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Why Not Replace Bureaucrats with Robots?

Thursday February 16th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:28am PST   •  

45260755 - robot typing on conceptual keyboard Over the years, MyGovCost has told many stories of bureaucrats behaving badly, but technology may have finally advanced enough to provide a real solution for bad bureaucrats: we can replace them with robots!

That possibility is now being discussed in the United Kingdom, where one think tank believes that up to a quarter million of the nation’s bureaucrats could be replaced by technology and nobody in the public would ever notice the difference. The Guardian reports:

Almost 250,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs to robots over the next 15 years, according to a new report which claims machines would be more efficient and save billions of pounds.

Reform, a right-of-centre thinktank, says websites and artificial intelligence “chat bots” could replace up to 90% of Whitehall’s administrators, as well as tens of thousands in the NHS and GPs’ surgeries, by 2030 – saving as much as £4bn a year….

Alexander Hitchcock, the report’s co-author, said: “Such a rapid advance in the use of technology may seem controversial, and any job losses must be handled sensitively. But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable.”

The report, “Work in progress. Towards a leaner, smarter public-sector workforce,” introduces its proposed solution by first discussing why bureaucrats so often fail at their appointed tasks.

Public services fail when employees fail. This is the dramatic lesson from a number of high-profile errors in recent public-service delivery. In many instances, quality is compromised not because of individual incompetence, but the way the workforce is structured and organised.

The report goes on to discuss some of the intriguing potential of using advanced technologies to both improve the quality of services that citizens get from their governments while reducing the ranks of government bureaucracies. What the report doesn’t discuss, however, is the potential of the same proposed solutions to also address a significant portion of the problems of misconduct caused by the wasteful surplus of bureaucrats whose serial ethical failings and their tolerance by the senior leadership in the bureaucracy directly lead to the failure of public services.

It may be that the benefits of replacing bureaucrats with robots are still understated. At the very least, it’s an idea well worth exploring by serious reformers.

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February 2017