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22nd Mar 2023

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Innovation and politics: an intertwined relationship

  • In the EU, Estonia is one of the exemplary countries which were able to bring the entire country to a different level of digitisation (Photo: Chris Robert)
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Politics has a significant influence on innovation. Policymakers and legislators are the ones who determine to what extent and how well innovation and technology are being embraced at the country level.

In the EU, Estonia is one of the exemplary countries which were able to bring the entire country to a different level of digitisation. The roadmap of a fully digital government and seamless electronic citizen transactions has constantly been evolving over the past two decades.

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  • One of the goals of policymakers should be to make sure that AI is being used to correct some of the past mistakes and to avoid replicating human bias or repeating history even when historical data is skewed

By providing digital citizen services such as the electronic tax filing system, among many other services, Estonia could elevate its governmental processes to a whole new level of efficiency.

The Estonian model differs from the typical model in Europe and this is why it is being used as a case study for other European countries in the EU which have realised the need for digitalising governmental transactions partially due to the latest pandemic.

One of the underlying factors for adopting more innovation in politics and in running the state is the willingness of the government. A vast number of local and federal governments in the EU are demonstrating an increased willingness to advance how they work and interact with their citizens and are more than ever open to adopting technologies and innovative processes that would enable them to achieve their goals.

The Belgian civic-tech company Citizen Lab, is for instance working with over 400 local governments that want to better engage their citizens in the decision-making process through their white-labelled web-platforms powered by data science and analytics.

Policymakers of course play a great deal in determining the future and direction of innovation in politics. The AI Act (Artificial Intelligence) proposed on 21 April 2021 by the European Commission is one of the most debatable and controversial proposals in the current mandate.

The regulation of AI will have a huge impact on its application in any country and this process is taking an extended period of time due to the various involved uncertainties and complexities. Ultimately, politics plays a significant role in that process.

One of the interesting points that demonstrate the complexity of negotiating the terms of the AI Act is how some machine learning models are repeating the controversial decisions made in history instead of creating new and better decisions that correct the unfairness of the past.

AI bias or human bias?

For example, when it comes to employment, many AI models that were trained to assist HR managers in hiring decisions turned out to be biased simply because the actual employment data itself was biased and not diverse enough.

Prioritising equal employment opportunities such as the employment of women and underrepresented groups in the tech sector brings us to question the effectiveness of AI in achieving the desired diversity.

Thus, some of the political controversies revolve around how much humans can and should trust AI to assist them with making important decisions or even making such decisions on their behalf.

Ultimately, one of the goals of policymakers should be to make sure that AI is being used to correct some of the past mistakes and to avoid replicating human bias or repeating history even when historical data is skewed.

Despite the overall willingness of the EU to adopt more innovation on the political as well as other levels, and in light of the complexities facing policymakers in determining the best utilisation of new trends in technology, there is still a long way to go.

Nevertheless, it is eminent that Europe has positioned itself uniquely in the aftermath of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine as it simultaneously pushes for strategic autonomy and a more citizen- and planet-centric economy where social innovation is gaining significant momentum.

Some inspiring movements in that direction are the emerging public funds supporting innovation for the social good such as the Prototype Fund in Berlin. The Sovereign Tech Fund, also based in Berlin supports building a more robust and sustainable technological infrastructure and, just like the Prototype Fund, leverages and empowers the private technology sector.

These observations and living examples from Europe reassure the salience of lobbying and advocacy with government leaders and ministries, no matter where we are in the world, to achieve the goals of progress and prosperity that we aspire for especially when it comes to social and political innovation.

Author bio

Mona Itani is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon. Itani was part of a delegation to Brussels organised by Friedrich Naumann Foundation Europe where participants had the chance to visit multiple stakeholders and learn about different angles of innovation and its interaction with politics. FNF Europe seeks to foster open dialogue and discuss liberal policy solutions to European challenges hrough the connection of EU experts, civil society, and decision makers.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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