It is time for Digital Employees in the Public Sector
The Norwegian Artificial Intelligence (AI) company Simplifai has developed a Digital Archive Employee to record and archive documents received by email.
The Norwegian Artificial Intelligence (AI) company Simplifai has developed a Digital Archive Employee to record and archive documents received by email. This solution was first developed in collaboration with the Norwegian National Archives through the Norwegian Directorate for Administration and Financial Management’s (DFØ) STARTOff scheme. Next, Datatilsynet’s AI Sandbox project assessed whether it is compliant with data protection regulations to let artificial intelligence handle public mail.
“To jump straight to the conclusion, there is nothing fundamentally problematic about using artificial intelligence for record-keeping and archiving in the public sector. What matters is the way it is done.”
~ Kaja Breivik Furuseth, Legal Specialist Director at Datatilsynet
By that, she means two things: the degree of automation and the users’ knowledge of what AI does.
The line between fully and semi-automated
“Simplifai was wise to design its Digital Archive Employee as a decision support tool, rather than a fully automated tool. Our assessment is that public sector actors are allowed to use Digital Archive Employees to support archiving and recordkeeping decisions. Those who may try to develop or use a fully automated variant, however, will probably face a legal challenge,”
~ Kaja Breivik Furuseth
In other words, AI can be used to do the heavy lifting and sorting, as long as an alert human being makes the final decision on what to archive and what not to archive. Even if the solution is not fully automated, it will provide significant efficiency gains. The democratic values inherent in proper record keeping and archiving are thus also ensured.
Background: Inadequate archiving
The transition from analog to digital mail has challenged the old systems for keeping records and archiving mail and important documents.
A report by the Office of the Auditor General in Norway has pointed out that inadequate archiving and errors in record keeping impair the public’s knowledge of cases, as well as the opportunity for debate and control of the administration. Moreover, a survey conducted by the National Archives in 2021 revealed that 7 out of 10 public employees do not take care of important information that should have been archived. It is likely that 25% of all important information in public case processing is lost due to poor archiving routines.
Of the approximately 12 billion NOK the public sector spends annually on archiving, the National Archives estimate that 4-5 billion NOK could be saved with better systems.
“Employees in the public sector have to deal with several different old and new systems that make archiving very time-consuming. As a result, there is often not enough time in a busy workday. It is a societal problem that lack of archiving affects the community’s ability to scrutinize political decisions and processes, and state and municipal proceedings. Transparency is crucial for trust in democratic processes, and good archives facilitate this,“
~ Daniel Kohn, CCO at Simplifai
The Sandbox project for Artificial Intelligence
The potential for great societal benefit was one of the reasons why Simplifai’s project was picked up in Datatilsynet’s AI Sandbox. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to take a closer look at previously unexplored issues related to whether public actors are allowed to use machine-learning solutions to handle emails.
In the project report, Datatilsynet concludes that public actors have a legal basis for using digital archive staff to support decisions on archiving and record keeping.
“Datatilsynet’s assessment opens up the possibility of using today’s AI solutions to relieve our public sector. With the help of Digital Archive Employees, we will achieve better compliance with the Archives Act, while allowing caseworkers themselves to spend their working hours on more complex and value-adding tasks. This is a huge opportunity for both the public sector and us,” Kohn adds.
Bringing knowledge to the customers
As a potential buyer of Simplifai’s Digital Employees, the Norwegian Energy Regulatory Authority (NVE) has also participated in the Sandbox project. It has been very useful in exploring how public actors can make informed choices when purchasing intelligent solutions.
“The law requires users to know what the artificial intelligence does. So how we can ensure good commissioning competence is a key challenge going forward,” adds Kaya Breivik Furuseth.
The Sandbox project revealed a great need to raise the level of expertise on privacy-by-design in the procurement phase in the public sector. It would also be useful to have practical examples of requirements that the public sector can set in competitions for technology based on machine learning.
As a start, Datatilsynet and Simplifai will host a breakfast seminar and a parallel live stream focusing on client competence in the procurement of AI solutions on the 9th of March. More information will soon follow.
First in line: Trondheim and Sandefjord
The Digital Employees are already at work. Trondheim was the first municipality in Norway to use AI for archiving documents. Sandefjord has adopted the same solution to improve the quality and accessibility of the municipality’s building case archive. Simplifai has delivered the solution together with the Norwegian company Documaster.
“Trondheim and Sandefjord are to be commended for their efforts to streamline the public sector for the benefit of citizens and taxpayers. We hope that the report from Datatilsynet’s Sandbox can contribute to more small and large municipalities becoming more curious about how AI and Digital Archive Employees can help them in their everyday lives,” concludes Daniel Kohn.
For further information, please contact:
Daniel Kohn, Cheif Commercial Officer, Simplifai AS, Phone: +47 900 64000, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaja Breivik Furuseth, Legal Specialist Director, Datatilsynet, Tel: +47 92097488, email: email@example.com
Simplifai is a Norwegian AI company, founded on the idea of making artificial intelligence simple and accessible to everyone. The company creates user-friendly (no-code) AI solutions that help small and large businesses improve and streamline work processes. With the goal of improving the working life of employees and increasing business efficiency, Simplifai has developed Digital Employees that can take responsibility for work tasks, allowing human employees to spend their time on more challenging and exciting tasks. Simplifai is headquartered in Oslo and has a strategic presence in the Netherlands, India, Ukraine, and many other regions.
About Datatilsynet’s AI Sandbox
In the Sandbox, participants explore privacy-related issues with Datatilsynet to help ensure that their service or product complies with the regulations and safeguards privacy. Datatilsynet offers guidance in dialogue with participants, with the participants being free to choose to follow the advice they receive. The Sandbox is a valuable method for exploring issues where the law has few practical examples to refer to, and the conclusions and assessments in the report are meant to help others with similar issues.
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