Amsterdam and Helsinki launch algorithm registries to bring transparency to public deployments of AI

Amsterdam and Helsinki today launched AI registries to detail how each city government uses algorithms to deliver services, some of the first major cities in the world to do so. An AI Register for each city was introduced in beta today as part of the Next Generation Internet Policy Summit, organized in part by the European Commission and the city of Amsterdam. The Amsterdam registry currently features a handful of algorithms, but it will be extended to include all algorithms following the collection of feedback at the virtual conference to lay out a European vision of the future of the internet, according to a city official.

Each algorithm cited in the registry lists datasets used to train a model, a description of how an algorithm is used, how humans utilize the prediction, and how algorithms were assessed for potential bias or risks. The registry also provides citizens a way to give feedback on algorithms their local government uses and the name, city department, and contact information for the person responsible for the responsible deployment of a particular algorithm. A complete algorithmic registry can empower citizens and give them a way to evaluate, examine, or question governments’ applications of AI.

In a previous development in the U.S., New York City created an automated decision systems task force in 2017 to document and assess city use of algorithms. At the time it was the first city in the U.S. to do so. However, following the release of a report least year, commissioners on the task force complained about a lack of transparency and inability to access information about algorithms used by city government agencies.

The recently released 2020 Government AI Readiness Index ranks Holland and Finland among some of the most prepared nations in the world to adopt applications of AI. A McKinsey Global Institute AI Readiness Index report found similar results. Government officials in many parts of the world are joining business leaders in increasing the number of use cases where AI is applied to automate tasks or make decisions, but it comes with some risk. Poor performance or algorithmic bias can lead to loss in trust between governments and citizens, cautioned a joint Stanford-NYU study analyzing how the U.S. government deploys AI systems.

Some top recent examples: A Dutch court ordered government officials to stop using the SyRI algorithm due to discrimination against immigrants and people living in low-income households. As was the case with facial recognition in the U.K. earlier this year, a judge deemed use of the algorithm a violation of human rights. There were also “Fuck the algorithm” protests in Britain this summer following an algorithmic grading scandal that generated better scores to kids from private schools and worse grades to kids from low-income households.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Helsinki City Data project manager Pasi Rautio said the registry is also aimed at increasing public trust in the kinds of artificial intelligence “with the greatest possible openness.”

The introduction of AI registries in Amsterdam and Helsinki is the latest multinational effort to maintain public trust and harness AI for the good of humanity. Earlier in September, Finland joined 12 other countries, including NATO member states and the U.S., to form the AI Partnership for Defense. Hosted by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint AI Center, the coalition will discuss how to translate ethics or policy principles into practice. That same week, EU Commission members began talks with high-level Chinese officials about issues important to the global economy including AI.

Also earlier this month: The European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS) launched the second wave of its pan-European initiative to accelerate AI research in dozens of cities across the EU, continuing the $220 million initiative to keep AI talent in Europe.

In another example of Finland attempting to create a more democratic approach to AI, last December government officials made AI training available with the stated goal of training at least 1% of EU citizens about the fundamentals of AI.

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