Using Artificial Intelligence in government means balancing innovation with the ethical and responsible use of emerging technologies

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October 10, 2018

AI has quickly emerged as a disruptive technology that is rewiring the way we interact with the world. For example, it’s being used in our media, health, financial, and transportation systems. It’s a technology that is becoming more pervasive and will have profound impacts for years to come.

Over the last two years, the Government of Canada has invested strategically in the Canadian AI ecosystem. Successive budgets funded $125 million toward the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy and $950 million for the Superclusters initiative which are generating cutting-edge research, investment, and talent in Canada.

So, it’s time for Canadians to see the benefits of these investments and to use of some of this talent to provide better government services to Canadians. With the application of technology like machine learning to improve the delivery of benefits programs, predictive data analytics to improve decision making, and natural language processing to support translation services, we can reduce backlogs and processing times while offering unprecedented convenience and personalized service to Canadians and businesses.

With our partners at Public Services and Procurement Canada, we’ve been moving fast on a flexible procurement vehicle to get AI products, solutions, and services in the hands of departments. On September 21 we published an invitation to qualify (ITQ). This will soon provide departments and agencies a source list of AI suppliers. This pre-qualified list will provide an exciting diversity of service-enhancing opportunities to departments, such as chatbots or predictive modelling.

The use of AI offers a lot of promise in improving the efficiency of service delivery in government, but there are also risks. It’s critical that the use of AI be governed with clear values, ethics, and rules. In the coming months, we are going to release a Directive on Automated Decision-Making, which will outline the responsibilities of federal departments using AI. This Directive, along with the Algorithmic Impact Assessment, will help institutions better understand and ensure the ethical and responsible implementation of AI. While I’m excited about the possibilities that this technology will bring, it will not be used at the expense of human rights. This Directive is our first step to make sure that doesn’t happen.

A key mechanism for delivering ethical AI is being open and transparent. Canada has proven that it can do this well as we were recently anointed #1 in this year’s Web Foundation Open Data Barometer. As outlined in the Digital Standards, we will continue to work in the open by default as we start to adopt the use of AI.

Adopting the use of cutting edge technology doesn’t mean this comes at the expense of our protection of Canadians. It’s all about finding the right balance between innovation and the application of technology within a strong ethical framework. Stay tuned and continue to follow the important strides we are taking as we continue to transition towards greater Digital Government.


Alex Benay

Chief Information Officer, Government of Canada

Alex Benay currently serves as the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada. Prior to this appointment, Alex was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation since July 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, he was Vice-President of Government Affairs and Business Development at OpenText. He has played a leadership role in Canada's digital industry, as well as in promoting the global shift to digital in organizations such as the G20, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Olympics. Before joining OpenText, Alex managed various teams and programs at the Canadian International Development Agency, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Library and Archives Canada.

Blog comments

Bill - October 26, 2018

Très bon article , surtout qu'avec le monde interconnecté dans lequel nous vivons il est important pour le Canada d'être leader dans ces technologies . Malgré les reserves que je puisse porter au niveau de la protection a la vie privé . Avec la légalisation de cannabis (https://bit.ly/2Asryrn) certain groupe conservateur estime que notre pays ouvre la porte au tourisme du pot (cannabis) avec tous les risques que cela puisse entrainer ,

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