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In the Introduction to New Technologies learning module, we are going to introduce you to several new technologies that are enabling new ways of working in government. Specifically, we’re going to cover concepts related to: big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, collective intelligence and blockchain. At the end of this module, we hope that you’ll be able to describe these five technologies, and be able to point to specific examples of how governments have used these technologies to deliver better solutions to public problems.



In this interview, Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland, director of the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics labs and founder of the MIT Media Lab, speaks about new technologies and their applications for governing. Specifically he talks about the benefits of diversity in collective intelligence and describes several applications of the use of big data in government.



Thumbnail of interveiw with Alex Pentland


Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland directs the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics labs and previously helped create and direct the MIT Media Lab and the Media Lab Asia in India. He is one of the most-cited scientists in the world, and Forbes recently declared him one of the "7 most powerful data scientists in the world" along with Google founders and the Chief Technical Officer of the United States. Sandy co-led the World Economic Forum discussion in Davos that led to the EU privacy regulation GDPR, and was central in forging the transparency and accountability mechanisms in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. He has received numerous awards and prizes such as the McKinsey Award from Harvard Business Review, the 40th Anniversary of the Internet from DARPA, and the Brandeis Award for work in privacy.


Automation Beyond the Physical: AI in the Public Sector.

Ben Miller

Government Technology State & Local Articles - E.Republic

Government Technology, Sept. 2017

This article offers brief but clear definitions of artificial intelligence and two of its subsets: machine learning and neural networks. It then illustrates these concepts with real world examples of how the technologies can and are being used today. As the title implies, the article focuses on the tools' applications in the public sector, complete with an infographic that highlights 26 different ways in which they can be used in this capacity.

Read the full article here.

How Emerging Technologies Are Impacting Industries.

Dylan Bird


The Startup, 12 Nov. 2017

This article serves as a briefing on how various industries can strategically utilize emerging technologies in and around the world today. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather an introduction to the leading visions and practices across major industries. It defines technologies including blockchain, AI, Internet of Things, and virtual reality, and then comprehensively explains how they are influencing industries such as real estate, health care, transport, and more.

Read the full article here.

Top 10 Trends For Digital Transformation In 2017.

Daniel Newman


Forbes Magazine, 29 Nov. 2016

This article is very effective in concisely defining new technologies, positing the value of said technologies, and explaining current trends already underway with these technologies in various industries. It serves as a way of getting caught up with modern trends, and understanding how they can be useful.

Read the full article here.

Case Study: Registering Births on the Blockchain in Illinois.

Andrew Young et al.

The GovLab, Oct. 2018

This case study is part of The GovLab’s Blockchange initiative, which explores whether and how blockchain technologies can be used for social change. This particular study examines the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, or more specifically one of its first pilot projects which involved the development of a digital birth registration process powered by blockchain. The study offers a significant value proposition for blockchain in the public sector, supported by the real world example of its use in this particular project.

Read the full article here.

Introduction: Collective Intelligence as a Grand Challenge.

Geoff Mulgan

Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World

Princeton University Press, 2017, pp. 1–7

This reading is the first chapter of Nesta Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan’s book, Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World, in which he “describes the emerging field of collective intelligence that’s been prompted by a wave of digital technologies that make it possible for organisations and societies to think at large scale.” This particular chapter is the introduction, where he provides a broad overview of the concept, touching upon how it can be leveraged effectively, how it can be used in democracy, how technology is enhancing it, and more.

Read the full article here.


Thumbnail of video titled Big Mind - How collective intellige can change our world
Big Mind - How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World.

Geoff Mulgan


Nesta UK, 7 Dec. 2017

This is a video of Geoff Mulgan discussing his aforementioned book, the introduction of which we included as a reading in this module. This video serves a similar purpose as he is essentially presenting the idea of collective intelligence to the audience but, as it is fairly long, he obviously goes into much more depth using ideas and examples extracted from the book.

Watch the full video here.

Thumbnail of video titled 10 emerging technologies that will impact our lives in 2019
10 Emerging Technologies That Will Impact Our Lives in 2019.

