Senior civil servants to be replaced by AI, says Indonesia’s president

By on 05/12/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
President Widodo last year ordered government agencies to replace top civil servants with AI. (Image courtesy: International Maritime Organization/flickr).

In a surprise announcement, Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has ordered government agencies to replace top civil servants with artificial intelligence (AI) during 2020.

The president announced the decision to a room of business leaders as he set out plans for his second five-year term after winning an election in April, Reuters reported.  

Widodo said that the top four tiers of civil servants would be condensed into two. “I have ordered my minister [of administrative and bureaucratic reform] to replace them with AI. Our bureaucracy will be faster with AI,” he said.

He did not provide further details on exactly which roles would be replaced, how algorithms would take over the roles of humans in the senior civil service, or how the plan would be executed. It is not clear whether the government has commissioned feasibility studies, business planning or digital work to explore the idea.

The plan would need parliamentary approval before attempts could be made to implement it. Political parties in Widodo’s ruling coalition control 74% of the seats in parliament, which usually makes it easy for his administration to push through legislation.

Bid to boost the economy

At the meeting with business leaders, Widodo reiterated the government’s forecast that Indonesia’s economy – which is currently the largest in south east Asia – would grow at around 5% this year, slower than its 5.3% target.

He added that his aim is to reduce Indonesia’s reliance on natural resources in a bid to diversify and to boost the economy. He said the country should transition to higher-end manufacturing – of electric cars, for example – and that raw materials like coal and bauxite should be used in such industries rather than exported.

Widodo acknowledged that such transformation would require foreign investment and said he would improve business conditions by streamlining more than 70 overlapping rules and reducing bureaucracy. His plan to introduce AI into government agencies is part of this vision.

Coordinating economic minister Airlangga Hartarto said the government would push for the introduction of an Online Single Submission (OSS) system requiring businesses to be allocated a 13-digit registration number for licensing and identification purposes. The measure was first announced in August last year. This, Hartarto said, would be part of the initiative to use AI in government-related work, according to The Jakarta Post.

“One of the ways we would use AI would be during the registration process, for example we would simplify building permits. Licensing would be based on a risk-based approach,” the minister said.

The government is also expected to present parliament with a bill on tax reforms and another bill addressing labour issues next month.   

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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