The State Department is always on watch, monitoring threats, handling delicate diplomatic negotiations and maintaining America’s relationships abroad. With the recent creation of the department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology, agency leaders understand the potential for innovative new technologies to support complex missions, transform American diplomacy and give our nation a competitive edge.
Alongside the agency’s robust modernization agenda and the creation of the new Office of Special Envoy, the State Department can accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, to streamline agency processes, enhance services for the American people and support the complex task of American statecraft. Recent advances in generative AI, in particular, offer promising new opportunities to support the work of America’s diplomats.
Five ways for AI to transform American statecraft
An agile State Department that embraces AI technologies can not only better address today’s diplomatic challenges, but also predict and anticipate contests to come. It can also deploy AI in service of the agency’s core missions and in support of critical work. Here’s how:
Consular affairs. AI can provide consular affairs — one of the longest existing and most important responsibilities of the State Department – with predictive technological features to pre-screen passport applications, record the births of U.S. citizens abroad, identify potential visa risks and free up officers to focus on high-value reviews rather than time-consuming manual tasks. Streamlined consular affairs can improve the citizen experience and lead to enhanced public trust in government services.
Multilateral negotiations. Complex dialogues and deliberations can benefit from AI tools, such as autonomous multi-agent systems, that can simulate, predict and analyze potential outcomes and better equip negotiators with the information they need to deftly navigate difficult, multifaceted discussions.
Knowledge management. AI-powered natural language processing and semantic analysis can help tag, share and search diplomatic cables, putting the most relevant and timely cables in diplomats’ inboxes faster and discovering cables that might be overlooked. Generative AI technology — a popular topic of late — could help diplomats expeditiously craft routine cables.
Foreign assistance. AI could be used to develop predictive models to evaluate the cost and impact of the State Department’s foreign assistance programs. AI models can also predict the efficacy of projects before they begin and monitor project developments and results throughout the course of implementation, helping officials identify when a program diverts from its anticipated outcome and requires intervention.
Administrative operations. From staffing and recruitment to managing foreign mission properties and vehicle fleets, AI can automate many agency operations so staff is available to support State’s core missions. AI platforms can also help staffing and recruiting professionals achieve their goals of a more diverse and equitable Foreign Service.
Successful AI integration across the State Department
To determine how and where to deploy AI at the State Department, agency leadership should consider the following:
Identify which processes and challenges can benefit from AI technology. Leaders should thoroughly map out agency processes and determine which functions would benefit most from AI capabilities.
Set performance targets and monitor return on investment. Agency leaders should build development teams with diverse perspectives to identify performance targets that an AI system must meet and to establish clear benefits over existing practices. Bringing together data scientists — along with diplomatic, technology, legal and procurement experts — can help ensure that all players are working together to leverage AI to its full potential.
Ethics and trust are paramount. While AI has become increasingly accepted and utilized across the public and private sectors, many citizens remain understandably concerned about the technology. From the start, agency leaders should incorporate ethical and trustworthy AI principles into a detailed handbook and training program to reinforce that AI must be used safely and effectively throughout the Department.
Prepare staff to work in new ways. As the agency adopts AI, staff will be able to reallocate their time and focus on higher-value tasks, leading to changes in the portfolios, capabilities and expectations of diplomats and agency officials. Leadership should closely examine how AI helps the Foreign Service evolve and be prepared to offer ways for agency personnel to acquire new skills that match their evolving work needs.
Integrating AI into the State Department’s key operations is not only essential for agency modernization, it can also revolutionize the way that America approaches diplomatic affairs. On its own, AI cannot solve every challenge the agency faces. It cannot replace the knowledge, insight and judgment of experienced Foreign Service officers and agency personnel. But it can significantly augment the productivity and efficiency of American diplomats and missions abroad.
By embracing AI, the State Department has a tremendous opportunity to pave the way forward for a new era of American statecraft.
Tasha Austin is a principal with Deloitte & Touche LLP. She helps lead Deloitte’s artificial intelligence and data analytics practice for government and serves as the director of the Deloitte AI Institute for Government.
Sean Davis is a specialist leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP. He helps help government agencies use artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to enhance mission performance.