"Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication of these organizations." -Melvin E. Conway, Computer Scientist, Conway's Law, 1967
In Estonia, there are around 30 Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions deployed in the Estonian public sector that were identified as active as of the beginning of June 2020. The Baltic nation aims to have at least 50 AI use cases by the end of 2020.
And that is just the beginning. Estonia's AI strategy is the next stage of digital public services, all part of e-Estonia. What is most interesting about it, is that its vision sounds as if it was taken from a science fiction script. Yet, it is all almost around the corner. In 2020, Estonia is working toward realizing its AI Strategy vision, called KrattAI.
Estonian companies widely use AI solutions in several business areas for optimizing business processes, automating customer service, in product quality control, and in risk mitigation to name just a few.
Indeed, Estonia's efficient, secure, and transparent ecosystem has earned the nation the title of the world’s most advanced digital society.
But, how did Estonia, a small Baltic nation in Northern Europe, led by a female president, managed to be recognized as the most advanced digital society on the planet?
Estonia borders the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. Estonia includes more than 1,500 islands featuring a diverse terrain which spans rocky beaches, old-growth forests, and many lakes.
Formerly part of the Soviet Union (officially The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR), also referred to as Soviet Russia, and today The Russian Federation), Estonia is dotted with beautiful medieval castles, old churches, and hilltop fortresses.
The capital city, Tallinn, is known for its well preserved Old Town, museums, and the 314-meter-high Tallinn TV Tower, which has an observation deck.
Estonia creates the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy
In 2019, the Estonian government outlined the current and future usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in government and private services. The main challenge was to create the legal and strategic framework for accelerating AI development and making Estonia a trailblazer in this emerging field.
The creation of Estonia's National AI Strategy resulted in a detailed strategic plan for promoting the implementation of AI solutions in both public and private sectors.
Following its successful plan, Estonia has become the world’s most digital society. Artificial Intelligence constitutes a fundamental pillar in instituting digital technologies into government and throughout the Estonian society, which Estonia refers to as e-Governance.
The Estonian government is investing at least 10 million euros over the course of 2019 to 2021 in order to push further the full implementation of its National AI Strategy.
From Kratt to KrattAI: How a mythological creature becomes Estonia's AI National Strategy
Unless you are Estonian, or are familiar with old Estonian mythology, you are probably wondering what a Kratt is. Like its Nordic neighbors, Estonia has a rich culture and some picturesque mythological creatures. Such is the case of the Kratt, pictured here below.
In Estonian mythology, a Kratt is a magical creature. A Kratt is a creature brought to life from hay or metal household objects, and it is animated by a human soul. Essentially, the Kratt was a servant made by its maker out of hay or old household items to help with tasks. The Estonian government uses this character as a metaphor for Artificial Intelligence and its complexities.
"A Kratt is a living being consisting of various objects. An interesting caveat is that you have to keep the Kratt busy. If you don't keep it occupied, it will focus all of its ability on attacking its owner. So, giving the Kratt lots of tasks is essential, the harder the better. And to complete the parallels with reality, the only way to get rid of the Kratt in its entirety is to give it impossible tasks. A very nice series of analogies for technology, if you ask me," Florian Marcus told me.
To better illustrate why the Kratt needs to be fed with work, watch the short video below. It is a clip from the award-winning 2017 Estonian film November, featuring a Kratt. According to the folk stories, if the Kratt's maker doesn't keep the Kratt busy with work, the Kratt will kill its maker, or owner.
KrattAI: Estonia's National Strategy for AI implementation
KrattAI is the vision of how public services should digitally work in the age of Artificial Intelligence. KrattAI will let people in Estonia use public information services by voice-based interaction with AI-based virtual assistants.
The concept of KrattAI would allow people to get things done such as ordering a new passport from any device, and in the future, also from any majorly used virtual assistant.
In the Estonian IT-sector, the Kratt is a metaphor for Artificial Intelligence. "KrattAI is the name of the overarching strategy to implement AI solutions within the public sector, usually providing services for citizens, but occasionally also making the lives of government workers easier. There are around 30 AI solutions in use right now," Florian Marcus told me.
Some of the AI solutions are used as both a citizen-side service and a government-side service. Marcus gives some examples:
"For citizens and residents alike, we have Suve, a chatbot that was created in response to Covid-19. Already, Suve can interact with regular human speech (meaning, you can converse with Suve in free form). Still, the more data we input for AI systems, the better they get – so Suve will only become more helpful over time," he said.
Suve's main task is to make sure that everyone living in or visiting Estonia gets all their questions answered accurately and from official sources. Suve is integrated to many official public Websites. Suve is multilingual, providing information in English, Estonian, and Russian.
"One niche solution that I like very much is the AI analysis of satellite data done by the Ministry of Agriculture," says Marcus. "In order for farmers to receive some EU structural funds, they need to tend to their fields and cut them a certain number of times per year. In most countries (and, up until rather recently, also in Estonia) people from the ministry have to personally drive around the country to check whether farmers mow their fields with the frequency to actually qualify for those funds. This is now being done by AI image analysis. The accuracy of the AI solution lies at around 90 percent."
