Mediaplanet recently spoke with the Honourable Joyce Murray, Canada’s Minister of Digital Government, to discuss how the federal government is leveraging big data and artificial intelligence (AI) ethically and for the benefit of Canadians.
How does the Government of Canada use AI?
Canada has emerged as a world leader in AI in recent years. As the Minister of Digital Government, I want to make sure that we harness these investments, and the power of AI, to provide better government services to Canadians. Citizen trust is central to this goal.
The Government of Canada uses AI to complement and support the efforts of people. Our approach is to keep humans in the loop when we’re using AI. Ultimately, AI in government is one tool we can use to reduce backlogs and processing times while offering convenient, client-centric service.
A great example is a chat bot. Many government websites use a chat bot to answer simple questions so that people don’t have to call 1-800-O-Canada. This frees up call centre agents to respond to more specific or complex questions, or to speak with folks who can’t use a computer.
We currently don’t use the full range of AI technology but it’s important to introduce these capabilities now so they’re integrated as we accelerate our government-wide digital transformation.
What’s being done within the federal government to ensure the ethical development and use of AI tools?
Canada has advocated for a human-centric approach to the development and responsible use of AI, taking into consideration the ethical matters, like openness, transparency, bias, equity of access, safety, and security principles, that are already central to decision-making in the Government of Canada, whether by human or machine.
Canada was the first government in the world to establish a policy on our internal use of AI that puts these guiding principles into practice. As AI becomes an increasing part of our everyday lives, I want Canadians to know that their government is carefully monitoring and evaluating both the benefits and the risks of the use of AI.
Our Directive on Automated Decision-Making helps to shine a light on where government departments are using AI that affects Canadians directly, and ensures that these tools are closely monitored and respects our democratic values including fostering diversity and inclusion.
We’re committed to good governance underpinning AI as we shift to a more digitally-enabled government.
How can government leverage big data for
the benefit of Canadians?
As we consider post-COVID recovery, we see the opportunity for government to make big data a force multiplier for economic growth and for smart decisions to advancing environment, biodiversity, and climate goals. We recognize the challenges to get there. While Canada produces high-quality data sets, they’re not always easy to access in meaningful ways. Just as the U.S. Government’s release of topographical data was the foundation for Google Maps, the Government of Canada’s data is a potential resource for Canadian AI and intellectual property. We started this journey with open government initiatives and now we’re exploring solutions to some of the hurdles to the next step — bilingualism, accessibility, and usable formats.