AI Watch. Beyond pilots

AI Watch. Beyond pilots: sustainable implementation of AI in public services

Published on: 02/12/2021

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a peculiar case of General Purpose Technology that differs from other examples in history because it embeds specific uncertainties or ambiguous character that may lead to a number of risks when used to support transformative solutions in the public sector. AI has extremely powerful and, in many cases, disruptive effects on the internal management, decision-making and service provision processes of public administration. Over the past few years, the European Union and its Member States have designed regulatory policies and initiatives to mitigate the AI risks and make its opportunities a reality for national, regional and local government institutions. ‘AI Watch’ is one of these initiatives which has, among its goals, the monitoring of European Union’s industrial, technological, and research capacity in AI and the development of an analytical framework of the impact potential of AI in the public sector. This report, in particular, follows a previous landscaping study and collection of European cases, which was delivered in 2020. This document first introduces the concept of AI appropriation in government, seen as a sequence of two logically distinct phases, respectively named adoption and implementation of related technologies in public services and processes. Then, it analyses the situation of AI governance in the US and China and contrasts it to an emerging, truly European model, rooted in a systemic vision and with an emphasis on the revitalised role of the member states in the EU integration process, Next, it points out some critical challenges to AI implementation in the EU public sector, including: the generation of a critical mass of public investments, the availability of widely shared and suitable datasets, the improvement of AI literacy and skills in the involved staff, and the threats associated with the legitimacy of decisions taken by AI algorithms alone. Finally, it draws a set of common actions for EU decision-makers willing to undertake the systemic approach to AI governance through a more advanced equilibrium between AI promotion and regulation. The three main recommendations of this work include a more robust integration of AI with data policies, facing the issue of so-called “explainability of AI” (XAI), and broadening the current perspectives of both Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) and Public Procurement of Innovation (PPI) at the service of smart AI purchasing by the EU public administration. These recommendations will represent the baseline for a generic implementation roadmap for enhancing the use and impact of AI in the European public sector.