We've heard a lot about "doing more with less" since the Great Recession,but artificial intelligence (AI) could actually make it possible. Cognitive technologies could free up hundreds of millions of publicsector worker hours, according to a report from Deloitte Insights. The goal of allowing employees to spend more time on the government's mission and less time on peripheral tasks could be within reach.
At least, that's how managers envision it. On the other side of the coin, though, employees are going to fear being eliminated instead of given the opportunity to do real work. And there's no guarantee that these fears aren't credible, especially since cognitive technologies are increasingly able to carry out tasks that had been done by white-collar professionals.
"Conversations with government executives suggest that most lack a clear vision of how AI applications might affect their staff and missions, which is understandable, since prior research hardly offers an actionable forecast," the report says. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics optimistically predicts that government workforces will see almost no job losses between now and 2024, while "a recent study by Deloitte-UK and Oxford University suggests that up to 18 percent of UK public-sector jobs could be automated by 2030." In other words, there's a certain amount of confusion about the impact AI might have.
According to Deloitte, the key to cutting through the confusion in "planning ahead is understanding how much time cognitive technologies could save." And research cited in the report indicates that "cognitive technologies could free up large numbers of labor hours by automating certain tasks and allowing managers to shift employees to tasks requiring human judgment." If so, "these new applications could save hundreds of millions of staff hours and billions of dollars annually." The impact AI could have will depend on political factors and the amount of money and support a government can provide. At the top end of the spectrum, "AI could free up 30 percent of the government workforce's time within five to seven years. Lower levels of investment and support would yield lower savings, of course: Minimal investment in AI would result in savings of just 2 to 4 percent of total labor time."
Using a new method to break down the way government workers spend their time, Deloitte estimates that state government workers perform a total of 108 million hours' work a year. "By far the most...