Leadership needed on AI in Michigan – Crain’s Detroit Business


I encourage Gov. Whitmer to set a goal for making Michigan a leader in using AI in government, education, and health care. Michigan’s Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II ⁠— with his technology background ⁠— seems a natural for leading AI initiatives.

He gets it, saying, “When we use data to drive policy decisions, we can provide people with a much healthier chance of success here in Michigan”.

To be successful, AI must be strategically and holistically integrated into the mission of governance, incorporating new thinking about how government delivers value to its citizens. As I suggested a year ago in a Michigan Advance article, our governor can mobilize a team of futurists, social scientists, students, economists, historians, sociologists, data scientists, law and management specialists, technologists, social planners and workforce specialists to anticipate the AI tsunami coming our way.

We must seek ways to create insight into the data that government collects and AI can help with that by creating new insight from these processes that improves the return-on-investment.

With the intellectual power of Michigan’s public and private institutions of higher learning and business leaders who embrace AI, we possess the natural ingredients to use big data in ways that will not only benefit taxpayers, but also make Michigan a magnet for innovation and change that propels our state forward.

The Brookings Institute put it bluntly: “Governments that can successfully cultivate a culture of disruptive innovation will be strategically positioned to lead in the twenty-first century. By contrast, governments that resist AI will find themselves facing a daunting future.”

Michigan might follow Canada’s lead in becoming the first U.S. state with a comprehensive AI strategy. In 2017, Canada created the world’s first national AI strategy — why can’t we build on the objectives they set by:


  • Increasing the number of artificial intelligence researchers and university graduates in Michigan.
  • Establishing interconnected nodes of scientific excellence among Michigan research universities and business centers of excellence.
  • Partnering with other global thought leaders on economic, ethical, policy, and legal implications of artificial intelligence.
  • Supporting statewide research communities on artificial intelligence.


The Deloitte Center for Government Insights points out that “government agencies have a special responsibility to consider not only how it can be used to make work more productive and innovative, but also to think about its potential effects, positive and negative, on society at large.”

With imagination and effort, there is no reason Michigan cannot lead our nation and join other world leaders in tapping AI’s potential for enhancing people’s lives in both the private and public sectors.

Tom Watkins is former Michigan state superintendent of schools.

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