The digital transformation of government may spark an unprecedented leap forward in public services. Tools like open data, automation, govtech, civic tech and more sophisticated digital service design promise to make services radically smarter, more effective – and cheaper. At their most advanced, the tools of this new, digital government seem to belong to the future: predictive analytics are already being used to forecast where crimes will be committed, which houses will flood or when extra hospital beds will be needed.
The risks, however, are many. Using algorithms to make decisions can entrench the prejudices of the people who designed them or give apparent legitimacy to the biases embedded in our society. When applied to things like sentencing people convicted of crimes, it can ruin lives. Add in difficulties like securing data privacy and protecting the public interest amid the commercial relationships that come with digital services, and it becomes a very complex gift indeed.
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