The City of Greensboro recently joined GovAI, a coalition of hundreds of municipalities established to promote the responsible use of artificial intelligence in local government. The organization provides guidelines for cities interested in employing AI tools to improve operations and aims to help them navigate the risks associated with the technology.  

The effort is spearheaded by Khaled Tawfik, Chief Information Officer for the City of San Jose, California. WFDD’s April Laissle sat down with him to discuss the coalition’s work.

Interview Highlights

On how city governments can use AI tools:

"You can apply it to everything that we do, from translation, to analyzing traffic patterns, to seeing how we can design our roads to be safer and faster. It could potentially be our eyes in the street to detect when something goes wrong, and we could be proactive in addressing these things before they become a concern for the public."

On the challenges of using AI responsibly:

"Number one, the technology is moving too fast for policymakers to even comprehend what's happening. Technologists are having issues even keeping up with that technology. Every week, there's something new, which causes great stress, you know, 'Do I invest in this technology, or do I invest in that technology?' And if I invest in one, and halfway through, the development of new technology might completely wipe what I'm doing here, so I have to start all over again. So, we are in a flux of instability, and the technology hasn't matured yet. Vendors, they tend not to want to really explain how they make decisions, how they're capturing our data, how they're retaining our data, what kind of measures they have for safety, privacy, equity."

On advice he gives to city leaders interested in implementing new technology: 

"Have a dialogue with the staff. That's the number one, you have to explain to them, 'What's the risk of using this technology?' The second part is understanding what the vendor is trying to do. If something goes wrong, how would the vendor recover from that mistake? Just ask all the what-ifs. 

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