Takeaways from the AI Seoul Summit, New Zealand’s Public Service Commission moves to slash headcount: news in brief

By on 30/05/2024 | Updated on 30/05/2024
Image: Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

Global Government Forum’s weekly news roundup of public service intelligence

In this edition:

Governments commit to tackling AI as Seoul summit concludes 

Image: Eden Moon from Pixabay

At the latest AI Summit in Seoul last week, national leaders from across the world agreed to develop a set of proposals for assessing AI risks over the coming months. 

The consensus was that countries will work together for the first time to define what constitutes severe AI risks, including those that arise in the context of building biological and chemical weapons.

This will also include AI’s ability to escape human oversight, either by manipulation or deception, or by the functions of autonomous replication and adaptation. 

The statement for advancing AI safety, innovation and inclusivity, which was signed by 27 governments and the European Union (EU), warned that the risks from  AI models or systems “could be posed by the potential model or system capability to meaningfully assist non-state actors in advancing the development, production, acquisition or use of chemical or biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery”.  

However, it added that with these risks also come “transformative benefits…in areas such as administration, welfare, education and healthcare.”  

“These benefits include…accessible digital services and automated procedures that enhance citizen experience in accessing public services,” it states.

Prominent AI developers will be expected to release AI safety frameworks that specify how they will measure the risks of their models ahead of the next summit. Leading companies that made their own voluntary safety commitments included Google, Meta and OpenAI. Their commitments included pledges to disable systems if the most extreme risks to emerge could not be adequately managed.  

The next summit is billed as the AI Action Summit and is due to take place in France in 2025. 

New Zealand’s Public Service Commission moves to slash headcount

A photo of National Party leader and incoming New Zealand prime minister Chris Luxon celebrates the party’s success
National Party leader and New Zealand prime minister Chris Luxon. Photo: New Zealand National Party Facebook page

New Zealand’s Public Service Commission (PSC) is planning to cut its headcount by 37, almost a fifth of its workforce, as part of an effort by government to slash costs across the public sector. 
The cut could see the termination of 24 roles, along with voluntary redundancy offers for a further 13 members of staff. The proposal will also reduce the number of tier-two leaders to four while reducing other leadership roles to a headcount of 21.

The potential layoffs follow the government’s request that the commission reduce its spending by 7.5%. Agencies within New Zealand’s government that are already seeing the effects include Oranga Tamariki, WorkSafe, the Ministry of Social Development, and others. 

The government, led by National Party leader Chris Luxon, was set to trim government spending ever since it was voted into office in October 2023. 

The party’s ‘Back Pocket Boost’ policy agenda said a savings drive would start immediately when they took office. This would aim to make an average savings of 6.5% from the 2023-24 forecasted departmental expenditure. 

The National Party said it would only aim to reduce public service headcount “in non-essential back-office roles such as communications and policy” as part of plans to save an average NZ$594m (US$354m) per year across back office functions. It has also proposed reductions in government spending on contractors to the tune of an average NZ$400m (US$238m) per year. 

Finance minister Nicola Willis said this week that the government’s drive to reduce public service spending could lead to 3,900 job cuts, comprising around 2,750 currently filled roles and about 1,150 vacancies.

Australia’s new Digital Atlas connects national data for better insights 

Image: Yucel Moran on Unsplash

A new digital platform combining detailed datasets from across Australia to provide a “unique view” of the nation is now live.  

The Digital Atlas of Australia, developed by Geoscience Australia, brings together a wide range of data including on water systems, soil analysis, bushfires, social infrastructure and demographic information collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  

Interactive maps and tools allow users to explore, analyse and visualise data by location. 

Madeleine King, minister for resources and Northern Australia, said the platform would become an essential tool for planners and researchers, or anyone interested in better understanding the nation.  

“The Digital Atlas can help identify opportunities for industries such as mining and agriculture by combining analysis of soil and geology, water bodies, and land use data,” she commented. 

“Using data from across government agencies, the Digital Atlas gives government comprehensive data to better understand and to respond to issues.”   

According to a news release, the data hub “allows the removal of geographic boundaries usually inherent in current methods of government data collection by curating and connecting the datasets that already exist and providing them in one digital resource”.   

This national approach aims to deliver in-depth information on topics like income support, demographic breakdown, employment figures and environmental changes, providing government with comprehensive data to better understand and respond to priority issues, including emergency management. 

“The platform is built with the latest technology and has passed strict security assessments to safeguard and enable safe data sharing,“ a statement said. 

White House announces grid modernisation programme to boost clean energy 

Photo by Cristina Tarantino/Pexels

Earlier this week, the White House launched a grid modernisation and deployment initiative, bringing together 21 states, federal entities and power sector stakeholders. The programme aims to speed up the shift to cleaner energy and reduce outages.  

Participating states have committed to prioritise efforts that support the adoption of modern grid solutions to expand grid capacity and build modern grid capabilities on both new and existing transmission and distribution lines. Technologies include high-performance conductors that can carry more electricity, sensors, power flow control devices and analytical tools.  

“These solutions increase the capacity and throughput based on real-time conditions,” the statement from the White House said. “Deploying these tools means that renewables and other clean sources of power can be integrated sooner and more cost-effectively than waiting for new transmission construction, which will address load growth challenges more rapidly, create good-paying jobs, and lower Americans’ utility bills.” 

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors, and the Department of Energy will provide technical assistance. 

The participating states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin. 

The initiative comes as hundreds of thousands of customers remain without power in Texas following severe weather and storms earlier this week. A recent report from non-profit research group Climate Central found that increasing extreme weather is putting stress on ageing energy infrastructure and is among the leading causes of major power outages in the US. 

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