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A collaborative group that includes Salesforce, Deloitte, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and the United Kingdom Office of AI today introduced guidelines for government officials procuring artificial intelligence systems.

The WEF is calling the guidelines the first for any national government worldwide.

In the works for about 10 months, the guidelines were brought together by the WEF’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its AI and ML team. The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution hosts fellows from nations around the world to focus on major initiatives.

Governments the world over are increasingly using AI to do things like predict the needs of citizens; help with health care screening; or augment criminal justice with features like predictive policing, tracking suspects with facial recognition, and determining whether people deserve pretrial bail hearings.


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The guidelines provide governments with a definition of artificial intelligence and 10 recommendations laid out roughly in order of importance. The aim is to ensure responsible use of AI by the public sector, and the guidelines cover areas like the need to define public benefit while assessing risks.

The guidelines also urge governments to avoid writing proposal requests that stress exact needs. Instead, governments should define a problem and then allow room for iteration to find the best AI solution. Government officials are urged to ensure their procurement is in line with a national AI strategy — if their country has one in place — and to aim for interoperability between AI systems and open licensing to avoid vendor lock-in.

The guidelines also implore government officials to use AI systems that can deliver explainability in order to provide explanations of how a model came to a conclusion.

“Governments do not have the latitude of using the inscrutable ‘black box’ algorithms that increasingly characterize AI deployed by industry. Without clear guidance on how to ensure accountability, transparency, and explainability, governments may fail in their responsibility to meet public expectations of both expert and democratic oversight of algorithmic decision-making and may inadvertently create new risks or harms,” the document reads.

The government procurement guidelines were first reported by VentureBeat this spring following a conversation with Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution director Kay Firth-Butterfield about how AI can grow without stifling innovation. Other fellows include a New Zealand government official now working to reimagine the role of government regulators in the age of AI.

The WEF has shown a deep interest in AI this year. In May, it launched a Global AI Council that draws on tech luminaries like Microsoft president Brad Smith, Sinnovation Ventures founder Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, and individuals from Element AI, IBM, Future of Life Institute, and government ministers from a number of countries, including the United Kingdom.

In July, WEF announced its list of more than 50 tech pioneers, at least 20 of which use machine learning.

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