This past December, The Connective and its program manager, Ben Williams, hosted a workshop at Grand Canyon University on the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) for local government. The workshop included guided discussions, live AI demonstrations and expert insights from city and industry leaders.
AI can play an important role in helping local governments improve resident quality of life, deliver better constituent services and support local businesses. In this recap, learn more about the power of AI in local government, with insights from key speakers.
The Transformative Power of AI
AI’s Broad Impact Across Government and Private Sectors
AI, like any technology, is evolving at an incredible pace. Governments and industries alike are trying to identify how to implement AI now and harness its potential for the future.
Micah Gaudet, deputy City Manager for the City of Maricopa, demonstrated AI’s capabilities in identifying city code violations through image analysis, creating community engagement tools such as surveys, and translating documents to include non-English speaking residents. Gaudet emphasized the use of AI for efficient budget analysis and forecasting, event planning and policy inquiries based on specific handbooks.
“This is just some of the power of what AI can do when we train models within the context of local government,” Gaudet said.
AI also has tremendous potential to enhance local businesses and large corporations that sustain local communities. For example, Chris Lucero, an Engineering Director with 26 years of experience at Intel, spoke about the role of AI in modern manufacturing. Smart factories can use AI to power IT sensor data, create simulations, enhance worker safety and improve collaboration between robots and humans. This leads to smarter, more efficient processes, but as Lucero emphasized, local governments must also be mindful of the energy demands AI requires and carbon footprint it creates.
Hermann Plank, a seasoned expert in technical and international marketing, also shared his extensive experience in applying digital twin technology and AI in various industries. He provided a comprehensive look at the evolution of product development, from plastics engineering, to the fashion industry, underlining the transformative impact of digitization.
The session highlighted the broad scope of AI’s applications, from language translation and enhanced gaming experiences, to creating virtual assistants and advanced robotics.
AI as a Catalyst for Efficiency and Innovation
AI is also reshaping traditional processes and creating new opportunities. Bill Singleton, who has eight years of experience with Ecopia AI, spoke about the practicality of AI for enhancing asset management in municipal, state and federal applications. With his organization, he envisions making digitizing the physical world easier by eliminating the need for manual digital creation.
AI can streamline the sharing of information across various governmental divisions, which makes it easier to keep up with rapid community development. The goal of Singleton’s organization is to create a shared digital environment that multiple government agencies can use to avoid redundant efforts and to improve overall governmental efficiency.
Singleton reinforced the notion that while AI can dramatically increase efficiency, human oversight remains crucial for handling ambiguous cases and ensuring data accuracy.
Navigating Challenges and Ethical Considerations
Balancing Innovation With Responsibility
With AI, there’s a need for responsible use, governance and balance between fostering innovation and ensuring ethical practices. Equity in language, culture and economic status are often overlooked because of the speed AI is being implemented. Speakers at the event highlighted the responsibility to include a focus on ethics when discussing AI’s potential.
For example, Dr. Stephanie Deitrick, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at the City of Tempe, discussed her role as one of the co-chairs for the Metro Lab Network, which aims to develop policy guidelines around AI applications in various sectors, including transportation and cybersecurity. She emphasized the need for a comprehensive AI policy, which she fast-tracked for the City of Tempe in response to the emergence of ChatGPT, highlighting the importance of governance in AI implementation.
Eugene Mejia, Chief AI Strategy and Transformation Officer for the Town of Gilbert, discussed the balance between fostering AI innovation and ensuring responsible use. He stressed the significance of having foundational frameworks and robust governance to efficiently scale AI solutions in public service.
Both speakers underscored the importance of using AI ethically and responsibly, aligning with the public domain’s core values. The panelists discussed the significance of robust governance frameworks for AI adoption. These frameworks are not impediments, but rather enablers that ensure the scalability and iteration of AI technologies in public service.
Cybersecurity in the Age of AI
Another challenge in the AI space is the evolving nature of cybersecurity risks in government and education sectors, and the importance of data security in AI applications. The panel with Dr. Dietrich and Mejia touched upon the need for laws and policies that address the potential misuse of AI, such as impersonation and disinformation. The absence of deterrents for such malicious acts indicates a gap in the current legal system that needs to be addressed to safeguard against the abuse of AI capabilities.
Mike Manrod, CISO at Grand Canyon Education, Inc., and Jake Taylor, Design and Technology Manager at The Connective, also talked about the importance of cybersecurity in the age of AI.
“The AI wars are on, and we must be vigilant about how AI is used, ensuring that we don’t provide bad prompts that could lead to data breaches,” Manrod said.
As cities become more connected, the risk of cyberattacks that can cause physical harm increases. It’s important to anticipate and mitigate such risks through careful monitoring and policy. Preparing for negative impacts from AI is critical for maintaining public trust and service integrity.
AI’s Role in Workforce Development and Education
Preparing for a Future With AI
AI is also critical for local communities to strengthen workforce development and educational outcomes. It’s important for local governments to be cognizant of the importance of upskilling and adapting educational curricula to prepare for an AI-influenced future.
Currently, there are significant skill gaps in the workforce, accentuated by the prediction that 30% of future jobs will be new, 63% will undergo change, and 7% will be eliminated due to advancements in AI. This signals a pressing need for training and upskilling.
To meet growing skills needs, there are new educational pathways emerging that focus on AI. For example, Tom Pearson, CIS Faculty at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, shared insights on the AI and machine learning associate degree developed in collaboration with Intel.
“When developing our AI program, we transformed Intel’s curriculum to suit community college needs, highlighting the adaptability required in AI education,” Pearson said.
The panel also discussed the necessity of making AI and related technological education accessible to individuals from non-technical backgrounds. Rob Loy, Executive Director of Academic Advancement and Innovation at Grand Canyon University, mentioned that the university plans to incorporate AI components into various education levels, from certificates to master’s programs.
This would cater to the different needs within the workforce, from those building and training AI models, to those using AI as a tool in their respective fields.
“Identifying and addressing skill gaps in AI is not a luxury,” said Diane Meza, Director of the Maricopa Information Technology Institute. “It’s a necessity for future workforce development.”
The Path Forward – Embracing AI in Local Government
Adopting AI as a Tool for Public Good
The overarching theme from the workshop was that AI has tremendous potential to enhance public services and community engagement. Like Dr. Deitrick emphasized, AI systems can be viewed as collaborative coworkers, which raises questions about the quality and transparency of decision-making.
This analogy frames AI not as a mere tool, but as an active participant in government operations that must be managed and governed accordingly.
The Importance of Community and Collaboration
Dean Duncan, Executive Director of The Connective, also emphasized that in order for AI to be successful, communities must work together through partnerships, shared learning and collaborative efforts to successfully implement AI in local government.
By building awareness and sharing knowledge now, local governments in Arizona and beyond can start to strategically use AI to improve the quality of life in communities.
The Connective is committed to supporting important discussions around AI and other technologies that can enhance local governments.