Suve: The Estonian chatbot for digital public services
The hackathon was organized to beat the global pandemic affecting Estonia. "Startup-government collaboration is in the DNA of our Estonian digital society," President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid said.
Hack the Crisis is a global community that centralizes all the local events and information to participate in the online hackathons. The startups believe that the power of community has the power to fight and beat the pandemic. To achieve this, and after their local success, they also organize events to help countries around the world.
Estonia counts with approximately 1,000 startups, which positions the country among the top countries with more startups per capita. According to a study by Index Ventures in late 2018, Estonia is the best in the world in terms of startup regulation.
Legal perspective: Who is responsible for AI fails?
To answer this question, first we need to bring to our attention a basic classification of Artificial Intelligence, and understand the three different types of Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), focused on one single narrow task
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), a system capable of human thinking. This kind of AGI, also called the Singularity, implies machine consciousness. According to multiple experts, AGI or the Singularity, is not expected to emerge until 2050 or 2060. Regardless of whether it is conscious or not, though, such AI could continuously improve itself, therefore, reaching far beyond human capabilities and becoming a super-intelligence
Artificial Super-Intelligence (ASI), more capable than human
Even though most of the currently used Artificial Intelligence applications are not very complex yet, the Estonian government can already clearly see that significant changes in advancement and complexity will take place over the next few years.
According to multiple experts, AGI or the Singularity, is not expected to emerge until 2050 or 2060.
So, for now, there is no need for substantial changes in the basics of the legal system. Both now and in the foreseeable future, Kratts are and will be human tools, meaning that they perform tasks determined by humans and express the intention of humans directly or indirectly. There is always a human behind any existing AI form.
Even if the human has granted seemingly large freedom to the Kratt, today, there are no known so-called super agents that are able to operate independently and have intentions independent of humans. This basically means that the subjects of the legal regulations are humans.
However, Artificial Intelligence is rapidly evolving. Artificial Super Intelligence could be here sooner than expected. Yet, there is definitely no rise of the machines here. Artificial Super Intelligence is not going to take over the world simply because it does not yet exist. And it will not exist any time soon.
The Estonian government makes it clear stating that for the sake of legal clarity, it should be ensured that when exercising public powers or performing other public tasks, the actions of a Kratt will be attributed to the state through the company or body that used the Kratt in the meaning of state liability.
In private relationships, for both natural and legal persons, the Kratt's actions should be considered the actions of the Kratt's user. Matters related to criminal liability need to be expanded, for instance, to include Kratts and their use by expanding the definition of instrumental execution.
Benefits of implementing AI and automation
Artificial Intelligence is something that many still fear. However, mass implementation of Artificial Intelligence represents various benefits for Estonia. In the public sector, more implementation of AI would allow the government to increase the user-centric services, improve the process of data analysis, and make the country work more efficiently by achieving the goals of developing the e-Government.
Artificial Intelligence can also play an important role in the digital revolution of the industry as well as opening up the possibility to attract new investments and a plethora of innovation activity to Estonia; developers of technology are actively searching for a development and test environment that favours Artificial Intelligence solutions.
"Estonian quality of life is already very high thanks, in part, to digital solutions that mean we don’t have to ever visit a government office," says Florian Marcus. In five years living in Estonia, Marcus explains, he has never had the need to do it.
"That is already something that most people can currently only dream of. But there is more on the horizon: Implementing more and increasingly sophisticated AI solutions means that we can create a wholly new level of convenience for both society and government authorities. Interestingly, I believe that these solutions will compound – snowball-like – so that the benefits we draw from these solutions will grow exponentially," Marcus says.
In Estonia, paramedics can access a person’s medical data while they’re on their way to the scene of the accident. "Another solution the government provides is a proactive service that is triggered when a child is born, so that you get an automatic notification asking you to which bank account you want the child benefits paid – no parent has to apply for these things ever again. Still, neither of these two services I described have anything to do with AI. If we bring AI into the picture, we could imagine a service that works based on the voice assistant you already have on your phone."
Of course, Estonia is in the first place a socially advanced society. It counts with a state-of-the-art healthcare system, a system which already provided such benefits to all its citizens before Estonia reached the current level of digital transformation. What AI and digital implementation are doing is, as Marcus pointed out, facilitating and improving citizens' life by providing added agile solutions to everyday situations.
"Imagine you’re in a foreign country, pregnant, and you feel you’re about to go into labour. Wouldn’t it be great to just tell Siri or your Google Assistant that you’re about to have a baby, and in the background, the AI calls an ambulance to your location, forwards your medical data to the nearest hospital, alerts the Estonian embassy in that country, creates a new electronic ID for your baby, and also starts child benefit payments? Then, the voice assistant calmly informs you that everything has been sorted out and that the ambulance will reach your location in two minutes. This is amazing," says Marcus.
If you are thinking that the above has been taken from a science fiction book or movie, think again. Because it is exactly what the Estonian government is working on right now as you are reading this.
"As you can see," Marcus continues, "all of the digital solutions that we have built up over the last twenty years will be revolutionized as holistic services thanks to the implementation of AI. It is very hard to overstate how beneficial this will be for the country."
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