Can artificial intelligence improve government accountability?
Last year Bass provided an excellent overview of the role big data can play in increasing government accountability. His analysis covered the current state of affairs and the problems with achieving the goal of a transparent government (Bass, 2015). In an amazing and eye-opening manner, he showed that while data can increase government accountability, numerous unresolved issues remain that must be overcome before we can have higher transparency. One of the major issues identified by Bass is the fact that many stakeholder (including journalists, agencies, members of congress, and others) don’t want greater transparency. Once that barrier is overcome, the data itself may have several problems (quality, quantity, value, etc.) – he points out. The existing laws and their interpretation can also hinder the progress (e.g. FOIA). He provides several recommendations on how government accountability can be improved.
Bertot, Jaeger and Grimes discussed applications of various technologies (in particular social media) in increasing government transparency (Bertot et al., 2012). While Bass provides a description of what accountability can be and the challenges to achieving that vision, Bertot et al. focus on what technology has been able to accomplish. It is important to point out that while Bass’s focus was on big data, Bertot’s is not on the data itself but on the use of information technology in general (e.g. procurement systems, social media etc.).
The point is that while we have two perspectives, one that argues that information technology has already created (and therefore has the capability to) create greater transparency and accountability. And the second perspective that while a lot had been done, a lot remains to be done and that will require tremendous effort and change. If I was developing a list to develop a change management program to achieve greater transparency, the list would include congress, lobbyists, executive office, agencies, journalists, courts, and the list goes on. This is a grim picture. In addition, it would require significant expertise in data science and technology itself. Frankly, while I realize the monumental challenge to achieve that level of accountability and transparency, I firmly believe that it should be pursued.
In fact, in addition to the technologies pointed out Bertot(Bertot et al., 2012) and Bass (Bass, 2015), we now have artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence can be used for:
- Pointing out accountability issues
- Bias free assessment of rule of law and its enforcement
- Evaluating consistency of strategy
- Recommend policy making
- Analyzing performance measures
- Identifying corruption and waste
- Increasing efficiency
- Preserving values that we respect (e.g. freedom, liberty justice, equality)
- Ensuring elections are fair
- Performing strategic behavioral analysis of leaders
- Bridging the gap between haves and have-nots
- And numerous other applications in both tactical and strategic areas
The key point is that artificial intelligence is going beyond the big data analytics and other information technologies. It provides a higher state of consciousness than possible with systems that lack the capacity to learn. Artificial Intelligence learns and it grows, and it understands and develops. The vision of artificial intelligence based government has already been laid out by Bartlett in an extremely interesting article (Bartlett, 2016).
But here are the problems:
- Would governments undertake the necessary initiatives that will make them more transparent and accountable?
- The companies that will come up with such technologies (and some are already there) will become so immensely powerful that while they will be able to create higher accountability and transparency for government but in doing so they will become more powerful than the government. And if that happens, would they get favorable legislation and power in other areas of their business.
Bartlett, S. J. (2016) The Case For Government By Artifical Intelligence. [online]. Available from:
Bass, G. D. (2015) Big Data and Government Accountability: An Agenda for the Future. ISJLP. [Online] 11 (1), 13–48.
Bertot, J. C. et al. (2012) Promoting transparency and accountability through ICTs, social media, and collaborative e-government. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy. [Online] 6 (1), 78–91. [online]. Available from: