Claimed to be ‘Siri or Alexa on steroids,’ a new system called ‘Bürokratt’ is about to be launched to help Estonian residents do everything from applying for family benefits, file their taxes, be reminded when they need to start renewing their passport or book their booster shot, and in the future even apply for a bank loan—eventually, just by voice.
And intriguingly, for any other national governments interested in the possibilities offered by such software: if all goes well, by year end every line of custom code produced covering everything from open-source tools for text-to-speech, machine translation, textual analytics, threat hunting and security modules, will be made public of GitHub–so everyone can take the solution and do what they want with it.
Even better, there could be significant benefit for the taxpayer here, as just one part of Estonia’s public sector, the Police and Border Guard Board, gets an average of 28,000 emails a month; if a chatbot took just 40% off staff hands, the body would save more than 500,000 euros per year.
Other efficiency savings are expected by better routing of citizen information requests, too. One part of the government, the Estonia Information System Authority, gets around 60% of questions other government agencies and organizations could answer, and the Police and Border Guard Board gets 15%. If the estimated 42 000 wrongly addressed queries like this could be redirected, people wouldn’t have to wait so long, clearly.
Estonia—long acknowledged as an e-gov leader—also wants to internationalise the work, and is already looking to work with fellow EU member states to explore the potential of cross-border public services around tourism and education using the new system.
The AI-powered app is also going to be personalised based on the user’s data and not simply repeat information based on user questions, as most virtual assistants currently operate, according to the Estonian civil servant who made the ‘steroids’ comparison for us, the nation’s Chief Data Officer, Ott Velsberg.
“E-services are already widely used in Estonia, but we aim to make the connection between people and the government even more digitized and personalized,” he says.
“It is our vision of how public services ought to perform in the age of AI–providing a network of AI tools built around public service information systems that will allow Estonian citizens and residents to access all relevant services through the help of a single guide, helper, and smart virtual friend. So, in the same way Alexa plays you a song and Siri assists you with your phone calls, Bürokratt will enable citizens to access their own personal data and get support with government services.
“This project will be a testament to Estonian technology–and hopefully, it will inspire governments worldwide to transform their citizen user experience with the AI-based virtual assistant,” he adds.
Text and chatbots
In practical terms, the aim of the project is to respond to a request regardless of the part of the public sector approached, as well as provide personal information about the opportunities and obligations offered by the state, and to enable easier use of public services through both oral and written language.
In terms of architecture, data in its raw logs are treated as persistent data storage, and the system relies on near real-time secure data exchange between participants. Provision of both personalized and non-personalized services is only ever done by accessing data on already existing government databases and registries, and Bürokratt never sees the actual data but only aggregated results.
The first part of the system went live last week on the Republic’s Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority web page, starting with text-based services, thus person-to-person communication, and a chatbot will be added in February. In parallel, the country’s Police and Border Guard Board and National Public Library webpages will also have a chatbot version of the system.
Velsberg told us that he’d personally like to see at least fifteen authorities hooked up Bürokratt inside the next 12 months, as well as private sector services starting to be linked up with the system.
“The benefit of Bürokratt is three dimensional, and the winners will be citizens, companies, public servants and institutions, who will all save their time and money,” he predicts.