Enabling Governments to be ready for Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

I have been designing ICT policies, strategies and initiatives for several governments such as Liberia, Comoros, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Mali and Thailand under funding from the World Bank, the European Commission, the Global Fund, the African Development Bank and USAID. Those strategic documents delineate models that allow organizing national digital economies by improving digital universal access, data governance, broadband connection, innovation, human capital, digital inclusion and cyber security among others. At the same time, they promote openness, transparency and accountability through open source software use, public data releasing, open data and open standards advocating.

Most of these ICT policies set up good basis to support innovations, create more efficient nations, empower citizens and boost economies but few of them take into consideration the raise of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, and how it could transform the way governments design and deliver public services.

The recent experience shows that data governance is not still well organized in many countries even if some initiatives exist. Governments should have access to all data useful to improve life and wellbeing of their citizens. Numerous initiatives from public and private sector, NGOs or international partners produce data. Public entities should be able to aggregate and mine them to offer better services to their citizens for a better access to knowledge, healthcare, employment or public infrastructures. To move on this way, governments should improve their ICT policies to focus on data governance to be ready for Artificial Intelligence while respecting data privacy, net neutrality, cyber security and competition policy. An adequate policy should enable governments to provide datasets ready to feed artificial machines algorithms and respect human values and ethics. This policy should define clearly goals, good practices and proper architectures in order to avoid any misconducts and bad usage of these aggregated data.

Problem Statement: How Governments can catch up on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

Today, most of nations promote transparency, empowerment of citizens, fight against corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance through the impact of reforms. Some governments such as in the UK or USA start to have reflections on opportunities and implications for the future of decision-making offer by Artificial Intelligence.

A number of prerequisites are necessary to power Artificial Intelligence such as computing power, bandwidth, and large-scale datasets. These preconditions are elements of Big Data and the potential of which will only be realized using Artificial Intelligence. “If data is the fuel Artificial Intelligence is the engine of the digital revolution,” says Mark Walport.

Most developing countries have few proper datasets, they lack of computing power and they suffer from inefficient bandwidth to facilitate Artificial Intelligence. Despite those difficulties, numerous efforts like Open Data initiatives, Open Governments Action Plans or National Research and Education Network (NREN) are initiated to reinforce digital inclusion.

Some more advanced countries — such as Mauritius or Thailand — are in a good shape to be ready for Big Data. They have most of assets needed in term of infrastructure and human capital, but a massive effort needs to be done to make datasets interoperable. Even if most of public entities have their own datasets, they consider few interoperability rules and open standards. The consequence of this landscape is the lack of effectivity and efficiency for government bodies and for the people that they need to serve.

On the other hand, local telecom operators produce huge amounts of data. These datasets are often more organized than public data and could be useful to improve public services, boost private investments, empower citizens, and increase the effectivity and efficiency in the delivery of public services. We should be particularly concern on privacy with datasets from private entities and design a clear privacy regulatory framework for them.

In order to catch up, governments should put Artificial Intelligence as the top of their priority to make existing services more efficient, make it easier for officials to use more data to inform decisions and to reduce fraud and error, make decisions more transparent, and help departments better understand the groups they serve in order to be sure that the right support and opportunity is offered to everyone.


Originally published at ICT for Development.