How AI and Machine Learning Can Transform the Public Sector?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still in an exploration phase marked by new ideas, emerging
technologies, and applications. Yet, at the same time, the current evolution has already boosted
effectiveness and efficiency in several fields.
AI has already found a privileged place in the private sector, feeding tech giant such as Google,
Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Tesla. However, the public sector is not immune to the
immense power of AI.
Over the past few decades, AI adoption in the public sector has been slower and less intense than in
the private sector. The reason lies in the inner difference between public and private, as the first one
manages public services and public goods. Besides, AI functioning is still hardly understandable for
a major part of the political elite, who is called to consider the implications of AI in the societal,
economic, political, and ethical realm and, for extension, the regulatory issues related to these new
Recently, the governments, as well as several international organisations, are setting new policies
and conducting multilateral discussions to understand and identify the best practices to guide AI
technologies’ incorporation in the public sector.
The common and comprehensive strategy sees AI crucial and essential to meet citizens’ new and
old needs, deliver better public services, enhance coordination in the public administration, design
better policies and make better decisions.
What AI has to offer in the public sector?
o Lower costs
o New/improved public services
o More efficient decision-making processes
Therefore, this strategy is built around the potential benefits AI has to offer in the public sector. For
instance, it is expected that, in few years, AI incorporation in the administrative sector will free up
nearly one-third of public servants’ time, allowing them to shift from mundane tasks to high-value
Secondly, the decision-making process will be enhanced as governments will be able to make fair
previsions. This outcome is even more important in strategic fields such as education, health sector
Considering, then, the benefits as well as the borderless applications of AI technologies, what are
their specific applications in the public sectors?
Improving government efficiency and decision making
Governments in the 21 st century are called to face new types of challenges – climate crisis,
technological revolution, rapid urbanisation, and cultural revolution – making the need of an
Innovation is more urgent than ever. As results, policy makers are looking with interest to the new
technological revolution brought on by AI. In particular, algorithmic decision-making is proving to
AI and Machine Learning allow processing huge volumes of data faster, with much greater
consistency and accuracy; and governments are called to make decisions every day to implement
policies and regulate administrative tasks.
The covid-19 pandemic contributed to underline structural deficiencies in the healthcare sector. The
pandemic, the rapidly ageing population as well as a shrinking workforce make even harder to
provide public quality care.
In response to an under-stress healthcare system, governments are increasingly funding national
initiative to expand the use of data-driven AI and technologies as they can power hospitals and
improve the patient-doctor relationship.
During the covid-pandemic AI technologies have proved to be useful in monitoring the number of
cases and inform the population. One notable example taps into Bluetooth communication
broadcasts from smartphone devices. In this system, data from a confirmed infected person’s cell
phones can be extracted to fill in a data platform. In this way, the population can determine whether
they had contact with an infected person and, thus, took preventive measures.
AI applications in transportation do not end in self-driving vehicles. AI can, in fact, play a strategic
role in increasing road safety and enhancing transportation policies. Several towns around the world
are already relying on AI to reduce traffic and incidents, and the public sector is benefiting from
these technologies to design better policies and improve decision-making.
The Estonian government is an example of how AI can be strategic in making preemptive actions
in order to reduce road accidents. The Estonian Road Administration enhanced an AI-powered
system to collect real-time information from emergency calls on traffic accidents and transportation
inefficiency. These data are then used to implement better targeted policies.
Across the globe, educators, educational researchers, and policy makers are increasingly concerned
about the percentage of students that dropout of school, as well as other education anomalies (i.e.,
full classrooms, lack of resources and poor communication). School dropout is a phenomenon that
comes at a great cultural, economic, and social cost and that affects all countries. However, some
indicators such as class performance, absenteeism, misbehaviour, socioeconomic status, are all
symptomatic of a higher risk of dropping out. With the help of AI, data mining, machine learning
and statistics is possible to use these variables to create warning system, predict and then solve
In Netherlands, for example, Capgemini Netherlands developed a predictive model that enables
early identification of students who might drop out. In 2010, the administration of Tacoma,
successfully boosted high school graduation rate by leveraging the predictive analytics strengths of
Azure Machine Learning. By predicting who is most likely of dropping out, schools can implement
specific measures to support students to stay in school and complete their studies.
Another issue AI can help with is timesaving. Teachers spend hours on activities that could be
automated using AI technologies. By automating routine tasks such as registration, preparation,
quantitative assessment and marking, the education offer can be improved and updated easily,
leading to better student outcomes.
Relationships with citizens
AI can offer strategic tools to complement formal mechanism of accountability and enhance
citizens engagement. Through data-analysis, feedback and AI-powered chatbots, governments can
collect useful and first-hand insights to monitor and evaluate policies.
Chatbots are mainly known for marketing purposes, allowing customers to have an easier and faster
communication with the seller during the buyer’ journey. However, chatbots are also implemented
in the public sector for citizens’ quick access to public data, general information and reporting
Nowadays, it is possible to find several examples of government chatbots. In 2019, for example,
the Portuguese Government launched a new public services portal, ePortugal, which uses a virtual
assistant chatbot to answer citizens' questions. The benefits are several including a quicker
access to data, better assistance and delivering of public services and 24/7 availability and high
2. Feedback and social media
By processing a large amount of data with AI, the public sector can gain feedback from a large
share of citizens. AI and the ‘sentiment analyser’ can measure the sentiment pulse of text data and
divide the citizens’ impression into positive, neutral, and negative. These can be useful during the
project’s implementation phase to track progresses, performances, and the project’s quality, as
perceived by the beneficiaries: the citizens.
Artificial Intelligence holds tremendous potential to help governments better serve citizens. Despite
the adoption of AI is slower in the public sector than it is in the private one, governments are
already testing and discovering the benefits of these technologies. AI can be useful to guide and
improve all the policy making cycle, from the identification of the problem to the implementation
Yet, the public sector has a double responsibility. On one hand, it has to regulate AI developments
and applications to protect citizens from potential algorithmic harms and ethical issues; on the other
the public sector is called to increase its own efficiency in the light of the digital revolution.