Estonia steps up virtual civil servant project

By on 26/07/2022 | Updated on 26/07/2022
The e-Estonia stand at EU2017EE.
As well as making citizens’ lives easier, Bürokratt aims to save millions of euros in administrative costs. Photo by Annika Haas, EU2017EE, via Flickr

The Estonian government has called on tech experts from around the world to help develop its artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant, Bürokratt.

In what Estonia is calling a world first for the public sector, Bürokratt will allow citizens to apply for benefits, make payments, register a birth, file taxes, renew a passport and access other government services through Siri-like voice-based interaction. It will offer personalised information based on the user’s data and will proactively contact citizens to remind them that an action is required ahead of time.

Read more: Estonian citizens to access public services through virtual assistants

“AI-based tools like Bürokratt provide citizens with seamless and integrated services that are rightfully tailored to the individual and their life events,” Estonia’s then government CIO Siim Sikkut said last December, at its soft launch. “The user experience will not rely on citizens having the appropriate digital skills to be able to operate interfaces such as apps or websites, but will operate through the most intuitive form of communication – the voice.”

As well as making citizens’ lives easier, it aims to save millions of euros in administrative costs.

Next steps

Enabled by an interoperable network of AI applications, the digital assistant – which is accessible via common devices such as mobile phone, tablet or laptop – was first announced in March 2020 and is now being implemented after successful beta testing in 2021. It will officially go live later this year.

As part of the next step of development, the Baltic nation is calling on software developers and data scientists, analysts and architects from countries belonging to the World Trade Organization to apply to be part of the project. It is particularly interested in those who specialise in language technology and machine learning.

Read more in our interview with Siim Sikkut – From mini-state to digital giant: Siim Sikkut on Estonia’s remarkable journey – in which the former government CIO talks about the development of AI-powered, voice-activated tools to deliver public services.

“Having built and been recognised by the World Government Summit as the best AI-powered government service with Bürokratt, we are keen to improve the service even more, to provide citizens with more control over how their personal data is leveraged to access government services,” Ott Velsberg, Estonia’s chief data officer said.

“We look forward to welcoming a range of specialists to come and work with us and become part of one of the most technologically advanced government projects in Europe and contribute to the development of an AI government stack that benefits the whole of society.’’

In future, the service will enable citizens – should they wish to – to share data held by the government with private sector companies. This could allow them to apply for a bank loan without filling out a form, for example.  

Velsberg said Bürokratt would inspire more governments to transform the citizen user experience. “AI-based voice-interactive virtual assistants will be the future for other governments around the world,” he said.

Applications for tech experts to take part in the project, which is open to both individuals and teams, are open until 26 August 2022.

Bürokratt marks the next step in Estonia’s digital and AI strategy. The country is known for being a digital-first country, with its e-Estonia approach embracing technology in areas such as banking, education and voting. As of October 2020, it had deployed 41 AI solutions.

Read more: Enabling e-government: Estonia’s National Digital Advisor Marten Kaevats

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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