Shawn Nailor, Secretary and CIO at State of Vermont, on IT modernisation, and how AI is being used for the good of Vermonters.

Not everybody spends a lot of time actively thinking about what the state they live in is does for their benefit. However, state government work and support is constant and wide-ranging. And, for State of Vermont it’s particularly advanced, as it embarks on a journey into the use of AI.

A glowing endorsement of State of Vermont is the fact that Shawn Nailor, Secretary and CIO of the organisation and its Agency of Digital Service, has been on the payroll for 35 years. In fact, it’s the only employer he’s had since leaving college.

“It’s been 35 years with the state, but across many careers,” says Nailort. “It’s been a tremendous opportunity for me. I feel strongly as a civil servant that I’m serving my fellow Vermonters.”

Modern IT as a priority

Something unique about State of Vermont is that it has its own AI Director and an AI council. The implementation of this began with conversations between key legislators and the Agency of Digital Services prior to the 2022 legislative session. In 2021, major conversations about AI and related concerns were going on. They were driven in part by the fear that comes with not fully understanding advanced technology. In Vermont, however, legislators were keen to understand AI and how it could be used for good.

“In the 2022 legislative session, there was a bill proposed to establish an AI division and Director,” says Nailor. “Plus a council. It was signed into law last year. It was a joint effort and codified in statute.” The timing was ideal. In November 2022, artificial intelligence took several leaps forward with things like ChatGPT.

“AI then entered the collective consciousness. It used to be what geeks talked about at parties. Suddenly everyone was talking about the implications of AI on a wide array of industries. Thanks to the fact that we’d started focusing on it just before this event, we were able to prepare for the shift.”

AI for good

As State of Vermont forges ahead with its work in AI, it has adopted a two-pronged approach for its use. The organisation’s AI Director has been working on applying neural networks and machine learning to solve problems for State of Vermont. At the same time, the Agency of Digital Service is figuring out where and what the guardrails are as AI solutions are increasingly implemented. This represents the second prong of the approach. 

“It’s about how we contain the genie now that the genie is out of the bottle,” says Nailor. “But we also want to establish a practice by which we can lead by example and show good applications or artificial intelligence tools to advance services. We’re working on things like advanced chatbot functionality that would interact with the AI tool to complete forms.” On the other side of that, Nailor and the AI Director are of the mindset that artificial intelligence is a power tool. It’s a level up from a screwdriver, but it still requires human involvement.

Read the full story here.

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