Everything you need to know about artificial intelligence and GIS

Image of GettyImages-1369278807.jpg

Key Takeaways

From our partners

This blog post is sponsored by NACo partner ESRI. Explore the transformative power of AI & GIS in county government operations.

I want to take the opportunity to clarify and bring a better understanding of a term that has become overused in the last few months. That term is "artificial intelligence" (AI). Firstly, when discussing AI, we often include functions and capabilities that are actually part of machine learning (ML), another nuanced topic with very different connotations. We should also cover Deep Learning and Digital Twin, but I must leave these for a future blog. Second, we often use AI and ML interchangeably, using the phrase AI when we should mean ML.

Setting the Record Straight: A Layman's Definition of AI

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, AI is the ability of a digital computer to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. I find myself annoyed when people include the idea of 'human intelligence' in the definition, as human intelligence is a far different thing. In short, the AI we talk about today is not the same as what we read in the Sci-Fi books by Asimov or Clarke. We are not talking about VIKI or HAL 9000; at least not for some time to come. So, while the tech industry rushes to self-regulate the future applications of AI, here are some emerging best practices of AI that you should know.

AI is a broad discipline that includes techniques, tools, and rule-based systems (referred to as knowledge) to solve problems. One of the more essential tools to create these rule-based systems we refer to as ML. ML uses algorithms to pour through massive amounts of data to find and identify ("learn") trends and patterns that feed statistical analysis used to predict a result. Notice that I did not use the word "answer" as humans still need to decide if the results returned to us through ML are correct. ML needs to be trained. This training requires enormous volumes of data and human review to train ("validate") the algorithms that eventually feed the AI systems. Meaning humans are still an integral part of AI.

Why is AI Important to County Leaders?

As county leaders, you constantly seek ways to make better decisions. To do this, you require more and better data and analytics. You receive this data from your departments and staff, who use applications, sensors, and cameras to capture real-time data streams from vehicles, personnel, and gauges on assets such as your rivers and streams, roads, buildings, pipes, and infrastructure. The current use of sensors and cameras produces ever greater amounts of quality, actionable data. But as the amount of data increases, it becomes harder to manually extract actionable insight from these data streams. This challenge creates the opportunity to use ML and AI to maximize the benefit of these data streams. It is the maximizing of these benefits that can provide you with better processes and financial savings within your county operating budget.

Common Applications of AI for Counties

It may surprise some, but many county governments already use AI and ML processes. The most common use is reviewing digital aerial imagery from planes and drones and identifying features requiring inventory, validation, field inspection, and disaster recovery. AI allows for extracting new and insightful information from these valuable aerial image assets. Additionally, innovative organizations are turning their buses and public work vehicles into data collection platforms, mounting cameras on streetlights and vehicles to collect video of a county's streetscape. AI-driven automation turns these videos into insight, providing a greater understanding of pedestrian and automobile traffic patterns, dangerous street crossings, parking improvements, potholes, and street repairs while also helping to predict future maintenance issues. The outcome of each example has significant business value.

The Intersection of AI & GIS Opens Millions of Possibilities for Government Operations

These types of applications are not new; what is different is the computing power available for GIS users to run these algorithms. We now call this intersection of GIS and AI: GeoAI. While the name is new, these capabilities have been part of Esri technology for decades.

The best way to understand the value of GeoAI for a county is to review some of the real-world success stories your government peers are experiencing with AI to improve their operations and provide business value:

  • Douglas Co., NE Innovates Using GeoAI to Inventory ADA Curb Ramps – Instead of sending field crews to inventory the ADA curb ramps across the county, Douglas County use GeoAI to automatically identify and locate all 34,000+ ramps resulting in an inventory that is twice the size of what they had and saves them about six months of staff time.

  • Cobb Co., GA Analyzes Traffic Crash Data – Cobb County uses GeoAI to analyze multiple years of single-vehicle, fixed-object crashes and identify contributing factors. Results showed slopes and curves were the most significant contributors, so the county can now focus on traffic improvement projects to reduce these dangers.

  • Raleigh, NC – How Cities are Turning GeoAI into Cost Savings – Raleigh uses GeoAI to automatically identify and count vehicles and their movement through hundreds of traffic cameras at intersections across the City 24-7-365, replacing the need for contracted manual traffic counts. This results in cost savings and better traffic management: optimized traffic flow, better infrastructure planning, and more proactive management of incidents.

Establishing AI Best Practices

Don't hesitate to contact Richard or me or visit this site to learn more about GeoAI. And be sure to visit the Esri booth at the upcoming NACo Annual Conference in Travis County for additional examples of how counties can use AI to improve their operations.

