Thanks to Hollywood’s hold on our imagination, we think of AI (artificial intelligence) in the most generic, even caricaturish, terms. It takes the form of either a futuristic, robotic being (think Terminator) or a shadowy, omnipotent presence (think HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

The reality is as mundane as the fiction is fantastic. The AI that is transforming how our lives and our government operate and relate to each other is mostly about data—documents, analytics, social media posts, emails, chatbots, you get the picture... and the text.

The geeky vocabulary of AI refers to applications such as natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), and computer vision (CV).

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In a report titled “Government Trends 2020,” global consulting firm, Deloitte, delves into “the most transformational trends in government today.”

GEARS OF GOVERNMENT

Hard to believe that, in the midst of lurching toward our national election, most of what directly affects our lives is not the personal attacks of politics or the emotional energy expended on hot-button policy issues. That’s a bunch of noise.

The devil’s in the details of the day-to-day, grinding gears of government—federal, state, and local. How can Uncle Sam (remember him?) be more responsible, responsive, and efficient, in a way that elevates, or at least sustains, a satisfactory quality of life.

That’s what Deloitte’s survey is concerned with.

The interfaces that connect us with government services—whether a website or a government office or printed matter by mail—are (spoiler alert!) not known for their user-friendliness.

It’s not very sexy to talk about that, though, or argue about it over a beer, like we do about politics, so we tend to ignore it—until we’re on a website run by the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration. That’s when we start cursing at the computer screen out of frustration. Why? Because it’s about as clear as mud to decipher the steps needed to apply for a new license or retirement payments.

CITIZEN TOOLKIT

Those are the kind of everyday consumer services where data-driven AI is being deployed to speed, simplify, and clarify the deliverables that comprise our citizen toolkit—namely, the services to which our citizenship and taxes entitle us.

The unbounded promise, and near-magical powers, of AI impelled the World Economic Forum to dub this the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to Deloitte, the forum points to advances that could be realized through artificial intelligence as “akin to the invention of the printing press, the steam engine, the automobile, and vaccines.” Pretty heady stuff that. Whether or not such a startling statement holds true only time (and artificial intelligence) will tell.

In the meantime, our federal government is on board with AI. To push forward with integrating AI into its infrastructure, It has digitized more than 235 million pages of records, with a goal of one-half billion digitized pages by 2024.

EVEREST OF DATA

Sounds impressive, but how would that Everest of data help you or me, or our descendants, who stand to benefit more fully from it in future decades?

Deloitte endorses the vision of a “digital citizen.” The benefits include less paperwork, improved quality in services, and a faster track for economic development.

Digital citizens could log into their government account with the ease of accessing a bank account. A land developer, suggests Deloitte, could “upload blueprints, check the status of a building inspection, and then click another tab to apply for government grants.

“A homeowner could apply for an easement, buy a bus pass, and pay taxes, all in one place.”

The best part about it may be that all the personal information that must repeatedly be entered on a government website would already be embedded as a unique digital identifier for each citizen.

INSTANT TAX FORM

Equally intriguing is the potential to vote online, access e-health records, use a pre-populated tax form, and get a marriage license or property deed at the touch of a few keystrokes.

The many benefits available through AI today barely scratch the surface of what’s attainable in very short order.

In Pittsburgh, AI-equipped traffic signals have reduced travel times by 25 percent and idling times by 40 percent, says Deloitte.

Using historical 911 call data, the city of Chicago is studying how it can prevent violent crimes through predictive analytics that describe where and when crimes are most likely to occur (think Minority Report).

All the shortcuts begin to add up fast as exponential time savers. Deloitte says more than 1 billion hours “can potentially be freed up through automation in the U.S. federal government.” That, in turn, would untether certain government workers from pushing paper around. Their skill and time could be redirected to more substantive tasks, such as research and development, and analysis, to improve and innovate services for the general populace.

The more we know about it, and the more pervasive its power to alter the course of human—and non-human—knowledge, the more evident it becomes that artificial intelligence is the real deal.

Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at bruce@aparpr.co; 914-275-6887.