This is a special edition of the VOE Podcast, recapping the Daniels College of Business signature speaker event: “Voices of Experience: Denver’s AI Future.” That discussion explored the future of AI in Denver, where city and county leaders shared how emerging technologies are already aiding residents in the Mile High City. They discussed things like immigration and asylum, housing, permitting, infrastructure, workforce development and the economy. It took place on Monday, May 20, on the University of Denver’s campus and was moderated by Dean Vivek Choudhury. The panel was made up of city and county officials, including:

  • Suma Nallapati, Chief Information Officer
  • Jeff Dolan, Chief Strategy Officer and Counsel
  • Al Gardner, Executive Director, Department of General Services
  • Adeeb Khan, Executive Director, Denver Economic Development and Opportunity

Show Notes

Voices of Experience live event

The Voices of Experience speaker series at the Daniels College of Business brings C-suite business leaders into our community to share the lessons learned from their triumphs, mistakes and decisions as they navigated their careers in leadership. Join us in the future to hear experienced leaders share first-hand stories of motivation, loyalty, values-based leadership, turnaround strategies and more.

Table of Contents

1:05 Why is Denver using AI?
3:13 Data vs. Information
3:45 How the city is already using AI
5:18 Time saving in permitting
6:27 Meet Sunny, the AI chatbot
8:17 Dream big about the future
10:33 AI in healthcare
11:07 Denver’s predictive analytics
12:31 Preparing for an AI future
15:18 Show notes and credits

Watch the full event:


In this episode:

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Nick Greenhalgh:
Today, on this special edition of The Voices of Experience Podcast, how can AI free people up to do their best work?

Suma Nallapati:
We are leaving the transactional work to the bots, leaving the transformation work to humans, so the true value add is being done by humans, and the transactional work is done by bots.

Nick Greenhalgh:
That’s Suma Nallapati, the Chief Information Officer at the City and County of Denver. Suma joined an esteemed panel of city leaders at our in-person Voices of Experience Panel on Monday, May 20, to discuss how Denver is utilizing AI to solve the city’s biggest challenges and improve the lives of its residents. Throughout this episode, we’ll be sharing our biggest takeaways from that discussion, informing you on what the city is already doing with AI, what it’s planning for the future, and how you can prepare yourself. And if you find yourself wanting more, we’ll link a full video replay of the discussion in our show notes. Let’s start with why the city is using AI in the first place. More from Suma here.

Suma Nallapati:
Because it’s emerging technology, it’s very important for us to look out for the things that may go wrong with a technology like generative-AI. Algorithmic transparency is critical, making sure those large language models do not have built in biases, ethical considerations, all of these are very, very critical when you’re building the policy around generative-AI. So we’ve done that at the City and County of Denver using very extensive policies based on the NIST framework, and other cities, like New York, like LA, like Singapore, London, that are already emerging as leaders in this space. I was fortunate enough to be at the OpenAI global convening of cities, the first place where all of this starts. OpenAI, for example, started with federal, they didn’t get a lot of, I wonder why. They started with state, couldn’t get a lot of traction, but then, with the cities, they were able to get to use cases faster.

So when you have considerations like, there’s a concept called hallucinations with large language models, that can happen, because these large language models are still learning. So how do you that it’s not reading information off of the internet, for example? How do you ensure that it’s staying within the boundaries that you create, and how do you ensure that its learnings are human-centered? So this is a little glimpse of it. We are in the cloud, we use a lot of our data technologies, we have strong data pipelines built, to ensure that, again, the data privacy, the data governance, the data protection, are all happening, but we are also using technology to help us in a very responsible manner. And when we have the limited resources that we do, how do we ensure that they’re doing the transformational work and we are taking away all of that so that they can focus on the true value add and help the most vulnerable populations that need the services?

Nick Greenhalgh:
Makes sense, right? Let the computer take over the mundane tasks and leave the critical thinking to your employees. Let’s hear from Al Gardner now, the executive director of the City and County of Denver’s Department of General Services, for a great point on the difference between data and information.

Al Gardner:
Data is not necessarily information, and there’s a difference between data and information, and what we’re trying to do is to distill down, but take the data to make it information, to make it then, a process.

Nick Greenhalgh:
You may not realize it, but the city is already knee-deep in AI implementation, using the technology to automate and speed up critical processes for the city’s residents. Adeeb Khan, the executive director of Denver Economic Development and Opportunity, shared one way the city is already making strides when it comes to AI.

