Ott Velsberg, Estonia’s fresh-faced, 28-year-old chief data officer, is on a mission put AI into every part of the country’s public services, from healthcare to education and job centres.
“The aim is to make government more proactive and responsive to people’s life-events,” says Velsberg. Instead of citizens having to apply for things like driver’s licences and school places, he envisions a system where public bodies can anticipate and preemptively respond to the needs people have at different stages of their life.
Take enrolling children in school. There is no reason why parents should have to apply for a place for their children, says Velsberg. You can calculate a child’s school needs based on birth data obtained from hospitals. Estonia is due to automated the process by the end of this year, says Velsberg adding that the programme doesn’t even really need AI to run.
But AI comes into play for more complex problems, such as calculating when people are called in to see a doctor. Estonia worked with Microsoft and the World Bank to develop a solution that would scan healthcare records to help doctors decide when patients need to be called in for medical checkups.
“For example, a patient with a disability and also suffering from heart disease may need to visit the doctor much more frequently, maybe every month, while someone with just diabetes and no other problems needs to be seen every six months,” explains Velsberg. The AI helps doctors manage their patient lists and time more effectively.
Another, slightly less developed plan is to create personalised, sports advice for teens, which would take into account puberty and recommend an exercise regime suited to their particular developmental stage.
I ask Velsberg whether he thinks teenagers would take advice from a government-run AI bot. He admits he isn’t sure.