In an era of rapid technological advancement, how can the European Union harness the enormous potential of Artificial Intelligence from within and set a world-leading example?

Last month, the European Union (EU) released a series of announcements outlining its plans to invigorate the technology sector in Europe, with a special focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Among the announcements was a commitment to increase spending on AI by 70% by 2020. For many in the private sector, this was a welcome announcement - a public vow of support that will bolster their efforts and help shift resources to a promising sector in need of them.

That said, one can’t help but notice the lack of adoption of this technology by the public sector itself in the EU. Although some Member States such as Estonia and the UK are making individual progress, an organized and concerted effort by the EU to implement AI in the public sector is lacking. In this article, we explore the potential benefits of bringing more AI into the public sector, and how the EU can set an example by doing so.

Artificial Intelligence will help facilitate a shift toward a citizen-centric government

The ability of AI to unlock trapped value is unrivaled when it comes to increasing efficiency and reducing costs in organizations. But we are only now beginning to understand the magnitude of its potential, especially for the public sector.

Higher productivity among public sector employees will not only lead to long-term cost savings but as menial tasks gradually disappear, it could also lead to higher employee satisfaction. AI can also help overburdened public services overcome resource constraints, freeing up more time for the services that matter. This will trickle down to citizens, leading to greater satisfaction with governments and the services they provide.

Simply said, AI will help facilitate a shift toward a citizen-centric government.

How AI can change EU public services

While the range of AI applications continues to grow every day, here are three areas of application that can positively impact the public sector:

1. Public safety and criminal justice

Tracking criminal activity: Countries like China and the UK have adopted predictive analytics to help track criminal activity and assess the likelihood of criminals to reoffend. Because AI can process much more data, and faster, than humans, it can analyze more evidence more efficiently leading to the faster apprehension of criminals at large.

Judicial efficiency: For those already in court, AI can help to assess flight risk and set fairer bails, reducing human bias in the process. By removing these more menial tasks, the judicial system could become more efficient, leading to speedier and more impartial trials.

Cyber-policing: In the virtual world, AI can be used as a powerful tool for cybercrime detection. With increased rumors of election hacking and criminal targeting of government activities, AI deployment can automate the processes needed to detect attacks and manage breaches. This can expedite the time it takes to neutralize attacks, leading to greater protection of government information.

2. Citizen engagement

Legislation: Chatbots can engage citizens with their environment, ensuring that policymakers focus on the right issues. For example, a chatbot could follow-up with citizens after they have contacted a public service about a certain issue. In this way, citizens are sure their voices are being heard and they will be more likely to get involved in the future.

Everyday services: Imagine automating some of the most frustrating interactions that people have with governments, such as requesting vital records, paying taxes or renewing a driver’s license. No queues, no waiting, no fuss – easy, centralized, streamlined access to every service one may need.

Interaction amongst citizens: AI can also encourage greater heterogeneity of voices among citizens. It can make sure that quieter voices are listened to on important issues and all citizens are advocated for equally.

3. Strengthening democracy

Fake news: In April, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would begin using AI to scan and remove fake news from the social media site. Some of the ways AI does this include the scoring of web pages to punish repeat offenders, or flagging sensational words in articles. This will promote decision-making made off of verified facts rather than sensationalism.

Voting: AI can bring voting into the 21st century by making it possible to vote online. Many countries around the world are now experimenting with this. There is no doubt that the convenience it provides will encourage greater voter participation and higher electoral turnouts.

Corruption and fraud: India is a leader in using AI to fight corruption and fraud. Since 2017, the country has employed AI to catch tax evaders using data analytics. AI can also inform border control immigration decisions and help to identify fraud in welfare programs, leading to greater impartiality and expedited decision-making.

As AI grows, so must the responsible management of it

With great power comes great responsibility

It goes without saying that as AI grows, so must the responsible management of it. We need to ensure that the enormous potential of this technology is not used for harm. Unfortunately, this presents a big challenge for overburdened governments that struggle to keep apace with legislation on emerging technologies. However, without stopping and taking the time to tackle the questions that need addressing, we risk leaving ourselves vulnerable to malicious internal and external influencers.

The EU must join governments around the world to promote a comprehensive and innovation-friendly approach to addressing the unintended consequences of AI. This should comprise a regulatory framework on Common Codes of Ethics and Standards as well as “explainable AI” – clean and transparent coding that ensures data represent an unbiased and comprehensive view of the human information it handles.

61% of respondents said they believed AI will make the world a better place

Now or never

With China and the US currently leading the way in AI investment, the EU must not fall behind. Europe is particularly well-positioned to become a leader in AI due to its diverse population and leading science and technology research. But without a comprehensive strategy to promote AI, and the requisite funding needed to put it into action, AI could quickly become a missed opportunity. The latest announcements by the EU show that it is heading in the right direction. But these efforts should be just the beginning.

In a recent survey among 6000 people conducted by Arm Ltd , 61% of respondents said they believed AI will make the world a better place. We cannot say this for certain, but without the cooperation of governments and the public sector, it will be impossible to know.

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