Why Elected Officials Have a Responsibility to Embrace Technology

Listen to the commentators on the future of technology, and it’s either killer robots or a paradise of prolonged vacation and universal income. It’s no wonder we’re all anxious.

The good news? These are both false versions of our future reality.

Whether it’s artificial intelligence leading to autonomous weapons or automated factories resulting in massive job loss, the commentary ignores the likely long-term economic benefits, while simultaneously downplaying the short-term disruptions that accompany every wave of innovation.

Though it’s true that every new development brings certain risks, the answer isn’t to bury our heads in the sand and shun innovation. Government must embrace technology, work to implement it as widely as possible and develop solutions to mitigate any disruptive impact on citizens. Spending too many of our already-precious resources on doomsday scenarios obscures the opportunity to grow our economy, improve how government functions and foster the next great age of innovation.

America’s future is technology.

Governors know this, which is why the National Governors Association has launched NGA Future, which will help to identify where emerging technology and public policy intersect. That means examining innovations just now appearing on the horizon, assessing their potential impact and providing insights into how best to prepare for their eventual arrival.

There is no question that future technology will bring promising benefits. For example, rather than end civilization, enhanced computing power fueled by artificial intelligence offers the potential for a huge increase in human productivity. Artificial intelligence and the automation that comes with it will radically transform how Americans produce goods and deliver services.

The economy of the future is one where humans and machines work hand in hand, not where robots systematically out-work and replace human workers. Though there is risk of automation displacing some human tasks, innovation at such a large scale will undoubtedly create jobs in industries we are only beginning to imagine.

As the CEOs of their states, governors will be at the forefront of assisting their citizens and overseeing education, training, economic assistance and economic development programs that will be crucial during this economic transition.

But it won’t just be about growing the economy. Increased technological functionality means a real opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government functions.

For years the public sector has focused on evidence-based practices with measurable outcomes. The computing power unleashed by advances in artificial intelligence means that promising practices across the globe can be catalogued, identified, modeled and measured against the specific circumstances facing a government. Not to mention that predictive capabilities of advanced computing, sitting atop the vast trove of digital history, will enhance how government delivers services, ensures public safety and prepares for disaster mitigation.

These opportunities will only continue to grow across state government. In the future, we may see technology helping to improve health care outcomes by identifying signs of disease before it’s too late; enhancing the reliability of financial transactions and updating record keeping through distributed ledgers; identifying waste, fraud and abuse through data analytics; predicting and warning of natural disasters through sensor deployment; and enhancing cybersecurity preparedness through improved automation.

Simply put, technology has the potential to transform how government operates.

Of course new technologies bring new risks, just as those before them in past disruptive economic cycles, and government has a responsibility to closely monitor those risks. But our elected officials also have a responsibility to embrace the opportunity of this technology just as their predecessors embraced mobile phones, the Internet, telecommunications, electricity and steam.

America has a long history of innovation. As the country that embraced the industrialization of production, the mechanization of farming and the digitization of everything, we must proactively embrace the next phase of economic transformation.