Trialling artificial intelligence as a way to navigate government information

On: 19 October 2018

Meet Tai – he’s a 25 year old New Zealander who can navigate his way through complex information across multiple government websites, and provide you with answers to your questions in the blink of an eye. Only Tai’s not an actual person – he’s a digital assistant – powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

For the past few months MPI, along with Customs New Zealand, IRD’s Business Rules Centre, MBIE and Datacom have been working together to find out whether AI has the potential to make it easier for businesses to interact with government in a multi-agency context.

To develop the AI Proof of Concept, we agreed to focus on honey exporting because it requires businesses to navigate across two government agencies – MPI and Customs. MPI and Customs asked themselves “How can we make this easier for business? We know that navigating complex exporting requirements across our two government agencies can be confusing, complicated and time consuming”.

The Proof of Concept was completed in early July and tested by business users from the apiculture and exporting community. Users have the ability to ask export questions in plain natural wording and receive clear responses, also in plain language, across the honey exporting domain. The objective of the Proof of Concept is to find out if conversational AI works in a cross-agency regulatory context and if businesses would be open to have a conversation with a “machine” to reduce their effort searching for information to make decisions.

The AI Proof of Concept is being coordinated by government’s Better for Business programme. Working across 10 government agencies, Better for Business champions New Zealand businesses, and identifies and develops easier and smarter ways for business and government to interact.

The conception of Tai was further inspired by the opportunities presented by the Better Rules initiative, which showcased “Human and Machine-consumable Rules” as a key component for the digital transformation of government. Better Rules worked across several government agencies to explore the ideas and practice of turning legislation into machine-consumable ‘digital rules’. This process found opportunities for government in machine consumable legislation to capture benefits from new technologies – such as artificial intelligence. We have learnt through both of these initiatives that ultimately technology is only as good as the structure of the content and that by getting better at creating Human Consumable rules will have immense pay-back regardless of the Machine that needs to consume it, saving time, effort and money, and improved services to better deliver to people’s needs.

Better for Business Director, Lisa Casagranda says “It’s a perfect example of future-focused digital technologies enabling government service innovation for business customers. It’s a catalyst to improve the consistency and coordination between agencies and is an important step for government‘s future customer facing digital channels and service delivery.

“By coordinating agencies around important business outcomes and innovating our service delivery models, we aim to make it easier and more seamless for businesses to deal with government.”

Once Tai’s Proof of Concept testing period is complete, Better for Business and its 10 partner agencies will work together to agree on the role of AI in future multi-agency service delivery models.

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