Adeeb Khan:
For Denver, dealing with immigration and federal immigration law is not something that we have a lot of expertise at. We don’t have a border, we don’t normally have inflows like we’ve seen the last year, with 40,000 individuals coming into Denver. And so, it’s very complicated, we’re dealing with individuals who have different levels of status, and right now, a majority of the folks that we are dealing with are individuals who are asylum seekers.

In order to get work authorization, these individuals must apply for asylum in the United States, and that application is extremely complex. It requires one-on-one legal support, it can take 20 to 40 hours to be able to fill out one of those applications. But the mayor and his team, Jeff and others, are looking at AI solutions that exist right now, that are able to help individuals navigate that in a more easy way and in a batch way, where we can work with a lot of people at the same time. And so, that’s a great way in which we can use intelligence to be able to answer these questions in a way that allows people to navigate the legal nature of what an asylum application is.

Nick Greenhalgh:
Speaking of saving time, Jeff Dolan, Chief Strategy Officer and Counsel for the City and County of Denver, said AI has helped immensely in turning around permits.

Jeff Dolan:
Just in terms of permitting, for example, that is a very persistent pain point for anybody who wants to modify their home, or a developer who wants to build homes, or a condominium complex or apartments, permitting process has been a persistent pain point. And that falls under one of our primary goals that we have, that the mayor has put forth this year, in terms of improving government to great government, cutting permitting time in half. Well, AI is an amazing tool for that, we’ve already seen remarkable progress on that front, which is freeing up those employees who manage the permitting at different levels at the city to just move much more efficiently, much, much faster, and spend more of their time in a quality way, doing that customer-facing, constituent-facing work that is so critical to why we want to live in this city. We want a city that serves us, we want a city government that serves us.

Nick Greenhalgh:
And before we look toward the future capabilities of this technology, Suma shared one last use case, a bright, helpful chatbot named Sonny.

Suma Nallapati:
So we are able to create Sunny, our chatbot, within our encapsulated instance of our AWS, using our own data within [inaudible 00:06:45] website, and it’s able to help a person that may be not very comfortable calling and saying, I’m hungry, please help me. That’s the power of technology, that’s the power of AI, used the right way. Again, I talked about policy, we just didn’t do it haphazard. It’s not like a united chatbot, this has a lot of thought going into it. And it’s 24 by 7, so we are cutting down on our resources. It speaks 72 different languages. Just imagine if you have to hire for 72 different language people to support our platform. It’s simply not cost-effective for us, and we can take those resources and put it into the system again.

Also, we are leaving the transactional work to the bots, leaving the transformational work to humans. So the true value add is being done by humans, and the transactional work is done by bots. All of this is integrated into our backend systems like Workday and others, it’s all within our cloud, so it truly is something that we are proud of. Even though it’s just a bot, it’s just not a bot, it’s a platform that we are continuously working and learning from, and making sure that we are helping the most vulnerable populations. That’s why I left my private sector job, is to help the most vulnerable populations. That’s the impact of technology on people’s lives.

Nick Greenhalgh:
You just heard it, artificial intelligence is already here, but we’re barely scratching the surface of its vast potential. Daniels dean, Vivek Choudhury, asked panelists to dream big and envision how AI might be used in the future. Here’s what they came up with. First, Adeeb.

Adeeb Khan:
Yeah, I mean, I think about, one of the pain points just coming in here was traffic. I mean, who loves traffic? Nobody. I got people graduating, high schoolers, crossing every which way. I think if you look at what’s capable, and we’re just dreaming about the future, zero pedestrian fatalities, zero injuries, I mean, zero, even car wrecks. I mean, these are what’s possible if you have a smart system, where not only are the stoplights and the infrastructure itself plugged in, but every car that’s registered in the city is also plugged into the system. So you have the ability for cars to be more efficient on the highways, platooning, being able to keep gaps close to each other, and not having accidents. You’re able to understand where you have crossings, where you have high amounts of pedestrian injuries, or even fatalities, and you’re able to change the lighting systems and the crossing systems so that we’re not having those same kinds of incidences.

I was just coming from Dublin, Ireland, where we met with Accenture, and they did a year-long study in Broward County in Florida, and they looked at every intersection where they had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities. And then, they were able to set up cameras to understand where all the close calls were, and they overlapped all of the data, and they were able to understand that basically, the right hand turns at this one intersection, where 95% of the problems were coming from. And just by extending that crosswalk an extra 10 or 15 seconds, they were able to reduce the number of pedestrian injuries that were happening there by like, 80%. And so, those kinds of things can be achieved, and they can be achieved without Accenture doing a year-long study, they can be achieved by just collecting data, analyzing it, and being able to put those processes in place. So a city without traffic, a city without any pedestrian injuries or fatalities, and a city where we’re all able to move as efficiently as possible throughout the city, that’s the kind of city I want to live in.

