Can Games Help Senior Officials Govern in the Age of Artificial Intelligence?

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Oct 11, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Can Games Help Senior Officials Govern in the Age of Artificial Intelligence?

Salzburg Global Fellow Kevin Desouza reflects on the importance of stretching people’s imagination using case studies and hypothetical scenarios This case study was used at Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves?

The growth of artificial intelligence (AI) has been steadily rising. Visions of the future once only present in films and books are becoming a step closer to reality. There is a pressing need to understand the risks and opportunities of AI and what it means for societies across the world.

With this argument in mind, one could argue the time for fun and games is over. However, that might not be the case, according to Kevin Desouza, a professor in the School of Management at the Queensland University of Technology. Desouza and others believe one way to examine the potential for advances in AI in transforming how we govern is through gamification.

The concept was floated at this year’s annual retreat of the Public Sector Strategy Network, a multi-year series held at Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and in cooperation with Apolitical. This initiative is designed to build a “mutually-supportive coalition of individuals and institutions on the frontline of digital, financial and societal disruption, promoting effective public leadership and strategic communication.”

The meeting – Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves? – involved participations taking part in a simulation devised by Desouza and two co-authors: Richard Watson from the University of Georgia and David Bray from the People-Centered Internet Coalition.

Participants were presented with three consecutive cases and were asked to reflect on multiple possible solutions and how they might react to events given their own differences in experience, expertise, or government role.

The case study takes place in the world of Intelligensia. Players are assigned roles such as minister of health, chief information officer, or as a patient with a terminal illness. Together, they work through a scene and capture responses to several questions.

In a brief explaining the case study, which can be downloaded in full here, Desouza, Watson, and Bray write, “The case study is deliberately focused on issues that take place 6-24 months from now, a technological reality about to challenge society’s conventions. The case is intended to stretch the imagination of participants and to encourage independent thought regarding potential challenges and opportunities based on current R&D trajectories for AI as well as deliberative political, social, and economic systems.”

The idea for the case came from discussions with public managers and senior leaders from public, private and non-profit institutions. Speaking with Salzburg Global, Desouza said, “In my discussions, two things became clear. First, individuals needed a more nuanced introduction to the implications of machine learning systems… Second, they needed tools to help them envision how the future of autonomous systems will impact all facets of society to think through the economic, political, and policy implications.”

Writing a case study appeared to be a “natural idea,” according to Desouza. It would give people something tangible to work through, both as individuals and in group settings. Desouza said, “The case study allows people to get their minds and hands dirty as they wrestle with scenarios, fill in incomplete information, make their assumptions explicit, and debate responses and logic behind them.”

Desouza believes it is important for senior officials to get ahead when it comes to the future of autonomous systems. When it comes to AI, Desouza says, “What we do not yet understand is how autonomous systems operating at the ecosystem level… will shape outcomes and interactions across all levels of our society… This is where we need a more holistic approach to imagining the future of these systems. We need to think about their design implications and their influences and impacts on the principles and values of our societies.”

To download and read Desouza, Watson and Bray’s case study in full, please click here.

Alternatively, view the publication on ISSUU


Desouza attended Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves? This meeting was part of the Public Sector Strategy Network, a multi-year initiative held in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and in cooperation with Apolitical. More information on this session can be found here.