2024 was the first year that artificial intelligence (AI) appeared on the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ (NASCIO) list of top priorities for state CIOs. Also for the first time ever, digital government services and cybersecurity tied for the top priority spot.

The list, which was voted on by 49 state and territory CIOs, represents state technology leaders’ top policy and technology priorities for 2024.

“Surprisingly, artificial intelligence rocketed up to the number three position for the 2024 CIO priorities which certainly surprised me, surprised many people, because it had previously not been on that list of management priorities and strategic initiatives,” NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson said during a NAPA event on March 26.

“Cybersecurity, digital services … they both tied for number one, which is the first time since 2007 since we’ve been doing this top 10 [list],” Robinson said. “AI has a very prominent position in obviously 2024 strategic initiatives of state CIOs.”

Robinson keyed in on the fact that AI, cybersecurity, and digital services are all closely related.

“We see AI being used expansively in cybersecurity threat detection. We see AI being used in digital services, and this is not new to the states,” Robinson said. “Our study and national survey in 2018 showed AI was embedded in a lot of business processes, and we just expected that to expand. I think the OpenAI and the ChatGPT platforms helped in creating that understanding and exposure, and some of the CIOs have just taken advantage of that.”

J.R. Sloan, the secretary and treasurer of NASCIO as well as the CIO for the state of Arizona, noted that state CIO shops can leverage generative AI in digital services externally through chatbots or internally to help employees sort through documents.

“Now as generative AI, it automatically brings an understanding of what languages and how to put words together,” Sloan said. “And we can now point out other training data and produce a chatbot much more quickly and then we can enhance that much more easily.”

Sloan highlighted that Federal agencies need to be thoughtful when putting guardrails around generative AI because the guidance ultimately flows down to states, and different sets of policies can cause confusion.

“I would ask our Federal partners to be thoughtful about their approach to the regulations they put in place,” the Arizona CIO said. “We are still working on harmonizing many different regulatory requirements that flow down … from our Federal partners.”

“I would be asking that they take a more harmonized approach from the get-go,” so states don’t end up forced to juggle different AI regulations and policies from various Federal agencies, he continued, adding, “That will be both welcome and very helpful.”

NASCIO’s Robinson said the group of state CIOs are working to “get out in front of the AI regulatory train.”

“This is what we saw with cyber, is that individual Federal agencies adopting their version of the NIST controls, and that impacts and rolls downhill to the state’s message,” Robinson said. “Our message has been – since we started that discussion over 10 years ago now – was we need to get out in front of this because the states are the agents for the Federal government and so many massive programs and we need to partner up and make sure that individual Federal agencies are not, again, introducing their interpretation of AI regulations that will impact the states in the future.”

“We’ve already started discussions. We submitted comments for the record,” he continued, adding, “We’re going to get out in front of [AI] early, we hope to partner with the Federal agencies.”

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