Wake County Board Chair to Tackle Artificial Intelligence Policy & Practices

Shinica Thomas to serve on 16-person national committee

Chair Shinica Thomas photos in green suit smiling

It took 16 years for the mobile phone to reach 100 million users, seven years for the internet and just two months for Artificial Intelligence-powered ChatGPT. The startling speed of adoption for language/chatbot tools has government leaders mobilizing to more closely explore the possibilities and risks of AI.

Now, Shinica Thomas, the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, has been named to a national exploratory committee on artificial intelligence launched by the
National Association of Counties. Along with 15 other county officials from across America, Thomas and the NACo Artificial Intelligence Exploratory Committee will examine emerging policies, practices, and potential applications and consequences of AI. They will focus on county policies and practices, public trust, privacy and security, workforce productivity and skills development.

“We’re really at a turning point with this technology, where we hear people applaud the efficiencies but also voice concerns about the need for limitations, so that’s what we want to tackle,” said Chair Thomas, who will attend the first AI committee meeting next month. “This is a system that learns by taking in all the text there is on the internet and, as a result, it can talk and write like we do. But as we all know, not everything on the internet is accurate. In fact, studies are showing AI can be biased against women and people of color because it has learned from biased information on the internet.”

County leaders recognize that, as with any emerging technology, there will be a spectrum of impacts, from the known to the unknown, and county officials want to be ready to engage in upcoming national, statewide and local discussions on how to balance the promise of AI with its inherent risks.

The exploratory committee will work with partners from various areas of expertise to examine AI in local government, with a proposed process to:

  • Assess the current state of AI technology
  • Identify potential applications of AI and the related benefits and risks for county government operations
  • Evaluate the risks and benefits of AI related to workforce productivity, displacement and skills
  • Explore the county governance landscape with ethics, public trust, privacy and security impacts
  • Develop a preliminary policy and practice toolkit with sample guidelines and standards for AI
  • Identify opportunities for collaboration and partnership with different county stakeholders
  • Advise on public policy issues that may need to be considered by NACo’s board and policy committees, and
  • Facilitate education and engagement opportunities for county officials, NACo networks and partners.

“AI presents tremendous opportunities and challenges. Counties will rise to the occasion of exploring this growing frontier in technology, ensuring it is used to the greatest benefit for our residents,” said NACo President Denise Winfrey. “I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this committee’s efforts.”

The exploratory committee will meet at NACo’s Annual Conference on July 22 both in person and virtually. NACo includes nearly 40,000 county elected officials who together advocate for county government priorities in federal policymaking and promote exemplary county policies and practices.

Press Release