Doctoral Student Studies Role of AI in Government

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 13, 2022) — When UAlbany launched the Albany Artificial Intelligence Supercomputing Initiative (Albany AI) in June, one of the primary components was to prepare its students to find careers in a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly critical role.

For Tzuhao Chen, a PhD student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, AI can be applied to a host of issues in the public sector, with the goal of transforming public services for the betterment of society. His concentration is in Information Technology and Management and his research is on the use of AI in government organization from a public administration perspective.

UAlbany Doctoral Student  Tzuhao Chen
UAlbany Doctoral Student Tzuhao Chen

“I started to become interested in AI a couple of years ago when I had to decide on the topics of my candidacy papers,” said Chen. “My committee chair, Dr. Mila Gasco Hernandez, was doing research at the time about the organizational challenges of the adoption and implementation of AI in government settings and I realized that the implementation process had been little researched.”

Chen’s candidacy papers aim at better understanding the deployment of AI systems in the public sector. He has conducted a literature review that identifies and classifies determinants (challenges and enablers) of the implementation of AI in public organizations.

In his paper, which is nearing final review, he finds that although the implementation of AI is a multi-dimensional issue that comprises multiple layers of determinants, data and information (data availability, quality, and privacy and security), technology (interoperability, expertise, assessment), and organizational factors (human and financial resources and past experiences) play a key role.

The review also shows that the literature has mainly focused on data and information, technology, inter-organizational, and institutional determinants showing that further research is needed on organizational and contextual factors in order to have a more comprehensive view of the implementation of AI in the public sector.

Along with his candidacy committee chair and another colleague from the University College London in the United Kingdom, Associate Professor of International Public Management Marc Esteve, Chen has also conducted empirical work on the deployment of chatbots in 22 state agencies across the United States.

Their analysis identifies ease of use and relative advantage of chatbots, leadership and innovative culture, external shock, and individual past experiences as the main drivers of the decisions to adopt chatbots. Further, it shows that different types of determinants (such as knowledge-based creation and maintenance, technology skills and system crashes, human and financial resources, cross-agency interaction and communication, confidentiality and safety rules and regulations, and citizens’ expectations and the COVID-19 crisis) impact differently the deployment and implementation processes and, therefore, determine the success of chatbots in a different manner. The authors conclude that future research could focus on the interaction among different types of determinants for both adoption and implementation, as well as on the role of specific stakeholders, such as IT vendors.

Chen will continue studying AI in the public sector in his future dissertation, which will revolve around the accountability issues that the use of AI systems in the public sector entail.

In addition to studying AI through the lens of the public sector, Chen has also taken advantage of experiential learning opportunities offered through the University’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) where he now serves as a research assistant while progressing toward completing his PhD.

“CTG Albany is an excellent place for me to learn the theories and practices concerning digital transformation in the public sector,” said Chen. “It provides me with the fabulous opportunity to see how ICTs (information and communication technologies) are utilized in the frontline of government, especially the dynamics among various actors' collaboration. The robust research capacity could also equip me with the necessary skills to conduct rigorous theoretical and empirical studies. These experiences and training would be valuable assets for my future career.”

Of particular importance is the work that he is doing on the CTG UAlbany and College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity led project “Message Design Dashboard for Wireless Emergency Alerts.”

This four-year research project funded by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is focused on developing a web-based a software application to help emergency managers write effective messages for public alert and warnings. For this project, Chen is using his research skills to help design interview protocols and conduct interviews with local government emergency management professionals throughout the United States. He also conducted a current practices review of the leading commercially available alert and warning software applications. All of this work has been critical to informing the design of the project’s Message Design Dashboard prototype.

The next steps for Chen are to continue to build upon his learning experiences and complete work on his dissertation.

“After receiving my PhD, I intend to find a position and contribute to academics and practice by conducting both theoretical and applied works,” said Chen.