Within the capital of the United States, Washington D.C., lives over six hundred thousand residents. What many don’t know, is that twenty-nine algorithms are working behind the scenes shaping the lives of those residents. In a new report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the group spent fourteen months investigating the city’s use of algorithms. According to the report, Washington D.C. is using these algorithms to assist them with a wide range of challenges, from detecting identity theft, housing screening, sentencing, and a great deal more.
Out of all the city government’s agencies, twenty were found using the technology with a third being used to assist in criminal justice matters. Because the city wouldn’t disclose the full details of how they’re using the algorithms, it’s likely that the number of agencies within the city government using the technology is more. For many outsiders to the public sector, this might come as a surprise. But this could be growing evidence that bureaucracies are fast applying AI to assist them in decision-making, which ultimately affects the lives of citizens.
For those wondering why government agencies might turn to algorithms to gain efficiency, it’s not new. For many years, the Lean Six Sigma system has been finding fans within public administration, especially in cities and municipal governments. This is due to pressure from elected officials and voters that have pushed bureaucrats to become efficient with both time and resources. So as emerging technologies empowered by AI have come out, it makes sense that governments have turned to them for help. According to a 2020 analysis by Stanford University & New York University, the king is still automation. The pair found that almost half of the federal agencies are using some form of automated decision-making system. The most likely candidate would be Enterprise Resource Management Platforms. These software platforms empower organizations with AI-powered tools to better manage themselves from the micro to macro level.
Though according to Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)’s report, questions related to the use of these algorithms and their effectiveness is hampered by agencies’ unwillingness to disclose what systems are being used due to trade secrets concerns. This leaves many questions unanswered as over the years AI-powered algorithms and programs, especially those used to assist law enforcement have been found to be ineffective and at times in violation of civil rights.
But for now, it seems that government agencies, from the city level up through the federal level, are embracing new AI-powered technology.