Professor Sue Black on AI and education, innovation challenge winner tackles major AI barriers, and more

By on 25/06/2024 | Updated on 05/07/2024
Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Welcome to this month’s AI Monitor. In this edition, we share insights from the new OECD report on responsible use of AI in government, details of this year’s Isle of Man Innovation Challenge, a summary of where the three main UK political parties stand on AI ahead of the election, and much more.

Thanks for reading and please get in touch to share your thoughts and news on AI developments in government.

Jack Aldane
Senior staff writer
Global Government Forum

In this edition:

OECD urges countries to gear up for ‘governing with AI’

Photo: Pixabay

As more governments around the world begin experimenting with AI, the OECD has published a report to broaden understanding of responsible AI use in the public sector.

Responsibility: “While the global debate on AI has tended to focus on governments’ role as regulators in shaping and responding to the application of AI, less attention has been paid to their responsibilities as users of AI,” it said.  

The report analyses 71 use cases of AI deployment in governments in 31 of its member and accession countries, focusing on areas such as internal operations, policy design, service delivery, and oversight.

Early adopters: The report underscores efforts by government to adopt AI in public services, such as France’s use of its generative AI tool – dubbed ‘Albert’ – to accelerate the daily tasks of advisors on public services. It also highlights initiatives such as Finland’s AuroraAI programme to simplify “overly cumbersome” public services and the Estonian tax agency’s use of AI to pick up on “incorrectly submitted VAT refund claims” and “companies or persons in need for inspection”.

The report found that about 70% of participating countries had used AI to enhance internal operations.

Call to action: The OECD has produced a framework to assist governments in the responsible use of AI in the public sector.

The report urges governments and policy research experts to focus on “understanding, promoting and enabling the positive aspects of using AI, rather than only preventing the negative ones”.

Read more: Read the in-depth article on the Global Government Forum website.

Hear from government experts on AI

Image: GGF

Global Government Forum’s in-person events bring international experts together with public servants to share best practice and insight. Upcoming events include Public Service Data Live in London on 19 September, where you can hear from government AI experts including Laura Gilbert, chief analyst and director of data science, 10 Downing Street, and Daljit Rehal, chief digital and information officer at HM Revenue and Customs, speaking on how to deploy AI in government. Find out more and register here.

Gilbert will also be speaking at AccelerateGOV in Ottawa on 21 October, alongside Elise Legendre, chief data officer, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Chrysandre Courchêne, manager of the Responsible Data and AI Centre of Expertise at the Canada Border Service Agency. Find out more about AccelerateGOV and register here.

Isle of Man Innovation Challenge winner tackles major AI barriers

Image: Digital Isle of Man

The winners of a government-backed innovation challenge held in Douglas on the Isle of Man were revealed on 13 June. 

The event heard pitches from 13 finalists for innovation solutions across three categories – Cleantech, Data and AI, and Fintech. The aim was to exhibit and promote the pro-innovation jurisdiction of the Isle of Man, which is a self-governing British Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea, almost equidistant from England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It also set out to stoke collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

And the winner is:
Taking home the award in the data and AI category was Acentrik, a data-sharing product developed by Mercedes-Benz Singapore. Acentrik claims to enable organisations worldwide to “fully unlock and leverage data for new value streams and opportunities”.

“With the growing importance of AI, we’ll also see a growing need to share data. You can think of data as a foundation for meaningful AI models and AI applications,” Alexander Forstbach, chief data officer at Mercedes-Benz Group, said during Acentrik’s pitch presentation.

Privacy, security, trust: Effective data-sharing is increasingly important to the development of AI, but there are several barriers in the way, Forstbach said. These include data privacy, data security, and perhaps most important of all, people’s trust in how their data is used. Most people want their data to be used to solve problems, but few are willing to share it if they don’t know precisely what it is being used for.

Acentrik aims to address this challenge in various ways. One is through a specific choice of data architecture, known as ‘edge node infrastructure’. Edge node infrastructure is a computing device deployed at the edge of a data network and connected to one big data exchange platform. This means keeping data partially in silos, since it does not involve moving data.

Acentrik also overcomes these challenges using ‘computation at source’, which allows governments and enterprises to use the features of Acentrik that preserve privacy to deploy their data marketplace for multiple purposes.

The missing piece: Speaking to GGF on the sidelines of the event, Forstbach said that in cases where third party vendors work with governments to develop AI models, governments are naturally confronted with difficult questions about the treatment of citizen data.  

“However, if you have a technology in between [the parties] that is really protecting the data privacy, then that’s the missing piece of the puzzle, if you will,” he commented. “That’s how you can actually allow other companies to provide service to the citizens directly as a government.”

All winners of the Innovation Challenge received additional promotion and publicity both locally and internationally, as well as extended access to the Isle of Man’s marketplace of mentors, potential investors and customers across sectors, regulators, and government officers for six months. 

Professor Sue Black says education is key to capitalising on AI

Sue Black. Image: GGF

One of the Isle of Man event’s keynote speakers was Professor Sue Black OBE, the computer scientist who led the campaign to save Bletchley Park from permanent closure in 2008. Bletchley went on to be the host site for the world’s first global AI summit in 2023. Global Government Forum snatched an hour of Professor Black’s time at the Innovation Challenge to get her thoughts on the best uses of AI in government.

