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Govt trials AI for multi-agency interactions

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 23 October 2018, 8:21 am

Navigating their way through multiple government agencies can be tough going for many businesses, so the Government is trialling an AI tool designed to make it easier.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Customs New Zealand, and IRD's Business Rules Centre have been working with Datacom on creating a digital assistant named Tai, which according to the release is a "25 year old New Zealander".

The anthropomorphism presumably makes it easier for business people to interact with an AI tool that has been created to trawl through government agency websites on their behalf. Following a proof of concept in July, the focus has initially been on honey exporting because it requires interaction with two agencies - Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and Customs.

"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 tool is being coordinated by the Better for Business programme, a collective of ten government agencies set up to make it easier for businesses to interact with their services. MBIE is the lead agency, and others in the group are ACC, Inland Revenue, Customs, Stats NZ, MPI, Worksafe NZ, NZ Transport Agency, NZ Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation.

Better for Business Director Lisa Casagranda describes the AI proof of concept as "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."

According to the release, Tai the digital assistant was also inspired 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."

The 10 partner agencies in Better for Business will look into how AI can be deployed in future, after the current proof of concept testing period is complete.


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