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  January 18th, 2019 | Written by

AI Will Transform Our Borders – From Travel to Trade. Here’s How.

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  • So far, most border and customs agencies have only scratched the surface of AI’s potential.
  • It will be many years before AI can reliably make decisions on complex issues.
  • In the airport of the future – humans will collaborate effortlessly with machines.

Technology is evolving at a dizzying pace, and artificial intelligence is no exception. Today, artificial intelligence is being deployed in our cars, computers and social media networks.

It would be easy to assume a crisis of public confidence and trust in AI – not least around its use in public services. As with any emerging technology, there are concerns about the implications and impact of different AI applications, such as “black box” problems relating to machine learning management and regulation. However, Accenture’s recent Citizen Survey across six countries found that 50 percent of respondents support the use of AI in the delivery of public services and that support rises noticeably when presented with specific benefits. One of the most promising public applications of AI? For our border agencies.

Although government executives often reference “smart border” capabilities, this vision has not been fully realized.  Today, the focus is largely on merging historical data from border and customs systems and applying analytics to realize process efficiencies.  This approach is valuable but limited. Rather than playing a supporting role in border management technology, AI should take centre-stage.

If deployed fully, AI has the potential to vastly improve travel and trade across our airports, shipping ports and other ports of entry. Border agencies must not be daunted or overwhelmed by the latest AI capabilities – or let fear of the unknown detract from the valuable opportunities this technology affords.

As cross-border trade and travel value chains become increasingly digitized, five value-drivers can help border agencies maximize the benefits of AI:

Responsible AI

People must feel confident that AI decisions are ethical and reliable. Fortunately, agencies are already working to establish public trust in AI. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report, 78 percent of public service executives say they’re seeking to gain citizen confidence by being transparent in their AI decisions. Since these AI systems can make choices that affect trade, border agencies must think carefully about how they’re adopted, understand the implications for public sector organizations and their workforces. At the same time, border agencies must teach AI systems to act with both accountability and transparency.  Given the right strategy and controls, combined with a willingness to learn from other sectors, ‘responsible AI’ offers great benefits for border agencies.

Intelligent automation

With artificial intelligence gaining momentum across enterprises and industries, we’re entering the era of intelligent automation. Intelligent automation is much more than the simple transfer of tasks from man to machine; its real power is to transform traditional ways of operating by revealing what can be accomplished by integrating systems, data and people. Most process automation currently deployed by border agencies handles mundane and repetitive tasks rather than those requiring cognitive intelligence. However, that’s rapidly changing. Future AI use cases might include a chatbot that answers complex questions to an entirely autonomous port where humans’ only role is monitoring and security.

Enhanced judgements

It will be many years before AI can reliably make decisions on complex issues, such as determining what goods or visitors pass through a border and into a country. But AI does have a valuable role to play in augmenting human judgement and supporting choices about the “next best action” on case work. Take an area where humans’ visual perceptions are used as the basis for decisions – as in the classification of goods for customs declarations. Currently, these decisions may differ from port to port and from person to person, often resulting in delays. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can crunch vast amounts of data 24×7, removing subjectivity, inconsistencies and delays – especially when deployed uniformly across border agencies, shippers and traders.

Enhanced interactions

One of the biggest benefits of digitization is the ability to eliminate paper forms and provide more personalized online and in-person service. With AI, personalization can be elevated to a whole new level – and in an environment like customs, the impact on user experiences can be transformational. A border agency’s wealth of existing and historical data about each transaction or entity means routine information-gathering can be almost completely automated, enabling the agency to focus on providing a positive experience and facilitating the safe and frictionless passage of people and goods. In the airport of the future – humans will collaborate effortlessly with machines, combining instantaneous facial recognition with flight data to validate each passenger’s identity and travel itinerary, drawing on his or her full travel history and other data to assess risk levels. Then, if necessary, the AI system will prompt its human counterpart with questions for additional human-human screening.

Intelligent product categorization

Customs classifications processes are notoriously complex and bureaucratic, and the descriptions often are esoteric – yet any individual or organization that gets the classification wrong can face severe penalties. Artificial intelligence has enormous potential for simplifying these complex nomenclatures, making it easier to find the right classification while improving understanding, reducing costly errors and fostering the effective flow of trade.

It’s the nature of emerging technology to have ups and downs. Whatever the latest headlines may say, the genuine promise and business case for Artificial Intelligence at the border remain as compelling as ever.  It’s vital that border agencies stay focused on the value that AI can deliver – and don’t let short-term concerns distract them. So far, most border and customs agencies have only scratched the surface of AI’s potential. It’s now time to dig deeper into AI capabilities – and combine humans and machines in ways that don’t just improve efficiency at the border but reinvent border processes altogether.