It feels like everywhere I turn the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being debated. I usually encounter two different views in the context of Health and Human Services. One is that AI will provide a miraculous panacea to extract human services from the challenges they face, ranging from an environment of complex siloed systems and labor-intensive processes evolved over decades. Optimists argue that AI can deliver the nirvana of simplicity. The other view I hear is that AI is the latest jargon and an incremental step along the journey to automation. The argument here is that states have already spent years building rules engines and other processes to move towards automation. AI, the cynics’ claim, is no different.
To a certain extent, both are right and both are wrong. AI is not a miracle cure for the challenge of complexity. It is instead a new way to operate as a person that can help navigate the complex range of technologies, programs, systems and stakeholders that make up the human services ecosystem today. So why as a person? Because, if properly trained, AI has the potential to become a smart assistant to human services personnel and citizens alike. Our 2018 Tech Vision highlights the way AI is already becoming a responsible and a contributing member of society working side-by-side with people, augmenting human capability.
Leaders in Human Services are beginning to see that AI can help them with their roles in ways that have not been possible before. For example, one state we are working with is piloting AI-enabled bots to better automate the handling of phones calls for assistance. Today, when a call is received, updates need to be sent to four different workers to enter the information across four different systems. This framework is too costly and impractical to maintain. However, with a trained AI-enabled bot, the process can be streamlined to update information across multiple systems simultaneously.
In an era where there is more need than can be addressed by current staffing levels, AI-enabled automation will provide more capacity. Regardless of how successful we are with automation, we’re always going to need people to serve people. AI’s role is to better enable workers with the insights they need to support the most vulnerable people in our society.
We are working with clients to develop AI capabilities that, once trained, can move across the human services ecosystem to create a complete multi-agency picture of an individual’s challenges, circumstances, and history of interactions. Armed with that holistic picture, case workers can use the insights to improve service engagement, resulting in better outcomes. Once we train AI, the ability it provides case workers and others to see the whole picture of any one individual is very powerful.
From updating information across multiple systems to understanding complex family needs, health and human service leaders are demonstrating real vision in their willingness to begin experimenting with AI enabled technologies. We have run innovation sessions with more than 30 state teams around AI in the last six months. Each state has different priorities they want to focus on – ranging from the opioid epidemic, infant mortality, children at risk of abuse and so on. One of the remarkable benefits that AI provides is that once trained to address one of these challenges in one state, the capability can quickly be deployed to others.
This capability is critical because the time for talking about working and collaborating across ecosystems is over. It’s time to do something about it. And AI provides one significant step towards achieving it.