Skilling up: With the UK general election set for 4 July, GGF asked Black how the next UK government should hone its understanding of AI to improve UK public services. She highlighted the importance of education, evoking echoes of the 1997 election campaign fought by former prime minister Tony Blair.

“I see through my Techmums social enterprise how you can really change people’s lives quite quickly if you help them understand very basic digital skills,” she said.

“But I don’t think there’s anything for the general public to upskill themselves on all of those things, to just feel more confident with technology.”

Upgrade the UK: Professor Black said AI would prove necessary to getting the public to learn vital new digital skills. The same is true, she added, for companies operating in a global digital marketplace.

She said companies need to understand what opportunities are available to them through AI, stressing that this is especially urgent given the extent to which other countries are already ahead of the UK. She added that the UK as a whole needs “an upgrade”.

“In the UK, if we want to have a successful future and be a global player and keep our position in the pecking order, we have to upskill the whole nation at different levels, and include AI in that, so we can leverage what’s out there.”

AI in the UK election manifestos

Image: Pixabay

Ahead of the UK general election on 4 July, the UK’s major political parties have been setting out their plans for if they win.

Conservatives: Artificial intelligence will, according to the Conservative manifesto, “accelerate human progress in the 21st century, just as the steam engine and electricity did in the 19th century”.

As well as doubling AI expertise in the civil service, the Conservatives plan to invest over £1.5bn in developing computing clusters, “assembling the raw processing power so we can take advantage of the potential of AI and support research into its safe and responsible use”. The party pledges to use AI to free up doctors’ and nurses’ time for frontline patient care, in line with the NHS Productivity Plan set out in the 2024 Budget.

Labour: Labour pledges to “ensure our industrial strategy supports the development of the artificial intelligence sector [and] removes planning barriers to new data centres”, and says it “will harness the power of technologies like AI to transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services, saving potentially thousands of lives”.

In particular, the party promises to double the number of state-of-the-art scanners with embedded AI, stating that they are faster and more effective at finding smaller tumours to save lives. The party has also pledged to ensure the safe development and use of AI models by “introducing binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes”.

LibDems: The Liberal Democrats propose the formation of both national and local citizens’ assemblies to ensure that the public are fully engaged in finding solutions to the greatest challenges – among which they include the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms by the state.

They also propose to create a clear, workable and well-resourced cross-sectoral regulatory framework for artificial intelligence with three key focuses:

  • Promoting innovation while creating certainty for AI users, developers and investors.
  • Establishing transparency and accountability for AI systems in the public sector.
  • Ensuring the use of personal data and AI is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects the privacy of innocent people.

Canadian government urges public servants to make more use of AI

Image: Michael Wernick

Anita Anand, president of the Canadian Treasury Board, said recently that she wants to boost the use of AI in Canada’s public service.

Canada’s AI strategy: Speaking at the launch of a series of government consultations on the use of AI in the public service, she said that the government would look at developing a strategy to use AI responsibly.

“This [consultation process] is in the area of generative AI, in particular incorporating platforms like ChatGPT into the workplace,” Anand said.

She added that public service managers will have the discretion to decide “when that is able to be used”, though added that “in areas of confidentiality [such as] cabinet confidences”, generative AI would be prohibited.

Mitigating bias: Addressing where the risks of bias and discrimination fitted into the government’s AI strategy, Anand said the government was working to ensure AI would not be used for “unsavoury or discriminatory purposes”.

The word from Wernick: GGF spoke to the former clerk of the Privy Council of Canada and secretary to the Cabinet, Michael Wernick, on how the Canadian government should best proceed with its AI strategy. He said “the greatest untapped potential” for the technology is in “bringing AI-assisted decision making to internal functions” in government.

Real dividends: Wernick later expanded on this point with reference to reducing “traditionally sclerotic and bureaucratic areas such as staffing and procurement”, adding that this is where the public service could expect a “real dividend” from adoption. Looking at AI’s transformative potential more broadly, Wernick said that AI would have a big impact on occupations such as “accounting, financial analysis, legal analysis and generation of communications products”.

Language gateways and new barriers: “AI is already disrupting translation and interpretation – Google Translate, DeepL Translate – and will open the door to changes in language of work policies that have been around for 50 years requiring humans to be bilingual,” he commented.

“But it is also a challenge that the AI engines are being trained and getting better and faster in English than in French and other languages.”

Upcoming AI webinars and GGF training

How governments are using AI to become more efficient
9 July

This webinar will provide practical insights on how AI technologies including automation and machine learning can be used to drive more effective, efficient and user-focused services.

Register now

How government can make the most of analytics and AI
10 October

This webinar will bring together public servants to share insight on how government can use the data it collects to better deliver for people, and also examine how governments can use artificial intelligence to optimise digital services and experiences.

Register now

Deploying AI in the civil service
19 June

Global Government Forum’s expert government training team have created a training programme on deploying AI in the civil service.

Find out more here. 

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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