This weekend President Obama spoke to high tech computer science audience at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. “Government has to tackle harder problems than the private sector”, he told them, adding, “we are at a moment in history when technology, globalisation and our economy are changing so fast”.
He told an enthusiastic audience, “if we [in government] join forces [with you] there is no problem that is not solvable. It is not enough to focus on the next big thing. It is how we harness the next big thing to make sure that everybody in the country has an opportunity.”
And elsewhere we read about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, and of the fear that many people in the future will be stuck in a drudge underclass, working to the orders of a computer with AI that answers phones, talks to customers, negotiates with suppliers, solves delivery problems, and spots new trends in the market.
Which isn’t as fanciful as it sounds when we find that, also this weekend, that Google working with DeepMind has produced an AI machine called AlphaGo which has beaten a world-ranking player at Go three times in a row.
Don’t be misled. The use of AI to win games is just a showcase to catch public attention. DeepMind is a very general platform which can be tasked with a wide range of problems to solve and businesses to run. And no doubt with driverless lorries before long.
So, can we use AI to manage programmes in the public sector, the harder challenge?
Yes we can.