“Artificial Intelligence is the next step for e-governance in Estonia”, State adviser reveals

Marten Kaevats, adviser for digital innovation at the strategy unit of the Government Office of Estonia

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The issue is now openly on the table. Today marks a significant moment in the life of Estonian digital society: government officials and advisors shine a light on the opportunities of implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions as a further upgrade to the already advanced level of the services provided by private and public organizations for the benefit of Estonian residents.

Speaking to Marten Kaevats, adviser for digital innovation at the strategy unit of the Government Office of Estonia, it has emerged that experts at Stenbock House have started to discuss feasibility and legal frameworks for the application of Artificial Intelligence technologies to everyday life tasks of Estonian citizens. The spark was represented by the self-driving vehicles experiment carried out during the last months in Tallinn: summer 2017 has seen the first driverless bus being operative on a small route in the city centre of the capital; this time, Estonia has once again the chance to write a new chapter in the history of technological development through an open discussion on how intelligent machines and algorithms are set to change peoples’ lives.

Self-driving vehicles are just the beginning: “Working only on traffic laws is kind of unreasonable – Kaevats says – because the issue of Artificial Intelligence is much wider and the scope is quite bigger than just dealing with traffic laws”. Nonetheless, “Self-driving cars are a quite useful way to communicate this matter to the society”.

It seems reasonable to think that, in the near future, Artificial Intelligence will not be present exclusively on the streets of our cities and towns: we could find ourselves talking about “Financial bots doing deals on the stock exchange, smart refrigerators which might buy you some food according to a pre-designed grocery list, mobile operative systems that can buy tickets for your vacation” based on a single and simple human input.

The ways to go are many, the potential applications limitless. It is crucially important, though, to define a precise and exact legal and political framework to mark borders and rules according to which these technologies should function. Estonia is currently the first country in the world to officially undertake a discussion on the legal matters related to the use of such technologies, and the country has a unique chance to stand at the forefront on the issue at the dawn of an era rich in opportunities.

Different approaches are being discussed at the moment on the legal scenarios we could see taking shape in the future, but the issue of liability in case of accidents or malfunctions is undoubtedly at the core of the debate: “The main aim of this regulation is to define liability for Artificial Intelligence [malfunctions] in an user-friendly way, so that citizens on the street would actually understand in case of incident, or some other kind of accident for example, who exactly is liable in every particular case”. Therefore, it is pivotal “To have a public discussion now, because all these kinds of algorithms will be very soon part of our lives”.

Two different approaches, respectively a legal and a technological one, lead to what is already set to become reality: Artificial Intelligence is here, and we must understand how to make it work for everyone in the most detailed and effective way. The path to efficiency and innovation passes through the definition of when and how ground-breaking technologies can be integrated into a given legal, social and economic context – with all its peculiarities. A challenge that the Estonian government does not appear to give up on.


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