As part of our Emerging Technology series and as part of Techweek’18 the Service Innovation Lab (the Lab) team brought together presenters from inside and outside of government to explore:
- What is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)?
- What are the impacts of AI/ML on New Zealand's government, economy and education system?
- How can they be used for better service delivery?
- What are are the requirements and preconditions for AI/ML use for service delivery?
AIs are either applied or generalised. Applied AI is most common and usually created to action specific tasks based on data and rules, e.g. manoeuvre an autonomous vehicle. Generalised AIs are less common and are systems or devices which in theory can handle any task. Development of AI in this area has led to the field of ML, which is based on the idea that if provided big data the AI can work out how to do a wide range of things by itself.
AI is a great way to reduce the complexity of systems – like government service delivery – by spanning a wide range of data, systems and processes while keeping it maintainable, consistent and providing a friendly service experience. But does New Zealand have the skills, strategy and coordinated response to the opportunities and challenges of AI?
AI shaping a future New Zealand
Ben Reid, Executive Director of the AI Forum, talks about the recently released AI Forum report: AI shaping a future NZ.
Note: Ben’s presentation is via Skype so the video shows the screen he was displaying on.
Digital humans and what to feed them
Victor Yuen, Head of Product at FaceMe, talks about the opportunities for AI and the considerations for its use including for delivery of government services.
The (hu)man in the machine
Donal Krouse, Senior Research Scientist at Callaghan Innovation, talks about the status and outlook of machine learning.
Chatbots helping school kids
Matthew Bartlett, Co-founder of Citizen AI (a subsidiary Community Law Wellington), talks about developing a chatbot to help kids and their parents with school problems and how Citizen AI is using that experience to develop a suite of other legal chatbots.
Note: The video is no longer available for this talk.
As quickly as I can, That's good. As Nadia mentioned, I'm with Citizen AI. I'm one of the co-founders, and Citizen AI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Community Law Wellington. And I just want to talk about one project that we've done and a couple that we're doing that may spark some ideas in the service delivery space, and there's quite a lot of overlap with some of the stuff we already talked about, which is helpful for the speed of it.
So the project is called Wagbot, and it's that chatbot that helps school students and their parents with problems at New Zealand schools. So it's accessible on Facebook Messenger, which means that if you're one of the 70% of New Zealanders who has a Facebook account, you can get to it live 24/7, and you can get to it by either searching Facebook for Wagbot or visiting m.me/wagbot. The kinds of things it can answer questions about-- this one. You probably can't read it at the back. Can schools charge fees, or do I have to pay the school donation or whatever?
So you ask it that, and you get a accurate authoritative hopefully very short answer back from it. Where you ask it questions that go outside of its domain-- for instance, I've got no friends at school-- it'll try to make an appropriate referral. So in this case, it'll say, sorry about that. I'm not very good at helping with that sort of thing, but you can talk to Youth line. And you can click the button and give Youth line's 0-800 number a call right from your phone, or speak to their Facebook Messenger service.
So it's kind of baby AI really. It's just using some off the shelf Google tech to match up all the different ways that people might ask questions with its knowledge base, so it's not very advanced. We're just sort of interested to see what this technology can do, a kind of low hanging fruit. Let's see if we can do something useful with it. That's the kind of motivation there.
Now, if it-- if it doesn't know what to answer, it's backed up by humans. So if you ask it something-- what school gets the most NCEA scholarships? I think it's Wellington College. I'm not sure about that.
But it'll say, sorry, I don't know. Why don't you talk to a human? And then you can ring the Student Rights line.
And that's-- the Student Rights line is-- can I click it? Yeah. Bring up the phone.
The Student Rights line is staffed by Victoria University law students, and that's been running for about 25-odd years, maybe 30 years. And that sort of comes to sort of what feeds it part things. So what Community Law-- strangely enough, Community Law Wellington have a kind of in-house publishing house that produces these, to my mind, very impressive resources. There's this Community Law manual-- 900 pages of every legal question you might want answered, and it's updated once a year. Next one's coming out about a month's time.
Problems at School-- similar but for the school issues, particularly. So 25-odd years of answering questions on this phone line has gone into producing this book, and that's the kind of secret sauce. Do you want to pass them around? Might be of vague interest.
