Government in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

by Newt Gingrich

Initially, I was going to write about government adopting the powerful new capabilities of emerging artificial intelligence (AI).

Then I realized that focusing on government adoption of AI is exactly wrong.

Bureaucracies always defend themselves and minimize or reject demands for change. Anyone who doubts this should watch “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Minister,” the two brilliant BBC-TV series created by Antony Jay. Jay was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and found the bureaucracy’s efforts and maneuvers to avoid change so amazing he turned real stories into an on-going sitcom. Prime Minister Thatcher said it was her favorite TV show.

The classic American bureaucracy’s reaction to new technology is force it into the existing culture and system – rather than changing its culture and system to fit the new technology. A great example is the effort to protect the U.S. Army’s horse cavalry in World War II.

In his fascinating book “Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers,” Col. Dave Johnson reported on a meeting in March 1942. Armored warfare had proven decisive in Poland and France. It was seven months after Germany launched the largest armored offensive in history while attacking Russia. The Commandant of Cavalry (a branch Ronald Reagan served in as a reservist riding a horse in the 1930s) reassured Gen. George Marshall (the head of the Army) that his branch had carefully evaluated the German blitzkrieg. The cavalry had concluded that it needed to buy trucks that could carry the horses to the edge of battle so they would be fresh when they charged the German tanks.

Marshall listened to the Commandant and thanked him. As the Commandant left, Marshall told his assistant, Gen. Beadle Smith, to retire the Commandant at the end of the day and abolish the post of Commandant of Cavalry. Marshall understood that horses going against tanks and machine guns would be a massacre. He was committed to winning the war rather than protecting the bureaucracy.

Technologies can have amazing impacts. Ice men used to deliver ice for people’s ice boxes at home. They were of course replaced by electricity and modern refrigeration. Stagecoaches were replaced by trains – and then trains were replaced by airplanes.

Similary, the pony express was replaced by the telegraph, which was then overtaken by the telephone. Further we switched from “number please” telephone operators to automatic dialing (there are not enough people currently in the United States to have handled today’s volume of calls).

Consider the transition from vaudeville shows on stage, to silent movies, to black and white talkies, to technicolor films, and then to black and white television (my Aunt Loma’s first TV was 13 inches and had a lot of snow). Now, we have much larger TVs which weigh a fraction of their original weight.

Imagine trying to explain to someone in 1824 – or even 1924 – that the huge screen in your home is connected to thousands of movies and shows. Now imagine trying to explain your mobile phone.

Everywhere that innovation occurs it does so with surprising speed – and in ways we could not have foreseen. Nevertheless, we as individuals rapidly adapt. This is not the case for large bureaucracies.

Instead of trying to get obsolete, entrenched, stuck in the past bureaucracies to learn to dance in this brave new world, we must reverse the question.

We do not want to know how AI can be adapted to government. We want to know how government can be adapted to AI.

If you begin to imagine a world of ubiquitous real-time information with systems that are constantly learning and improving their abilities, what could your government enable you to achieve?

Imagine extraordinarily effective self-applied diagnostic systems. How hard would various industries and interest groups work to keep you from using them since they would cost virtually nothing?

Imagine personalized learning systems for virtually every skill and area of knowledge. It would be designed to sense what you already know and what you will need to know. It could be designed to work back from whatever profession, skill, or capability you define, sense what your current capabilities are, and offer enhanced learning at a pace you can achieve. Given the millions of Americans who have graduated from high school who are unable to read, write, or do math, imagine how empowering and uplifting such a system could be. Of course, the education bureaucracies and the teachers’ union will fight it tooth and nail.

The acclaimed business executive Peter Drucker once proposed that we routinely ask ourselves “if we weren’t already doing something, would we start?” He then asserted that if we wouldn’t start, we should quit doing it. Applied to the Pentagon, the intelligence services, the State Department, the international bureaucracies, and even your local department of motor vehicles, the results would be dramatically smaller, less expensive and vastly more effective systems.

The emerging implications of AI could improve every aspect of government. This is one of the keys to a successful American future.

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