San Jose, Calif., forms nationwide government AI coalition

Leaders of the GovAI Coalition said they've already attracted more than 500 government officials from around the United States.
IT outsourcing concept
(Getty Images)

A coalition of more than 500 officials at 200 local, county and state governments across the United States are banding together to promote the responsible use of artificial intelligence.

Spearheaded by technology officials at the City of San Jose, California, the GovAI Coalition published a letter last week announcing its plans to convenes government leaders, policymakers and industry partners with the aim of giving local governments a voice in shaping the future of AI. The group also wrote in its letter that it wants to ensure AI’s adoption is geared toward the benefit of society.

San Jose Chief Information Officer Khaled Tawfik told StateScoop that governments should take a more proactive approach to creating policies for AI, in contrast to its reactive posture during the emergence of the internet and later social media.

“If we wait for AI to become a problem, it’s probably already too late,” Tawfik said. “What can we do now to be more proactive in understanding the risk and come up with a plan to mitigate and learn from our history and our mistakes that we read about the industry made in the last 30 years.”


While federal agencies, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, have provided AI frameworks and guidelines, local agencies often don’t have the same resources to dive into the details, said Albert Gehami, San Jose’s privacy officer.

“We are kind of swimming through this without much knowledge about where things are going,” Gehami said. “That was a big push for us, as the coalition is: let’s try and solve those details together, because we’re all using, effectively, the same AI systems, we’re all trying to tackle the same problems — we can tackle this together.”

Gehami said the coalition’s creation was also prompted by the large volume of technology that local governments procure. And with AI increasingly added into the mix, Gehami began asking vendors pointed questions about biases and other intricacies.

“When we started putting together our list of questions for vendors, we got a range of responses from being incredibly helpful to radio silence,” Gehami said. “That was the inciting incident for us where we realized we can’t do this alone. We realized in order to get that type of seat at the table, be a part of the conversation on AI development, we had to do it with partners.”

The coalition provides free template policies, response plans, vendor agreements and other resources that local governments can use. Organizers told StateScoop that coalition members meet frequently over Zoom to share resources and experiences to support each other as they navigate the AI landscape.


Tawfik said the number coalition members has grown exponentially since it launched in November and that during one coalition meeting, the “overwhelming demand” on Zoom crashed Gehami’s laptop.

“The gap is very clear to everyone. I mean, if we’re struggling with [the adoption of AI] like everybody else, you can imagine a small city with limited resources and what they’re going through,” Tawfik said.

Though the group is growing quickly, Tawfik and Gehami said they’re encouraging more agencies to join and exchange ideas about governing AI. The coalition is hosting a public forum on March 27.

“There’s no stopping what we can do,” Tawfik said. “We’re just fortunate that we were at the right time and the right place with the passion to do something different.”

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