Transparency, explainability and trust are big and pressing topics in AI/ML today. Nobody wants to find themselves at the receiving end of a black box system that makes consequential decisions (e.g., about jobs, healthcare, citizenship, etc.), especially if those decision are unfair, biased, or just plainly not in our favor. And most organizations agree that consumer trust and confidence that AI is being used ethically and transparently are key to unlocking its true potential.
And while there are literally hundreds of documents describing and prescribing AI principles, frameworks and other good things, there haven’t been any practical tools that could help with implementing transparency. Until now.
On September 28th, 2020 the Cities of Helsinki and Amsterdam jointly announced the launch of their public AI registers. The two registers were developed in collaboration with Saidot.ai, an innovative Finnish company which specializes in “bringing transparency to consumer services” (ibid) and which, to the best of my knowledge, is the only vendor in this space.
The idea for the company grew from the personal frustration of its founder and CEO, Meeri Haataja, who was “seeing how important transparency of AI is for the future of each one of us, and not being able to find too many meaningful ways to act on it.”
What is an AI register?
The City of Helsinki defines it as “a window into the artificial intelligence systems used by the City”. The City of Amsterdam calls theirs The Algorithm Register and “an overview of the artificial intelligence systems and algorithms used by the City of Amsterdam.”
Both registers describe where and how the cities are using AI/ML, how these applications impact citizens and their everyday lives, how they were built, which data and algorithms they use, what kinds of decisions and assumptions were made in the design, build and deployments of the apps, and which ethical principles were employed to mitigate biases and risks. The registers also include contact information, including email addresses, phone numbers and persons or teams to contact for further inquiries or to provide feedback.
The language in the AI registers is a clear and easy to understand, aimed at an average citizen without any technical background in AI/ML. (Some technical information is provided as well, and while it is limited, one could probably obtain more via the contact information mentioned above.)
So far only a small number of AI applications have been documented in the city registers: 5 by the City of Helsinki and 4 by the City of Amsterdam, but more are in the works.
Benefits of AI registers for governments and citizens
By disclosing information behind their apps, the governments improve transparency and accountability around their use of AI. This helps to increase citizen trust, because trust is the foundation of any government; “the government can only function when there is trust between the government and people”. Or, as the City of Helsinki Chief Digital Officer Mikko Rusama says, “Without trust, there is no use for AI”.
For citizens, AI registers help to increase AI/ML literacy. They promote citizens’ awareness, participation and public debate which is the cornerstone of democratic governments. They build trust by increasing transparency in how, where and why the governments use their data, tax payers’ money and new technologies such AI/ML.
Because ultimately what we all want is responsible AI that benefits all of us, that respects diversity and human rights, encourages human flourishing, sustains human agency, and promotes societal, economic and environmental sustainability.
Benefits of AI registers for AI teams
For AI teams, AI registers offer a mechanism to “standardize transparency across your AI portfolio”; a “searchable and archivable way to document the decisions and assumptions that were made in the process of developing, implementing, managing, and ultimately dismantling an algorithm”. (ibid)
Saidot’s software comes with “pre-defined modular metadata models which are adaptable to organisation and sector-specific requirements, while securing interoperability between different versions”. Its offering consists of a backend platform, the register itself, and an interface for publishing the registers (which the company hosts).
In addition to the Cities of Amsterdam and Helsinki, the company lists Finnair, the City of Espoo, Finland’s Ministry of Finance, Social Insurance Institute, and the Ministry of Justice among its customers and partners.
Saidot continues to actively develop its platform. New features and directions it is considering include:
· Integrating AI registers into their clients’ AI development processes which would help expand it beyond communications and into solution governance, solidifying accountability;
· Using AI registers to capture citizen feedback early on in the design and ideation process, to confirm desirability and enable co-design and co-creation;
· Facilitating information sharing between government organizations, for example, to help with vendor selection. (The registers disclose whether external vendors were engaged and who they are.)
Beyond government: Why you should adopt AI Register for your AI/ML and data science apps
Trust is not just a fundamental prerequisite for a government to exist. Trust is equally fundamental in business. The entire reason your organization exists is because of your customers, consumers, employees and partners. So whether you are just getting your feet wet with AI/ML or are running your whole business on the foundation of AI and machine learning, let’s follow Amsterdam’s and Helsinki’s examples — let’s document and make public/ share with employees and partners what we are using AI/ML and data science for and how. We’ll all benefit from this disclosure. And the AI register software from Saidot.ai has just made implementing transparency much, much easier.
To learn more about AI registers and Saidot’s platform:
· Read this short white paper “Public AI Registers: Realizing AI transparency and civic participation in government use of AI”.
· Contact Saidot to join their beta program.
· If you are in the public sector, you can get free access to their backend system for one year. (The offer is valid until December 31st, 2020, per my conversation with the company’s CEO.)