Decoding AI: Part 1, Introduction to generative AI

Jason Payne

Steven Truitt

Miri Rodriguez

Welcome to Part 1 of our Decoding AI: A government perspective learning series, where over the course of eight modules, you will learn about the emerging field of generative AI and what this technology can mean for government. This series will not only help you understand how generative AI can help increase your organization’s productivity, but also how it can be used to supercharge innovation in incredible new ways. Over the course of this series, we’ll be dissecting complex themes like AI education, public discourse, sensory perception & robotics, AI governance and more. And we’ll be interacting with you through upcoming virtual Office Hour sessions as well as incorporating your feedback into each upcoming learning module in real time. Thanks in advance for learning with us, and if you haven’t signed up already, register here to be notified of the release of each new learning module. — Jason Payne, Steven Truitt, Miri Rodriguez, Siddhartha Chaturvedi

On a remarkable winter day, January 5, 1804, history bore witness to a pivotal moment in human technology: Richard Trevithick unveiled the first steam-powered locomotive. This heralded the dawn of a new era, one that would redefine progress and innovation. 

On September 27, 1825, the vision materialized. The Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first public railway to carry both passengers and freight, set forth, marking a moment in history that showcased the zenith of human ingenuity and ambition. 

Yet, the broader implications of the steam revolution rippled far beyond locomotion. The technological advancements birthed in this era permeated our daily lives. From reshaping transportation to powering factories, from revolutionizing textile production to fostering global trade networks. Additionally, steam-powered ships and railways bolstered international relations, streamlined the movement of goods, and set the stage for urbanization. The reach of steam-powered technology was truly omnipresent. 

Fast forward to the present. Analogous to the breakthroughs that championed the steam era, generative AI offers us a profound instrument to recalibrate how humans interface with technology. 

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For nearly 60 years, we oriented humans to comprehend the language of computers, advancing languages from Assembly to Python. Yet now, with sophisticated large language models, we are pivoting to teach computers to converse in human language.

This shift makes a promise to democratize our engagement with technology, dictate its function, and co-reason with it, also pioneering new methods of creation, ideation, and collaboration. With ChatGPT, human language emerged as a possible new programming dialect. The aftershocks of this innovation might soon rival the ubiquity and indispensability of those birthed by our steam-powered ventures. 

As generative AI steps into the spotlight as an indispensable ally, fundamentally transforming the government landscape, we also need to understand the hype, the limitations, and the promise. To that end, we want to share this Decoded AI series to compare and contrast different capabilities of various AI technologies, their use cases and relevance for the government. 

The evolving landscape of AI: From tools to partners

Platforms like ChatGPT on Azure OpenAI service demonstrate the capabilities of natural language processing, while DALL-E showcases the prowess of AI in image generation. As these technologies burgeon, the question arises: Is your agency ready to capitalize on these advancements?

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From rules based systems, to statistical models, neural networks, now we are entering the era of generalized multi-modal large language models.  

A deep dive into generative AI’s potential

While narrow AI mechanisms rely on specified inputs to function, generative AI, like that available on the Azure OpenAI service, creates fresh content. It can be considered the synergistic twin to the other technologies that preceded it that allowed computers to see (computer vision), read (optical character recognition), hear (speech recognition), touch (haptic technology), and smell (electronic noses); augmenting the sensing arrays that we have built over the years in whole new ways.

Whether it is innovative artwork or comprehensive strategic models, the implications of this technology are vast.

“AI is the new electricity. Just as 100 years ago, electricity transformed industry after industry, AI will now do the same.” — Andrew Ng, Founder, DeepLearning.AI

In the quest to redefine government services, generative AI stands poised to revolutionize sectors from public services to international diplomacy. Its efficiency has the potential to streamline administrative processes, delivering personalized citizen services with precision. Similarly, the realms of defense and diplomacy can harness this technology to glean nuanced cultural insights, bolster diplomatic relations, and refine threat recognition mechanisms. Microsoft is already using generative AI in the cybersecurity realm, supercharging our approach to keeping you and your data secure and safe as novel threats emerge.

However, it is essential that these advancements champion the values of responsibility, fairness, and transparency.

As we navigate towards a world reshaped by AI, the delicate interplay between innovation, ethics, and security becomes paramount.

Ensuring today’s technological wonders don’t morph into vulnerabilities for our future  

Investing in bleeding edge AI technology is not enough. Building tools to understand and mitigate the effects that it could have are crucial too. For example, we know generative AI can generate content – text, audio, images – and we need a way to establish provenance, especially where that content can drive national-level decisions. We need to have checks and balances that hold technology accountable, translating principles into practices.  

From existing technology like Microsoft Purview that allows you to track data lineage, to Project Origin at Microsoft Research that allows you to manage provenance of the content, these tools could be crucial in determining the origin 

Responsible AI tools are crucial to build trust and will have a pivotal role in molding the AI future.  

The interplay of these capabilities with the existing workflows and intents of government entities, thought leaders, and other organizations is imperative to sculpt a sturdy and responsible AI environment. Such synergy ensures the democratization of AI benefits while safeguarding the digital realm’s integrity. 

“The democratization of AI holds incredible promise, and Microsoft is well-positioned to help our customers realize immediate value as part of this evolution. At Microsoft, we’re not merely developing AI solutions. We are architecting a paradigm shift by empowering government leaders with the tools they need to harness the capabilities of AI responsibly and equitably in order to better serve the needs of their constituents.” — Tyler Bryson, CVP, US Health and Public Sector Industries, Microsoft

Let’s forge ahead: Your AI roadmap  

The path ahead demands collaboration. Government leaders are integral in ensuring AI is assimilated into our national operations seamlessly and morally.

  • What is your strategy to ride the AI tide?
  • How will you ascertain the responsible and relevant deployment of AI?

“We are witnessing the fourth industry revolution with AI and its impact could be significant for our government customers’ mission, by introducing new levels of efficiency, insights and innovation. AI has the potential to streamline processes and unlock new understandings from the government’s vast and complex datasets. We are committed to working hand-in-hand with our customers and partners to harness its full potential.” — Candice Ling, Vice President, Microsoft Federal

Navigating the intricacies of AI requires a holistic understanding that marries art, science, and strategy. Our AI Decoded series is human curated, taking you on a journey from the fundamental principles of AI to its advanced frontiers. With themes that range from the national imperatives of AI and its role in public discourse, to its sensory perception capabilities, governance, and personalizing public engagement, we have ensured that every facet of AI’s impact on the government landscape is touched upon. 

This series is more than just an introduction; it is a conversational guide designed to empower US government leaders to harness the full potential of AI, and we look forward to bringing you our next module that will unravel the learning mechanisms of AI education, covering task automation and anomaly detection in the government space.  

In the meantime, we invite you to share your insights and feedback with us here so that we can address the topics that are important to you in upcoming modules. If you haven’t registered yet to receive our next modules, sign up for the complete AI Decoded series here and be part of this transformative conversation!  

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