CNCounty News

NACo AI Exploratory Committee tours Silicon Valley

Members of NACo's AI Exploratory Committee toured Microsoft's offices.

Key Takeaways

There is a saying often attributed to Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg, that technology companies thrive when they “move fast and break things.” No saying embodies that motto of tech innovation quite as well as what Zuckerberg wrote 12 years ago in his memo to employees at the company formerly known as Facebook.

Innovative technologies, impactful yet disruptive, will continue to change the way people live. Technology will even change the way counties operate and provide core services. Partnerships, collaboration and responsible use of AI technology is the key to success.

NACo’s AI Exploratory Committee explored these themes Jan. 23–26, in the heart of technological innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area, otherwise known as Silicon Valley. The committee’s trip included a visit to several major technology corporations, including Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services and Adobe’s DocuSign.

The committee also visited with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an organization that represents key innovative technology partners and the technology economy’s ecosystem throughout the area. The committee heard about artificial intelligence initiatives at the local government level from Santa Cruz County, Calif. Supervisor Zach Friend, Alameda County, Calif. Supervisor Keith Carson and the San Jose Mayor’s office.

The committee’s first full day of tours started at the Microsoft Experience Center, where committee members were shown a virtual reality experience featuring an aircraft simulator and an educational human anatomy course using 3D mixed-reality software. They also heard about Microsoft’s government partnerships for utilization of artificial intelligence across several sectors including national security and data management.

Committee members left the presentation with tangible steps on how to help serve their communities. “I feel so fortunate to be living during these transformational times where we can harness the power of this technology for the public good,” said Roane County, Tenn. Commissioner Ron Berry, a member of the committee. 

Google delved into their AI philosophies and security measure strategies for implementation of new generative AI technologies, most notably with their Bard and Gemini generative AI tools. Google also demonstrated how AI can be used to deliver human services.

The role of technology in delivering human services quickly became a reflective point on the ethical application of technology, and how to utilize or address equity gaps in society through the use of technology. “Artificial intelligence can fill the gaps in society that long needed to be addressed; yet we need to address why those gaps persist,” said Berrien County, Mich. Commissioner Chokwe Pitchford, a committee member. 

A second day of tours, in the downtown San Francisco area at the Salesforce Tower, featured discussions on AI’s transformative role in resident services and self-help solutions for counties, demonstrated by Salesforce’s Einstein tool. Amazon Web Services then provided insights into AI’s practical benefits and challenges, sharing impactful use cases from drug enforcement to legacy code updates and emphasizing AI’s capacity to enhance non-technical user experiences.

“It was really neat to be a part of seeing where we have come from to seeing the possibilities are limitless for what the future holds for us with AI being the catalyst for all their platforms,” said committee member Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties.

A visit to DocuSign offered a glimpse into the future of e-signature workflows enhanced by AI, revealing advanced features aimed at improving efficiency and insight into complex agreements.

After two days of fast-paced, thought-provoking discussion, committee members came away with a deeper understanding of how leading private companies are approaching and leveraging AI in a responsible fashion. The collaborative atmosphere portends how productive conversations between counties and private industry partners will ensure the safe and responsible implementation of generative AI in the short and long term.

The NACo AI Exploratory Committee will turn its attention to completion of the NACo AI Toolkit, set to be released in July at NACo’s Annual Conference in Hillsborough County, Fla.

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