Published on November 21, 2023, 5:12 pm

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s office recently released a report highlighting the potential benefits and risks associated with generative AI in state government. The report, a result of an executive order issued by Newsom in September, aims to explore the use of this emerging technology within the state and capture its economic benefits.

The 34-page document outlines six potential ways California could utilize generative AI to improve accessibility of services, enhance cybersecurity, and streamline operations. However, the bulk of the report focuses on delving into the risks posed by generative AI. These risks span across various areas including privacy, security, workforce impact, transparency, safety, and government accountability.

One particularly alarming risk mentioned in the report is generative AI’s potential to enable “bad actors” to design or acquire dangerous weapons such as chemical or biological weapons. The report also highlights risks like supporting misinformation campaigns, generating offensive material and deepfakes (synthetic media that appears real), and lowering barriers for launching harmful campaigns on social media.

Furthermore, there are concerns about identifying how generative AI models reach their conclusions. Obtaining accurate information from these models is expected to be an ongoing challenge. The report also warns about potential cybersecurity threats posed by generative AI, including remote execution of harmful code and data manipulation.

Despite these risks, the authors of the report maintain an optimistic outlook on the role of generative AI in government. Liana Bailey-Crimmins, California’s Chief Information Officer and part of the task force created by Newsom’s order, expressed excitement at being at “the forefront” of generative AI in government. She believes that deploying this technology can improve access to government services while saving time and money.

Amy Tong, California’s government operations secretary also sees an opportunity for the state to pioneer new use cases for generative AI. Through well-designed trials and careful implementation, Tong believes that government employees’ work can be made easier while improving services provided to the people of California.

The report identifies six major use cases where generative AI can provide benefits to state agencies. These include data summarization and classification, catering to diverse populations, expanding the use of foreign languages, streamlining software development, empowering decision-makers with insights, and optimizing operations for environmental considerations.

Having completed the initial step of Newsom’s generative AI order, officials are now focusing on developing training materials for state employees, establishing partnerships with regional institutions, and creating tools for testing generative AI products before widespread deployment. The order also requires ongoing analysis of how AI is impacting the state.

To ensure responsible innovation, the AI task force is working on a “procurement blueprint” that outlines how California can purchase new software from private companies while adhering to safety and ethical standards. Additionally, formal partnerships with UC Berkeley and Stanford University are being established to gain deeper insights into generative AI’s effects. The state plans to host a summit next year to discuss the impact of generative AI on the workforce and the state as a whole.

California’s initiative in exploring generative AI within government demonstrates its commitment to leveraging emerging technologies for better governance. While risks exist, careful consideration and strategic implementation could pave the way for improved services and efficiency in state operations.

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