The Role of AI in Unlocking Value through eGovernance
Blog: NASSCOM Official Blog
By Karthik Natarajan, President & COO, Cyient
A recent study revealed a positive and significant relationship between the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and economic growth. Calculations for India suggest that an average increase of one unit in the intensity of AI has the potential to return USD 67.25 billion, roughly 2.5% of our GDP. Additionally, it is estimated that using AI for governance can optimize the delivery of services by up to 20% in terms of time, which translates to millions of dollars and minutes saved every year. However, as AI and related technologies evolve, it also presents a unique set of situations that need to be managed for an e-governance initiative to be effective.
The imperatives of addressing the data paradox
According to IDC, we are expected to consume more than 59 zettabytes (ZB) of data this year, nearly 10% (5.9 ZB), of which will be unique data generated. Yet, ask a practitioner about the biggest hurdle to successful AI deployments, the answer will likely be related to the quality of data. From poor collection techniques and incomplete historical records to the lack of data governance policies that hinder access, addressing this data paradox is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of any AI solution.
Israel undertook such a task when it launched the National Digital Health plan in 2018 to digitize the health records of 9 million citizens, including their medical history going back 20 years. While this improved access to healthcare services for citizens, another objective of this initiative is to use this rich database to accelerate innovation in the healthcare space by applying emerging technologies such as AI and Machine Learning on an anonymized version of this database.
The need for a new engagement model
For a country of our size, one of the biggest challenges while deploying any nation-wide solution is the sheer scale and complexity it takes. In addition to financial resources, such deployments require equipment, infrastructure, technological know-how, and specialized talent. As is the case often, inadequate resources lead to delays or undercooked solutions that don’t work. And what helps in such scenarios is a partner network that governments can engage with for an end-to-end or at least a broader engagement to achieve the scale needed.
An example of such a hybrid model that has worked well is CitizenLab, which was founded in 2015 as a unique civic technology company. Based in Belgium, they provide governments a digital platform to seek public views on key issues and use natural language processing and machine learning to help the decision-makers make an informed choice. Also, by involving the citizens in the process, it strengthens democracy at the grassroots level. And to think that AI has enabled this, is quite commendable.
Why e-governance matters in times of a crisis
Finally, the elephant in the room – COVID-19. While the virus has wreaked havoc across the globe, a select group of countries have managed to control the spread of the virus through timely and holistic use of technology. One such country that has done this well is Estonia. And while most of us might struggle to find it on a map, Estonia, in the last few years, has emerged as an e-governance powerhouse.
As the pandemic broke out, we all also witnessed an explosion of harmful misinformation everywhere around us. Realizing this early on, the Estonian government developed a chatbot that would aggregate, cross-reference, and analyze information from across agencies to provide accurate information to its citizens through a simple chat interface—an excellent example of simple yet effective use of technology.
At the end of the day, e-governance is all about providing a digital platform for governments and citizens to engage and transact, so to that extent, technology is just an enabler. However, as AI continues to evolve, we need to debate the policy and ethical implications of such interventions on the citizens. And while COVID-19 is incidental to this discussion, it has highlighted the urgent need for a robust e-governance framework that delivers better citizen services and provides a platform for businesses to engage with the government.
So, as transformative technologies such as AI become widely adopted, albeit in the private sector, the question for government decision-makers about technology in e-governance is not if, but when.
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