In Las Vegas, city officials are turning to an unlikely ally in their quest to help residents access city services more easily: artificial intelligence. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the city’s information technology department has been building an application for Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled speaker that taps into an artificial intelligence platform called Alexa. When it’s complete, residents will be able to download an application to communicate with the city from their own living rooms.
At a demonstration of the device before Las Vegas City Council last week, Alexa introduced herself to the council, relayed a specific sewer bill balance and answered a question about who represents one of the city’s wards. She could give not only the name of the mayor, but the year she was elected and the percentage of the vote she won. Alexa was, however, flummoxed by a question about a city park.
The city hopes that residents will ultimately be able to ask about city services in ways that are more personalized, like asking about the status of a permit. Residents would create a profile through the city’s website to customize how they interact with the platform — whether they want to receive notifications about when their council representative is hosting an event nearby, or to hear about parks’ recreational programming. The application is expected to be completed in 2017. Of course, the tool won’t boost access to city services for everyone: Users will need an Amazon Echo, which sells for about $180.
The project is part of the city’s larger, multi-million dollar Project EDDI (Electronic Development Department Integration) which aims to make access to city services more seamless and user-friendly through the use of technology. So far, the city has launched a new website and a mobile app that lets citizens make service requests, look at job postings and find out where the local food trucks are.
The city also wants to able to use the application internally, so that a manager could, for example, ask about the state of their department’s budget or whether an employee has vacation time left.
City Councilman Steve Ross said he wants to expand on the city’s recognition for its sustainability efforts. “I want to be the highest-tech city in the world, too,” he said.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.