2021 Fulton County Environmental Scan



Digital technology has transformed our lives in only a few short decades.  In particular, the internet and the devices and services it has inspired have drastically altered the way we work, educate our children, shop, conduct business, interact with friends and family, build new relationships, learn about the world and current events, and participate in political discourse.  The internet has in fact become so indispensable to modern life that lack of access places individuals and families at a distinct disadvantage in terms of employment, education, public services and political participation. 
Other technologies are only beginning to have an impact on our lives but have the potential to be as transformative as the internet.  One such technology is artificial intelligence (AI), the use of computers to perform much more quickly and efficiently tasks that once could only be performed by human beings.  Local governments have the potential to use AI to improve services, but they are faced with the challenges of having the necessary infrastructure in place as well as navigating ethical and legal issues around AI and the real or perceived potential it has for displacing human employees.

Internet Access

As of 2019, about 86% of households in the U.S. had a subscription to a broadband internet service of some kind, either fixed broadband (e.g., cable, fiber optic, DSL), cellular service, satellite internet, or some combination.  About 11% of households had no internet access.  In comparison, over 90% of Fulton County households had a broadband subscription, ranking it fourth among it's national benchmark counties. 
The majority of Fulton County households had both fixed broadband and cellular service as of 2019.  Over 85% had cellular service and about 79% fixed broadband.  Around 9% did not have an internet subscription, though a quarter of those had access to the internet by means other than a subscription (e.g., free internet access through a university), leaving 7%, over 30,000 households, with no broadband access. 
Broadband internet access varies greatly by income level.  While 9.3% of all households in Fulton County lacked a broadband subscription in 2019, over 30% of households with an annual income under $20,000 lacked a broadband subscription.  Only 2.8% of households with an income of $75,000 or more had no subscription.
To help close the internet access gap between low and higher income households, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the Affordable Connectivity Program in 2022.  The program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households.  The level of success of the program will become evident in the coming years as data from the American Community Survey is made available.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a collection of technologies that combine data, algorithms and computing power to develop computer software and robots that are capable of behaving in ways that both mimic and go beyond human capabilities.  Among the the most important techniques used are machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and natural language processing. Current thinking on the future impact of AI on society is a mixture of optimism and caution, but most agree on one thing--artificial intelligence will change our lives in importance ways.  AI promises to improve healthcare (e.g. making diagnosis more precise, enabling better prevention of diseases),
Like all local governments, Fulton County should be looking to AI as a means for improving services to its citizens and increasing the efficiency of its operations.  At the same time, it should work to adopt a set of guiding principles to ensure that that the AI technologies it employs reflect societal values and respect human rights.  This will require that AI not be viewed as being solely in the domain of information technology but to also be within the purview of the county's legal, human resources and diversity and civil rights experts.
In the near term...large government job losses are unlikely. But cognitive technologies will change the nature of many jobs—both what gets done and how workers go about doing it—freeing up to one quarter of many workers’ time to focus on other activities.
-- Deloitte (AI-augmented government Using cognitive technologies to redesign public sector work)

Discussions of AI are often confusing and sometimes misleading because the term is not defined within the context of the discussion.  All practical applications of AI existing today fall into the category of Narrow AI.  Narrow AI is capable of performing specific tasks traditionally requiring specialized human knowledge and training. These include chatbots, medical diagnostic tools, autonomous vehicles and recommendation systems.  In contrast, Strong AI, also called artificial general intelligence (AGI), would be capable of any cognitive task a human can perform, including the ability to reason, learn and communicate in natural language. True AGI exists today only in the realm of science fiction; however, some AI experts believe it will become reality by the middle of this century. 
Applications in Government

Legal and Ethical Issues

Minimizing Disruption

5G Wireless Technology

Applications in Government
Impact on Human Health
Local Control
Digital Divide
Role of Local Government