Also, connect with NACo's AI Exploratory Committee, dedicated to exploring these and many more benefits as AI is integrated into governmental services. The adherence to thoughtful risk management and diligent privacy practices will be of utmost importance as counties adapt to AI systems.

Post Sponsor

Image of Esri_logo495.jpg

Stories from our partners

NACo partners with the private sector on solutions.

Together, we are highlighting innovative solutions for counties, as we work with our federal, state, local and private sector partners to build healthy, safe and vibrant communities.

View all stories

Home construction

Travis County Develops 2,000 Units of Housing to Address Homelessness

This post is sponsored by our partners at Guidehouse. Through Guidehouse's comprehensive support, Travis County is on track to successfully create over 2,000 units of affordable, supportive housing by 2027.


Feeding kids during the summer requires county officials

The introduction of the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program marks a pivotal shift in addressing childhood hunger, especially during the summer when school meals are unavailable. This nationwide initiative, offering substantial grocery benefits, promises transformative support for over 29 million children, with a significant impact on communities facing systemic inequalities.


Why customer-centric strategy is vital for digital service adoption

The importance of a customer-centric strategy in digital service adoption for county governments is emphasized, highlighting the need for thoughtful design, clear communication, and multi-channel engagement to meet user expectations and improve customer experience.


Fighting opioid addiction – one life at a time

The opioid crisis, a major national issue, saw a 55% increase in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2022, with 75% involving opioids. Effective strategies to combat this include integrated care, policy enhancement, and technology, focusing on whole-person care and intervention opportunities to save lives.

Building facade

Planning for the post-American Rescue Plan Act future

Guidehouse outlines strategies for state and local governments to sustain programs after the end of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) funding. It emphasizes the need for reassessing constituent needs, measuring program impact, and considering fiscal implications to ensure long-term viability and effective resource allocation for programs initially funded by SLFRF.

Group with hands in

How voluntary benefits can help improve your employee benefit package

Voluntary benefits, tailored to diverse employee needs and often at reduced costs, are proving essential in enhancing employer benefit packages, attracting, and retaining talent, and addressing specific wellbeing issues across different age and income groups.


A countywide opioid misuse prevention campaign is easier to implement than you think

The Deterra Household Mailing Campaign delivers educational tools and deactivation pouches directly to homes. To save lives by tackling the opioid crisis.

Fire danger sign

From prevention to resilience: Strategies in wildfire mitigation

Explore a multifaceted approach to wildfire mitigation with Tidal Basin. From creating defensible spaces to early detection systems, discover strategies fostering resilient communities, protecting lives & property. Urgent action is crucial amidst rising wildfire risks. Learn more at TidalBasinGroup.com. 

San Francisco smog

A breathing crisis: Rising concerns over U.S. air quality

Facing a stark rise in hazardous air quality, the U.S. grapples with the health implications of escalating pollutants. The alarming data from the American Lung Association urges a renewed focus on air quality management. Federal and local initiatives are in play, yet a unified approach is crucial to mitigate risks and safeguard public health. 


Cybersecurity insurance can be affordable

Cybersecurity insurance rates rose significantly in 2022, with some policyholders experiencing up to 100% rate increases due to the evolving threat landscape and their own cybersecurity measures. CAI emphasizes the importance of understanding and improving an organization's cybersecurity maturity using the NIST 2.0 framework, which can not only strengthen protection against cyber threats but also potentially lower insurance premiums.

Image of GettyImages-1402667894.jpg

Equitable climate resilience (ECR) for local governments: Using data to drive decision making

Discover vital strategies for embedding social equity in your climate resilience plans.

Image of GettyImages-1369278807.jpg

Everything you need to know about artificial intelligence and GIS

Explore the transformative power of AI & GIS in county government operations.

Image of GettyImages-1081574962.jpg

How counties are taking control of constituent communication

Discover the best strategies for effective constituent communication.

Related News

Investing in American Infrastructure

Investing Over $100 Billion in American Infrastructure

AT&T has invested over $140 billion in the past five years to enhance American connectivity, focusing on expanding its role as the nation's largest fiber internet provider and improving its reliable 5G network, which now serves nearly 290 million people.


Building Networks for the Next Century, Not the Last One

AT&T emphasizes its nearly 150-year history of innovation and connectivity as it transitions from traditional copper landlines to modern fiber and wireless technologies, highlighting the importance of adapting to current consumer demands and technological advancements.

Image of GettyImages-1355381242.jpg

Senate Rules Committee considers elections and AI legislation ahead of 2024 General Elections

Senate Rules Committee held business meeting on May 15 to markup and consider legislation on the role of artificial intelligence in elections.