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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas: Artificial intelligence is the next big thing for Estonia

"The next big thing will be AI," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an interview for the Life in Estonia Magazine. Estonia's public and private sectors seem to agree as the push towards AI-driven services continues.

“We are already using artificial intelligence in our operations and services, but we see there is a huge potential to make our services more convenient for the people,” Prime Minister Kallas explained. “But at the same time, we are a rule-of-law country and every individual’s privacy is a very important matter for us.”

According to Kallas, Estonia is ahead of other countries in this regard, as the sense that each citizen is in charge of their own data and decides who he or she can give access to data, exists.

“AI will make our systems run more smoothly,” Kallas predicts. “When you have certain life events, like the birth of a child, you should not have to go through this whole process of applying for all sorts of services provided by the state.”

“But thanks to AI, we already have access to all sorts of databases, the applications are all pre-filled and you just need to click a few boxes to gain access to services,” she adds.

Magical creatures predicting the future of digital services

A word often used when talking about AI in Estonia, is Kratt. In Estonian mythology, a Kratt is a magical creature that essentially was a servant built from hay or old household items bringing its owner riches. Now, the Estonian government uses this character as a metaphor for AI and its complexities.

One of Estonia’s most well-known Kratts – Bürokratt – that is also one of the four Estonian AI projects listed in global top 100 by UNESCO, is a concept of how digital services and state could operate in the age of artificial intelligence.

“Bürokratt is not just an IT project but a concept of how digital services and the state could operate in the age of artificial intelligence,” Ott Velsberg, Chief Data Officer of Estonia’s Digital Government said in January. “With Bürokratt, the goal has been to offer the best possible digital state experience in order to make communication with the state radically easier for both entrepreneurs and citizens.”

The next step towards implementing this vision is already underway. “We are currently testing Bürokratt’s chat solution in the Consumer Protection and Technical Surveillance Authority’s service environment, which lets us communicate with the advisers of the office,” Velsberg said. “The chat is a necessary step for gathering data and training the AI.”

Using AI in investment promotion

Besides Bürokratt, there are certainly other public sector entities working towards convenient AI-powered services in Estonia. One of the two Estonian public sector project in IRCAI’s top 100 list, automation of investment promotion at Invest Estonia, has gained recognition from across the globe.

“In Invest Estonia we are happy to use digital technology in a smart way and live the ‘e-Estonia’ dream which is a part of the country’s core development strategy. As a small country we can make a bigger impact through digitalisation and get a larger visibility in a race towards FDI attraction. Our digital tools make the work of our team more efficient and able us to work with a larger number of projects which means more successes in the sales funnel,” the Director of Estonian Investment Agency Joonas Vänto explained in a recent instructional video on digitalisation of IPAs, created for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

In 2020, the Estonian Investment Agency was awarded the United Nations Investment Promotion Award as, according to the U.N, the agency has shown readiness, innovation and excellence in supporting the evolving needs of investors during the COVID-19 crisis – a big part in this played by digital solutions, including the use of artificial intelligence.

Tens of projects from more effective collection of taxes to detecting clearcut areas in forests

Tens and tens of use cases of artificial intelligence, both in the public and private sector of Estonia, are changing the way services are provided in Estonia – and globally, by Estonian companies.

For example, one of the entities actively using AI in finding possibilities for more effective tax collection, is the Estonian Tax and Customs Board; the IT house of the Ministry of the Environment has created a solution to find clearcut areas of forests; an AI solution is in use to transcribe the phone calls to Estonia’s state helpline; there is a hospital using speech recognition in their radiology operations. The list could go on for much longer.

In the private sector, significant efforts in AI can be seen by some of the largest companies, such as banks and telcos, as well as startups. It is significant that every forth startup in the Estonian Startup Database has marked artificial intelligence as a core part of its technology stack. Some of the well-known names include the Estonian online verification unicorn Veriff, robotic delivery company Starship Technologies and several FinTechs, such as Paxful, Monese and Single.Earth.

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