Speech Panel EUpan – role of AI in government

27-02-2024
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Speech staatssecretaris van Huffelen - Gent 27/2/2024

Let me first say that today presents another wonderful opportunity to strengthen our cooperation on this important topic. 
It is of vital importance that we keep working to renew government in the face of this ever changing technological landscape. 

While algorithms already presented both opportunities and challenges, they are only compounded by the groundbreaking developments we are now witnessing in generative AI.
They come with great benefits, but also profound challenges to our shared values.
Values such as non-discrimination, transparency and privacy.
I want to speak on both of these technologies for a bit and also on the very concrete steps we are taking to address these concerns.


Firstly, algorithms offer various possibilities to shape and execute tasks more effectively. 
The Dutch government is making good use of them.
At the same time, the potential for arbitrariness and discrimination is ever-present. 
Over the past 1,5 years, regulating algorithms has been a top priority for me. 
 

At the end of 2022, we initiated the national Algorithm Register.
A register encompassing all government algorithms significantly impacting citizens' lives. 
This register illustrates their designs, with new algorithms added weekly.
We believe society has the right to know what data the government collects and processes, how it assesses risks, makes decisions and formulates policies. 


With this approach, we can give full transparency of some of our most important automated processes.
Let me give you three examples that were recently added: 
One is an algorithm aimed at the Digital ID, which is provided by the government. The algorithm detects suspicious use of this ID; 
Another algorithm enables smart tasking of highway inspection capacity; 
And the third algorithm is used by our customs authority, to select shipments of goods for inspection.
These are all algorithms that significantly benefit civil servants in their work.
At the same time, they are having a big impact on society, so we feel an obligation to provide full transparency.

So when I say full transparency, what does that mean?
What information is actually shared with the public?
We share in detail why the algorithm is being used, the added benefits it offers, the ways in which civil servants are involved in the process, how the algorithm is evaluated, and also, the legal basis of the algorithm. 


In addition to the Algorithm Register, we are working on various fronts to ensure responsible deployment. 
One of these is our Algorithm Framework.
This framework provides clarity on the legal requirements an algorithm must adhere to. 
Going beyond, the implementation framework illustrates how to meet those standards and clarifies where responsibilities lie.


Then, over the past year in particular, the rapid advancements in generative AI have presented us with a number of challenges.
In our new government-wide vision on generative AI, which was agreed upon by the government only last month, we describe some very concrete steps in regulating this technology. 
Perhaps most prominently, we are  developing our own large language model. 
But the steps we are taking are just as diverse as the impact AI is making. 

For instance, we want local governments to use generative AI systems in their services.
Therefore, we will set up pilots.
Pilots where we experiment with responsible generative AI applications in proactive government services.
We also believe that generative AI offers a number of possibilities to make information inclusive and available to everyone. 
By adjusting messages to different language levels. 
These are possibilities we want to explore.  

We also believe that experimenting with generative AI on our own is an important way to explore risks and opportunities.
Because you don’t learn ethics from a book, you have to experiment with it in real life. 

Therefore, we want to invest heavily in computing power and high-quality datasets.
Naturally, in doing so we will work with existing regulations, such as the AI Regulation.

We will ensure that regulators in the Netherlands have sufficient resources.
We are also exploring the establishment of a rapid response team or AI advisory body.
Because when there are new developments, we want to respond to them immediately.


We welcome the discussions in the panel today and we are confident we, as governments, can reap the benefits of these technologies while at the same time safeguarding our values.
Thank you.


 

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