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Estonia is building AI Gov Stack

Data scientists in Baltic nation are creating a repository of software code that provides building blocks for digital services

Estonia is developing the artificial intelligence (AI) components that can underpin digital government services and is sharing them with the world through its “AI Gov Stack”.

Reusable AI-based open source software components are being made available for public and private sector organisations anywhere.

The Baltic nation has become a leader in digital government. Its citizen digital identity system has made it possible to move government services online and personalise them.

Its work to develop and launch a government services AI digital assistant, known as Bürokratt, which uses AI to provide citizens with personalised support when using government services, has seen the country break new ground in tech.

From the ability to file tax returns online to proactive services that contact citizens to offer a service before they even realise they need it, Estonia has put digital at the centre of its society.

Now the country is bringing together all its expertise to create a repository of software code that provides the building blocks for digital government services and is making them available to governments across the world, as well as businesses.

“The underlying idea is that we are building an AI government stack that can be used by other governments and companies,” Ott Velsberg, the Estonian government’s chief data officer, told Computer Weekly.

“One of my core principles is that if we develop different components, we make sure others can use it. It is not about competition with other countries, but providing citizens and businesses with the best services possible.”

The initiative comes on the back of the launch of Bürokratt, which Velsberg’s team is currently implementing in several government agencies, and the development team hopes to implement it in 10 different agencies by the end of this year.

In June, the first public service available through Bürokratt was developed. Velsberg said it started off with simple use cases, with the first service related to personalising weather information for people. “It was an easy one to start with, just to see how it works,”  he said.

But while Burokratt is the Estonian team’s flagship data science project, it is just one of many, Velsberg added.

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“We are working in different areas related to making government AI-led, including using data-enhancing technologies as well as things like image recognition,” he said.

Another project is looking at the potential to create a database containing data about all citizens, apart from information that can identify them. This could be used by government and business to help them to shape services, based on data about the population.

The team uses public funds, including money from the European Union (EU), to run projects. But Estonia doesn’t want to do it all on its own and is seeking partners in the IT community, both businesses and individuals, to join its mission to transform global services.

For example, its development teams are working with the European branch of Microsoft to develop various base components that are fundamental to how Bürokratt functions. “The solutions we develop with Microsoft are reusable for everyone and the whole development is completely open, so everyone can see how it is being done,” said Velsberg.

Components that can be used as part of services include a central administration, external networks monitoring, and distributed messaging components.

“We are doing quite innovative work that Microsoft is interested in, so we joined them,” said Velsberg. “This stuff is available to everyone anyway and the whole initiative is like an international research project.”

He said there is a lot of interest in the work being done from different countries, private sector companies and government agencies. “For example, we are actually working with EU agencies to see how we could make Bürokratt cross-border, providing information to people from Estonia and beyond.”

Velsberg said the AI Gov Stack has so far released 26 open source AI building blocks for services, with many more to come.

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