed it up on the podcast when he said that trust is built between people, not computers.

Listen to the full podcast to hear how governments are building trust in AI through small-scale pilot projects.


Want to learn more? Download the Gartner report Digital Government 2030: Predictive Government Anticipates Citizen Needs With Autonomous Services to learn ways to harness AI for more responsive government.