Nick Greenhalgh:
Super fascinating. Now to Suma on the potential of AI in healthcare.

Suma Nallapati:
For me, healthcare is somewhere I think AI can play a critical role, and it’s already doing that. If you look at the amount of data that can help increase lifespan, increase the quality of life, go through tons and tons of medical records, and be able to be predictive, proactive, and prescriptive, so that the doctors can do what they do best in saving people’s lives, I think that is a great use case. There’s so much potential in that.

Nick Greenhalgh:
And finally, Al shares more on how AI can impact the city’s services using predictive analytics.

Al Gardner:
Yeah, I’ll look at it through the eyes of general services, and one of the divisions that fall under general services is energy, and how the city can pay millions of dollars per month for energy. In Suma’s context, she talks about interweaving access in everything that we do. Another one is access to small businesses and how they interact with the city. Let’s take those two things. From an energy perspective, if … Right now, we’re paying millions of dollars a month, you can manage all the … We have about 143 buildings across the city. Translates to a lot of money. How do we learn how to use predictive analytics in a way that allows us then to measure the investment that we need to make in solar, in gas? Though we’re not any more using some kind of older ways that we do those calculations to how much the yield is going to be, but really using predictive analytics to get the most out of those reusable sources. That’s something that I imagine and think about all the time, how can we run the city from a structural perspective, a lot more lean?

Nick Greenhalgh:
So you’ve heard about AI’s potential, and admittedly, it can be a little scary. So how can you prepare yourself for an AI future? Let’s start with Adeeb to hear about why it’s crucial to develop solutions for all.

Adeeb Khan:
Fundamentally, as we utilize this technology, I think that we cannot create technology that’s only going to benefit a few and that’s not going to benefit us as a society as a whole. So we’re a long haul trucking company that is basically now profiting off of having an automated long haul trucking program, and is displacing hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result of it. To me, that’s a fundamental issue, and that’s bad for everybody. And so, we need to be able to develop solutions, and we need to be able to apply the technology for public good and not just for capital gain. I think that’s going to be really important for us as we move forward, because it’s unchartered waters. I’d love to say, yeah, we’ve got a three point plan in terms of how we can ensure that everyone’s going to be able to have a more affordable lifestyle as a result, as we move forward in this area.

But the reality is, we don’t even know in five years, if there’s going to be long haul trucking, or 10 years, or 20 years, even, if that’s going to be something that can be automated. So I think there’s nervousness around the potential of AI, there’s nervousness around displacing jobs. What I also hear from a lot of folks is that this is also going to create many new jobs, and it’s also potentially going to reduce the demands on individuals in terms of how much they have to work. We’re already seeing a lot of European countries, and even places in the United States, where they’re experimenting with 32-hour work weeks. Could we see our total work weeks potentially go down? Could we have lifestyles that are allowing us to spend more time with our kids and family? I think that, to me, is the future that I’m hoping for.

Nick Greenhalgh:
And more on the importance of transparency and policy building from Suma.

Suma Nallapati:
It’s so important for you as the consumer to know your rights and to ensure that your data is not being compromised. When you allow cookies, it’s convenient to just accept all cookies. You are giving up your data, so how do you ensure your voice is being represented? So make sure that the data privacy, you’re asking the questions of the companies, whether it’s private or public. In public sector, there’s at least a little more responsibility with data because of the agencies, the governance. People complain about red tape, there is a need for the red tape in some cases, because it’s those checks and balances that protect your data. That may not exist in the private sector to the same extent, so be aware of your rights and make sure that you’re looking at all of those aspects when you are signing those fine print documents and contracts.

Nick Greenhalgh:
Those are our key takeaways from the in-person Voices of Experience event, but there’s so much more to explore. Check out our show notes, where we’ll have a full event replay and more from Suma, Al, Jeff, and Adeeb. And if you haven’t already, check out our past episodes, including more AI discussion with Daniel’s faculty member, Leo Dixon. Sophia Holt is our sound engineer, Joshua Muetzel wrote our theme. I’m Nick Greenhalgh, and we’ll talk again soon.