Interviews & Profiles

How New York City has developed its AI strategy

A Q&A with Matt Fraser, New York City’s chief technology officer

New York City Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser

New York City Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser Rita Thompson

Matthew Fraser was appointed New York City’s chief technology officer in January 2022 and tasked with unifying and overseeing the city’s technology initiatives and building out the mayor’s proposal for an online portal. He has since spent more time developing the city’s artificial intelligence strategy and introduced the MyCity Chatbot to provide small businesses with AI-generated answers to their questions. The mayor has also been using the technology to inform New Yorkers in multiple languages using his AI-generated voice, a move that some civil rights groups criticized. City & State spoke with Fraser ahead of the recent rollout of the city’s new Artificial Intelligence Action Plan.

What progress has been made in the city’s efforts to develop and implement AI strategy?

When Mayor Adams took office in 2022, he restructured the city government’s disparate technology agencies to create the Office of Technology and Innovation to guide technology strategy across city agencies. This new structure positions the agency to create a cohesive governance structure and framework for the city to evaluate and embrace emerging technologies like AI.

The Adams administration is advancing a plan for the New York City government to responsibly evaluate and deploy AI-based tools. The city of New York’s AI Action Plan puts forth nearly 40 action items – 29 of which will be either started or completed within the next year – that include steps to assess and mitigate risks, build AI knowledge and skills among city government employees and responsibly implement AI-based tools. As AI continues to be baked into more and more tools, the city’s new governance will provide the guidelines and support to maximize opportunities to deliver better government services while mitigating potential risks.

What are the ways that the city government is utilizing AI?

New York City government is using AI in a variety of ways to benefit New Yorkers today. These efforts range from leveraging AI to prevent future public health outbreaks to empowering students in the classroom to maintaining our city’s cyber resilience.  As an example, New York City Cyber Command tracks more than 90 billion cybersecurity incidents every week, and utilizes AI-based technology, among other tools, to filter the number down to 50 incidents for humans to investigate.

What are the ways that the city government could utilize AI in the coming years?

Earlier this year, we launched MyCity, a one-stop shop for city services and benefits, with a simplified child care application. In the near future, we will be able to use AI to recommend housing or food benefits based on information you’ve already supplied on your MyCity account. That way, you will have access to benefits or services you might otherwise not have known existed. The benefits for working-class New Yorkers are potentially transformative.

We’re also examining the benefits of AI use for students. Earlier this year, (the Department of Education) launched an AI chatbot pilot in three computer science programs that dramatically increased the amount of questions students asked – and supported teachers by providing students with a quality and quantity of responses that a single teacher could not possibly provide by themselves. Early returns are promising, and we will continue to examine opportunities AI offers as a learning tool.  

What city legislation should be passed or regulations implemented around the use of AI in government?

In the city’s AI Action Plan, we commit to developing an AI Risk Assessment and Project Review Process. It’s important to acknowledge risks involving bias and discrimination that can be associated with AI, and to set guardrails that mitigate those risks. Any broader policy about AI use in government should seek to address risks while supporting the city to harness AI innovation to address a wide range of 21st century challenges.

Has the city hired a director of artificial intelligence and machine learning and what has been their role? 

We are in the final round of our interview process for this role and look forward to making an announcement soon.