One in ten Canadian public servants already using AI for work purposes

By on 05/07/2023 | Updated on 24/08/2023

More than 10% of Canadian public servants say they have used artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT in their work, Global Government Forum research has found.

A survey of 1,320 federal employees across the Canadian Public Service revealed the attitudes of officials to the use and development of AI.

When asked if they have used AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard for work purposes, 11% of officials said they had – 8% sometimes and 3% often.

The survey also identified the areas where Canadian public servants are most positive about using AI.

Officials were keenest to use AI to process large amounts of data (61% were either excited or positive about the opportunity), and for real-time analysis and monitoring of public service delivery, for example traffic flow analysis, or improving healthcare services (48% either excited or positive).

However, public servants raised a number of strong concerns about the potential use of AI in some areas of public service delivery. Nearly half of officials (48%) said they were very concerned about the “accountability and responsibility for AI-based decisions and actions” in government. Over two-fifths of officials were concerned about both the potential over-reliance on AI leading to a lack of public service autonomy and decision-making capabilities (44%) and public servants’ lack of understanding and familiarity with AI hindering its use (41%).

GGF will be reporting in full on the findings from this survey in the coming weeks.

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Making AI equitable for all

Concerns about the use of AI in government were also raised at a recent Global Government Forum webinar, which looked at how governments are working to ensure that AI is equitable for all.

The webinar audience heard from public and civil servants in Germany and Scotland, as well as the Jalisco state government in Mexico, about both the potential and challenges of using AI in government. Examples ranged from how Jalisco is using AI-based referral systems to identify diabetes in patients to how Germany is using machine learning and AI to analyse data on construction site accidents. This is helping the government to identify sites with a higher risk of accidents, and to undertake intelligence-based inspections.

However, speakers also had concerns about the use of AI in public services. Laura Carter, who is the senior researcher in public sector algorithms at the Ada Lovelace Institute, highlighted a lack of clarity about how governments need to treat data when they use AI, with contrasting regimes of UK GDPR and the Equality Act making it hard to demonstrate compliance with regulations. Concerns were also raised around frontline workers, who are unlikely to rely on or trust outputs from data analytics systems if the rational for how those outputs are generated isn’t clear. Panellists’ emphasised that analytics should be explainable in a way that is accessible to everyone involved in the system.

Read more: Agricultural advice AI wins Canada’s Public Service Data Challenge

A full report from the AI for all? Addressing the biases in automation webinar will be available soon, and you can watch the webinar in full on the Global Government Forum YouTube channel.

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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