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ETAPAS - Ethical Technology Adoption in Public Administration Services.

In the ETAPAS project, we develop a framework for responsible disruptive technology development and uptake in the public sector. Together with Prokom, SINTEF apply the framework to explore and assess the social and ethical implications of implementing a chatbot as part of public sector service provision.

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Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and big data will strongly impact our individual lives and society at large and are, hence, considered disruptive technologies. These technologies hold potential for profound change in how services are provided and consumed, in terms of availability, efficiency and quality – and also in terms of service provider opportunity for proactivity through data-driven analysis and predictions.

For the public sector, AI, robotics and big data entail a range of opportunities. A recent European study of the use of AI in the public sector, documented the importance of AI for a number of public sector domains – including health, education, environmental protection, economic affairs, and general public service provision. The capabilities these technologies offer for the public sector, span from improved internal processes through surveillance, predictive analysis, and decision making, to smarter service provision through process automation, recommendation systems, virtual agents, chatbots, and robotics.

There are numerous possible benefits of AI, robotics, and big data to public sector service provision. At the same time, the disruptive character of these technologies also imply potential for unintended consequences. Intelligent systems for surveillance may imply privacy issues and potential misuse. Automated decision making may leave humans out of the loop, resulting in deskilling and lack of oversight. Automated service provision may increase the distance between the providers of public sector services and their users.

Hence, for public the sector, it is important that uptake of disruptive technologies is done with sensitivity towards their social, ethical and legal implications. However, the public sector lack the needed processes, methods and tools to effectively assess and manage the ethical implications of disruptive technologies, something which may slow down uptake and lead to potential benefits not being realized.

This is the problem that we address in the ETAPAS project. To support public sector administrations in assessing and managing the social, ethical and level implications of disruptive technologies, we develop a Responsible Disruptive Technology Framework (RDT Framework) supported by a Governance model a prototypical software platform. The Responsible Disruptive Technology Framework provides a means to identify relevant ethical principles, risks, and means of risk mitigation.

The ETAPAS framework is developed in collaboration with four use-cases, concerning application areas as different as the use of robotics in health and rehabilitation, AI-based solutions for mitigating online disinformation, and big data applications for public sector administrations.

SINTEF and Prokom are responsible for one of the project use cases, using the ETAPAS framework to investigate ethical and societal implications of the municipality chatbot Kommune-Kari. This chatbot provides citizens in 90 Norwegian municipalities information and support, as an automated conversational agent implemented on the municipality websites. Kommune-Kari can identify 6000 different user intents and has seen increased use over recent years. The chatbot is highly interesting as an ETAPAS use case, as the flexibility it provides in user interaction allows users to request information and services in their own words – providing insight into the actual needs of the users and their conceptualization of the public sector services.

Kommune-Kari already sees substantial use, with 1 million yearly citizen dialogues. The engagement in ETAPAS will provide a means for getting more insight into how the chatbot is used and experienced, how it may open up for new means of providing information and service in the public sector, and how this technology may impact citizens perception of public sector service provision.

The ETAPAS project is a collaboration between 14 partners from eight European countries. It is led by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and funded by the European Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation.

Key Factors

Project duration

2020 - 2023

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