​​Responsible use of AI by governments: Discussion with OECD, US State Department, and the DTA​

Earlier this month, the DTA had a productive discussion with the OECD and the US Department of State exploring the responsible use of AI to deliver social services.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosted a panel at the Harvard Business School Online Community ahead of Connex 2024. The discussion tackled how nations are Governing with AI: Challenges and Opportunities. Moderated by Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi, Head of Digital Government and Data Unit and Deputy Head of Open and Innovative Government Division, OECD, she was joined by: 

  • Giorleny Altamirano Rayo, Chief Data Scientist & Responsible of Artificial Intelligence (AI), United States Department of State (State Department). 
  • Chris Fechner, Chief Executive Officer, Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). 

The session emphasised how to maximize the societal benefits of AI, while developing the necessary competencies to minimise risks associated with these solutions. 

Securing AI 

Our chat started with best practices to secure a coherent and responsible use of AI that align with core values of public sector institutions. Fundamentally, there is a need to build consistently robust and practical ethics principles and processes that govern AI solution use across the public sector. 

Mr Fechner adds, “This means being exemplars of high standards and assurance frameworks, based on international best practices and public expectations, that are tested through pilots and use-cases.” 

Skilling up 

We then moved to analysing how governments make sure they have the right skills and capabilities in place to support a responsible use of AI. From the DTA’s perspective, Australia has a healthy relationship with technology, having a culture of early adopters. 

“There is a long history here (Australia) in AI making use of traditional machine learning and deep learning neural networks, which naturally meant staff developed highly specialized skills across these areas of application,” states Mr Fechner. 

“However, generative AI is spreading into a wider population without that deep knowledge. We must take immediate action to provide training and education, supported by the industry, to both public servants and the general public.” 

Human element 

Nearing the end of our discussion, we aimed to understand important concerns in terms of human determination, fairness, and non-discrimination. 

“Governments are uniquely placed in that everything they do ought to increase the amenity of society,” explains Mr Fechner. 

“All government services need to be organized around citizens, and be inclusive, simple, and secure. So, all our decisions around digital investment, including incorporating AI solutions, are constrained by that goal”. 

Moving the needle 

Closing out the session, panellists looked at what public servants and public services can do to convince political leaders to invest in AΙ solutions for the delivery of services. 

A major influence has been the rise of generative AI in capturing the world’s imagination and creating urgency in Government based on both excitement and fear. 

“Australia is taking advantage of the hype of AI by working across Government to find the high-value, lower-risk applications,” says Mr Fechner. “This needs to be done in a fully transparent and responsible way. It’s not a case of convincing leaders but rather managing their high expectations.” 

The DTA has previously outlined the importance of the Australian Public Service looking for opportunities to lift our digital government solutions. Governments should be exemplars in transparency, risk management, and governance of emerging technologies, such as generative AI. 

The Digital Transformation Agency is the Australian Government's adviser for the development, delivery, and monitoring of whole-of-government strategies, policies, and standards for digital and ICT investments, including ICT procurement.