New York City’s Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) recently released its strategic plan outlining the way the city will leverage new technology, increase digital access, and drive innovation. While the strategic plan is an important step forward for increasing digital access and bolstering the use of data-driven decision making and services, the plan fails to mention artificial intelligence (AI), aside from one very brief mention of machine learning. OTI should amend its strategy to address opportunities to use AI and the many ways AI-powered technology can better the lives of NYC residents, workers, and visitors.
The OTI strategy outlines five strategic priorities: building a connected city, advancing digital service delivery, harnessing the power of data, tech innovation for all, and enhancing technology resiliency. Under each pillar, OTI lists the new programs and endeavors that support the respective goal. To build a connected city, the office aims to increase 5G coverage and affordable broadband availability. Advancing digital service delivery includes three streamlined programs that modernize the delivery of city services. To harness the power of data, the office aims to create a unified view of the city’s data assets. Tech innovation for all creates programs that drive workforce development and help make the city a hub for innovative technologies. Lastly, enhancing technology resilience focuses on improving the foundational digital infrastructure for city agencies.
While these five pillars cover some of the most important aspects of technology use and governance by a city, OTI’s strategic plan excludes the use of AI. While the plan speaks about modernization and increasing data-driven decision making, neglecting to include concrete efforts to deploy AI is a missed opportunity. OTI should elaborate on the vast number of use cases for AI that can enhance city services, such as AI for public health monitoring, using AI-powered chatbots to increase access to government services, and using AI-powered tools to bolster student success in the classroom.
AI is poised to transform city life, but only if governing officials are prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities. For example, deploying smart city applications can improve city operations and maintenance, like optimizing waste collection in order to reduce emissions from garbage collection trucks. AI can also change the K-12 classroom by providing students with a more personalized learning experience. It can help teachers and administrators design better interventions. In daily life, AI can also be used to monitor things like public safety, traffic, and air quality.
In order to ensure that AI-enabled tools benefit New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds equitably, OTI should also update its data pillar to better address the data divide, or the social and economic inequalities that result from a lack of data collection or use of data about individuals and communities. Unless policymakers take active steps to increase data equity and eliminate these inequalities, some residents will continue to be left behind in a data-driven world. Effective data equity programs include plans to identify and close data gaps affecting access to critical services, boost geographic distribution of data collection capabilities, and build more representative datasets.
Moreover, OTI’s strategy should include the use of smart city technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT), as a natural extension of “harnessing the power of data.” IoT can help address the data divide by increasing data collection for people using city services, helping those services be more tailored and effective. And greater use of IoT devices enables more opportunities for automation with AI, such as improving the detection of water leaks in city fire hydrants.
The OTI strategic plan is an important step towards advancing technology and innovation in the nation’s largest city, but it falls flat when it comes to AI and data policy. If New York City hopes to truly lead on city innovation, it should update its strategic plan to include these critical areas.
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