EU agency calls for 'human-centric' AI in public service

By Shannon Jenkins

July 1, 2019

cloud software

A group enlisted by the European Commission has claimed that utilising artificial intelligence in the public service can “empower” public servants to make better policy and deliver more efficient services.

The new report released last week by the High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on AI presents a plethora of policy and investment recommendations related to “trustworthy” AI.

The 33 recommendations outline how such systems can be developed, deployed, fostered and scaled in Europe to their maximum potential.

But is Europe’s vision for AI in the public service realistic, or is it just a utopian dream?

The Victorian government has shown support for AI in the public service workforce, allowing a global cloud-based records-management company to base its Asia Pacific HQ in Melbourne.

RecordPoint caters for the content services segment and enables organisations to manage records from multiple services and platforms. Partnered with Microsoft, the company’s Melbourne facility will serve as an AI and Engineering Hub. RecordPoint will also serve public sector agencies, such as the Victorian Department of Education and Training and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

READ MORE: Australia can’t afford ‘tech passivity’ in parliament any longer

Why AI?

“Technology is a crucial driver of innovation and productivity, and AI is one of the most transformative technologies of our time,” the EC’s high-level experts said in their report.

“The public sector can act as a catalyser for AI development in Europe. Through its role as a procurer, the public sector can also make use of public procurement strategies to not only incentivise the development and responsible innovation of AI systems for the public good, but also to promote responsible innovation and ensure such systems are trustworthy.”

Deploying AI systems can help governments make better evidence-based policy-making decisions, according to the report, and can help deliver better services by reducing internal costs, increasing programme effectiveness, and enhancing quality.

The HLEG argues AI requires sustainability to protect the societal and natural environment, growth to secure employment and progress, and inclusion to ensure benefits for everyone.

However, utilising AI “should not lead to a lower quality of human relationships within public services or a reduction of such services,” the report asserted.

A human-centric use of AI should aid public servants to improve the quality and efficiency of public services by improving accessibility and availability of information, for example.

Public sector policy recommendations

Each policy recommendation emphasises the importance of accessibility, transparency, and the need to protect the privacy, rights and autonomy of individuals while delivering public services.

Provide human-centric, trustworthy and ethical AI-based services for individuals

  • Install mechanisms which provide borderless, interoperable, personalised, user-friendly, and end-to-end digital services to all – at every level of public administration.
  • Adopt a proactive model of public service delivery that enhances effectiveness and quality.
  • An individual should be able to interact with a person when an AI-based service does not run properly, or when requested.
  • Set up a single point of contact for individuals. Deploy natural, conversational user interfaces that can redirect individuals to information or services easily, for example.
  • Develop mechanisms that allow users to give feedback on the interfaces.
  • Develop tools that ensure safe services can be deployed for all, with internet access for the entire population, regardless of capability or economic class.

Approach the government as a platform, catalysing AI development in Europe

  • Transform public data into a digital format and collect data that can be used to evaluate and improve public services and develop new AI-based solutions.
  • Provide data literacy education to government agencies so public servants know what data to prioritise, how it should be handled, how to comply with privacy and data protection rules, and how it can be used to boost competitiveness.
  • Create public non-personal databases for high-quality AI that are reliable and can be accessed by stakeholders to develop and train AI solutions. This can promote AI development and prevent false news by helping to preserve access to correct information.
  • Develop standards for interoperability of public applications and public data reservoirs.
  • For procurement contracts between a public sector organisation and a company, require that data produced in that context be handed back to the public sector allowing its reuse for innovation or building better services (unless it infringes the private company’s IP or is not of public interest).

Make strategic use of public procurement to fund innovation and ensure trustworthy AI

  • Within procurement processes, allocate funding to innovative AI-based solutions and ensure that potential risks are identified, assessed and appropriately addressed. Consult relevant authorities prior to the procurement of AI systems to prevent security and privacy risks.
  • Introduce clear eligibility and selection criteria that require AI systems to be lawful, ethical and robust.

Safeguard fundamental rights in AI-based public services and protect societal infrastructures

  • Create methods to validate whether government decisions reliant on data-driven systems were biased against individuals compared to similar decisions, as access to personal data is not enough to ensure the analysis of fair and just decisions.
  • Ensure ethics guidelines for AI systems are deployed by the public sector.
  • Anyone who is subject to and significantly impacted by AI-informed governmental decisions should have access to information on how data and algorithms are used to inform such decisions, and receive an explanation about how decisions were reached.
  • Fund and facilitate development of AI tools that can help detect bias in governmental decision-making. Such tools could be made available to civil society organisations, NGOs, individuals and other parties that are questioning the integrity of public governance or are searching for support and evidence to challenge certain policies.
  • Ban AI-enabled mass scale scoring of individuals and set clear and strict rules for surveillance for national security purposes and other purposes claimed to be in the public or national interest in line with EU regulation and case law. Develop trustworthy ways to do this and ensure it is not used to suppress or undermine political opposition or democratic processes.
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