New York City Chief Technology Officer (CTO) John Paul Farmer recently released a 116-page artificial intelligence (AI) strategy guide highlighting the city’s current AI research and proposing a future in which AI touches virtually every municipal process.

“The broad goal is to ensure New York City is equipped to meet the opportunities and challenges AI presents with robust and holistic steps that will support a healthy local ecosystem – one in which a broad mix of organizations across sectors work in concert to promote well-being, equity, and opportunity for all New Yorkers,” the guide says.

The strategy argues that a healthy ecosystem features:

  • Decision-makers across sectors that are informed of what AI is and how it works. They are also well informed on the technical, social, and ethical considerations that come into play in the technology’s use.
  • Government use of AI that is productive, fair, and accountable.
  • Industry and other organizations, such as hospitals, schools, and universities, using AI responsibly, with careful attention to ethical considerations like fairness, accountability, and privacy.
  • Cross-sector collaboration that is actively promoted to foster learning, innovation, and responsible use of AI.
  • Residents that are protected from harm enabled by AI, and that are empowered to participate in informed decision-making and have appropriate ways of holding institutions accountable.

“The City must consider this array of factors holistically to be able to effectively plan for the multifaceted ways in which AI is having an impact across society,” the guide says.

To identify the most promising use cases for AI in city government, the report recommends that leaders select a mix of agencies to review the best ways the technology can be applied. While some agencies, like the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, use AI and machine-learning tools directly, others like the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services are only impacted indirectly.

“AI and ML are rapidly assuming integral roles in everyday life, but the general public and some key decision-makers do not yet understand them well. That’s why it is necessary to broadly deliver a base level of understanding about this revolutionary technology. The [strategy] aims to do just that,” Farmer said.

The guide also recommends that the city adopt a central framework that individual agencies could use to build out their data strategies and establish working groups with city leaders to ensure those strategies are consistent with one another. The report concludes that the city couldn’t hire data engineers or AI experts without a robust data ecosystem first.

The guide also includes a 31-page AI Primer that outlines the basics of AI and machine learning, and its relevancy to every agency. And it points out that in the coming years, governments, private companies, and academic institutions will make choices concerning AI that will resonate far into the future. “AI’s impact in the 21st century promises to be akin to that of the internet in the 20th century and electricity in the 19th,” Farmer said.

“As a global epicenter of innovation and home to nearly nine million people, New York City has a key role to play in shaping this future. Through the NYC AI Strategy, we are laying out the next steps needed to make the most of artificial intelligence, to protect people from harm, and to build a better society for all,” he said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.