By Mary Alice Miller
Diverse language speakers were pleasantly surprised when they received robocalls in their native languages from Mayor Eric Adams. Mayor Adams is known only to speak English, but with the help of NYC’s new AI tools, the City can reach out to people who speak various languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Haitian Creole, and Yiddish.
The robocalls do not disclose that Mayor Adams does not actually speak Mandarin or Yiddish. Mayor Adams does not see ethical issues with the non-disclosure and finds it more important that the City can reach out to diverse language speakers.
Others disagreed. In a statement to the Associated Press, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said, “The mayor is making deep fakes of himself. It is deeply unethical, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.”
And Annika Marlen Hinze, associate professor of political science at Fordham University called the initiative “strangely deceiving. It’s wonderful to make things in as many languages as you can,” she said on thecity.nyc. “But it’s a whole other issue to pretend or insinuate that you are speaking all those languages yourself, and I see serious ethical concerns there for a mayor who does not speak multiple languages.”
Artificial Intelligence Action Plan
The mayor recently released the New York City Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, calling it “the first of its kind from a major city in the United States” that would “cement our position as a leader in responsible AI use.”
The mayor added, “But we must be clear-eyed about its potential and pitfalls. Our plan takes that into account and will provide a framework for the government to evaluate AI-based tools and protect against risk carefully. It will build AI knowledge and skills across city government and support responsible implementation to improve quality of life for New Yorkers.”
The AI initiative came from the City’s Office of Tech and Innovation, created by Mayor Adams when he came into office.
The plan introduces a set of 37 phased actions – 27 of which will be deployed within the next year – that the city will undertake to help agencies evaluate risks and determine whether or not an AI tool is the right technology to deliver better outcomes for New Yorkers. Key plan objectives include:
Establishing a framework for AI governance that acknowledges the risks of AI, including bias and disparate impact;
Creating an external advisory network to consult with stakeholders across sectors around the opportunities and challenges posed by AI;
Build AI knowledge and skills in city government to prepare city employees to effectively and responsibly work with and on AI;
Enable responsible AI acquisition with AI-specific procurement standards or guidance to support agency-level contracting; and
Publish an annual AI progress report to communicate about the city’s progress and implementation.
NYC’s AI strategy began by providing NYCHA residents opportunities to access internet services. Next, the city created a portal for early childhood daycare services. Now, the city is implementing a MyCity business portal and chatbot.
MyCity is a one-stop shop for city services and benefits. Rather than scan through pages of information, MyCity will pull information from more than 2,000 NYC business-related webpages to help businesses learn how to open and run a business, comply with code, apply for permits, and learn best practices. The new site features NYC Funds Finder — the city’s first-ever online one-stop shop capital marketplace for business owners.
In order to prevent the potential spread of misinformation, the MyCity portal limits where information is gathered. “We are not allowing people to go outside the span of what we know is accurate information to make sure people are getting the right answers,” said Mayor Adams. “So, if you speak with our chatbot, it’s going to make sure the information we give you is the accurate and correct information. You’re not going to just go out there to the entire universe of the Internet and come back with misinformation.”
NYC’s AI strategy plans to expand to the Department of Education, New York City Police Department, and ACS, as well as the processing of cash assistance, review of contracts, and procurements.
Mayor Adams said the AI tool will not displace City employees. Instead, it is a tool to provide information to New Yorkers efficiently and with a faster turnaround time.
Clifford Stein, Interim Director of the Data Science Institute at Columbia University, Wai T. Chang Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, and Professor of Computer Science, stood with Mayor Adams as he announced the AI Action Plan, effectively giving his endorsement.
The portal and chatbot are powered through Microsoft and its partnership with OpenAI, owner of ChatGPT.
About a week after Mayor Adams introduced NYC’s AI Blueprint, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence. The EO would establish new standards for AI safety and security, protect American’s privacy, advance equity and civil rights, develop principles and best practices to mitigate harms and maximize benefits of AI for workers, promote innovation and competition, advance American leadership in AI abroad, and ensure responsible and effective government use of AI.