Global Tech Council


Global Tech Council, 30 Dec. 2018

This is a very quick look at impactful emerging technologies that, at the end of 2018, the video’s producers predicted would disrupt 2019. From artificial intelligence to blockchain, the video quickly defines each technology and suggests the impact(s) that it will have on different industries. It is a great intro to new technologies that are finding their place in the public sector, even if that was not their impetus.

Watch the full video here.

Thumbnail of video titled transofrming the way we work: ISED's story
Transforming the Way We Work: ISED's Story.

CSPS Digital Academy


CSPS Digital Academy, 8 Feb. 2019

In 2018, the Government of Canada’s CSPS Digital Academy launched Busrides, an ongoing experiment in user engagement and online learning for public servants across Canada. The idea is to create quick lessons on innovative technologies and practices that public officials can read/watch on their way to work in the morning. This particular video features a conversation with Chahine El Chaar, Director of Modernization, Innovation and Delivery, who shares how his department, Innovation Science and Economic Development (ISED), brought in a digital office to change how employees work, to modernize the workplace and to increase efficiency.

Watch the full video here.



Choose the incorrect answer.

What makes data “big data” is:

Correct! Big data doesn’t focus on identifying individuals but capturing and aggregating information about the characteristics and behaviours of individuals.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. This is one of the things that contributes to making data “big”.


True or False

In creating and delivering public policies and services, analyzing big data offers the potential to understand past performance, enable more tailored interventions in the present, and help to predict future outcomes.

Correct! Big data helps understand what’s happened, what is happening, and consider what is likely to happen so that we can make adjustments to better help the people we serve.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. Analyzing big data can help with all these things.


Choose the correct answer.

Natural language processing is an artificial intelligence (AI) capability that:

Correct! Natural language processing can recognise, respond to and analyse the everyday language people use to make statements and pose questions.

Try again. Hint: It's about the ability of computers to understand human language.


Choose all that apply

Gemma is a finance manager responsible for overseeing the effective, efficient and legal use of her department’s expenditures. Faced with budget pressures, Gemma’s boss, the chief executive officer, has asked her to recommend ways to reduce the department’s spending. To develop recommendations that could be backed up by data Gemma could use AI tools that might help her:

Correct! Gemma could use AI tools to help her do all these things and enable her to make strong, evidence-based recommendations.

Try again. There’s more to this answer.


Choose the correct answer.

Using “Alex” - an AI assistant - to direct people to online information, Australia’s intellectual property agency reduced calls to its call centre from:

Correct! By using “Alex” they reduced the time spent on basic enquiries. Alex now takes around 40% of the organisation’s active customer interactions.

Sorry, that’s not right. Try again.


Choose the best answer.

Machine learning is a subset of AI that refers specifically to:

Correct! Machine learning is about creating systems that learn and don’t require specific programming to perform some tasks.

Try again. Machine learning can be associated with some of these things but there’s one characteristic that sets it apart.


Choose the correct answer.

In using machine learning to study brain images, to what level of accuracy was the research team at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh able to identify people with suicidal thoughts:

Correct! Machine learning was able to predict with an amazing 91% degree of accuracy.

Sorry, that’s not right. Hint: It’s higher than that.


True or false

Collective intelligence tools are those that organize groups of people online, making it possible for them to solve problems together.

Correct! Whether it’s the expertise of credentialled experts or the lived experience of people affected by an issue, or a mix of both, collective intelligence brings the right people together to problem solve.

Unfortunately, that’s not right. This is exactly what collective intelligence enables.


Choose all that apply

Blockchain is a powerful tool for storing user identity and transaction information more securely and openly because:

Correct! Blockchain technology offers multiple benefits that help verify information and investigate any inconsistencies.

Sorry, that’s not right. Hint: There’s more to the potential benefits of using blockchain technology.


Choose the incorrect answer.

The key advantages of smart contracts, which use blockchain technology to self-execute, include:

Correct! Smart contracts can help reduce the risk of fraud, lower costs and make various transactions between citizens and governments or business simpler and more efficient. Using images to aid contract understanding is an emerging practice in the legal field but doesn't require the use of blockchain.

Unfortunately, that’s not right. This is one of the key advantages of smart contracts.