So you got all these-- phone record have gone into the book, and then the book has formed the core of the knowledge base for the chatbot. And of course, the content of the books are also available for free online. So what we did once we launched Wagbot, and we started with that content and the Problems at School book-- but as real people started to use it, you can see it-- start seeing the gaps where the thing doesn't know what to say. So we hired a writer researcher person, and they would sort of look at the law, look at relevant government web sites, whatever, and write new content.
One-- and actually, this is a really key benefit out of the chatbot model we found, is that, unlike with a website, where you can see, yes, these are the most popular pages, but you don't-- you have to make quite a big guess-- quite a lot of guesswork, and what do people actually want to do. Whereas with the chatbot format, you can see that's what they want. And it sort of leads to interesting stuff, like in the reinforcing some of my gender prejudices with the Wagbot, when we get real students start talking with it, a lot of the time, they want to talk about sex, and a gender prejudice thing, the girls are mostly saying, I have a crush on a boy. What do I do about it? The boys are mostly saying, can I have sex with my teacher, can I have sex in the bathroom, that sort of thing, and many other things that I can't possibly mention in this context.
So we wondered a little bit how are we going to respond to this, and the first thing we did is give legally correct answers as far as we can to that. But we got in touch with Youth line, Youth Service, and they have quite a useful sex and consent quiz. And we just talked to them and said can we use that, and so we did a chatbot version of that, so it will present various tricky scenarios and quiz the kids, or parents if the parents are using it, and just help give them a little bit more information about consent and what's appropriate and that sort of stuff. So it's a fun example of being able to react to what people are really-- where people really are.
So Wagbot, alas, is presently on hold while we negotiate with the Ministry of Education to see if they might like to fund it's ongoing development. But happily, Community Law Wellington saw the potential of this technology to advance its mission of access to justice, and the very nice people at the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation are funding us to do a series of chatbots over the next three years. First one is tenancies, then prison related law, and then employment related law.
So I'm presently-- we're presently knee deep in Rentbot in researching every possible question we can think of about tenancy law from all sorts of different points of view and having lots and lots of meetings with different agencies and people to understand just, for instance, interactions this week with people in the sexual violence space, trying to understand if my partner has been violent towards me, we're both on the tenancy agreement, how do I get out of that without having to talk with them again? That sort of stuff. So the software side of it is just about there, and it's just the writing and getting all bases covered before we can release to the world.
So as I said, Citizen AI is a subsidiary of Community Law Wellington. It's a charitable company, and my personal motivation for kicking this thing off-- I'm one of the co-founders-- is the sense that's coming out from today, that AI is the next big thing, or the current big thing, and I'd really like to see it being used for some interesting stuff. One of my favourite words is this one, citizen, and I see it as sort of in opposition to consumer. For me, it has-- denotes ideas of equality before the law and membership in a web of rights and responsibilities and a sense of the individual's active participation in the business of society. So I want to point these technologies at that sort of thing.
We're really interested in collaborations, and if you have ideas for mission aligned projects, we'd really love to talk about them. We've got our own ideas, and very interested to hear yours. We have some ideas, like it'd be nice if you could take a photo of a hire purchase contract and have a quick thing that spits back at you, this is how much it's going to cost you, here's an unusual clause, this is going to get to you, watch out, that sort of thing. Maybe be nice to have a digital assistant that will help you write a complaint letter to a utility company, and guide you through the process and spit you out a PDF and told you where to email it, that sort of thing.
We're getting a little bit deep, and we have one project in the works that is analysing decisions from tribunals, seeing if we can pick out patterns, like what are the facts that are likely to win, is it worth taking this case, going through effort, that sort of stuff. But we try and do things in an open-sourcey way when we can. We have one project with a government agency at the moment, in the health and addiction space, to see if this chatbotty methodology might be useful there, which I'm not allowed to talk about yet unfortunately.
But where we can, we do the open source thing. You can follow our progress there or chat with me later. Thank you very much.
Need for a connected government response
Rosemary McGrath, Chief Architect at StatsNZ, asks ‘is government doing enough to prepare for and support the use of AI?’
Legislation as code
Pia Andrews, Integration Lead in the Service Innovation Lab, talks about legislation as code as a precondition for AI.
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