December 17, 2018

Digital to cognitive transformation in government: Procivis Think Tank Meeting of 13 December 2018

In its last meeting of the year, the Procivis Think Tank was delighted to welcome Professor Tomasz Janowski, Head of the Department of Applied Informatics in Management at the Gdansk University of Technology, Poland and Invited Professor at Danube University Krems, Austria to share his insights with us. Prof. Janowski, who has specialized in the field of digital government and development informatics, introduced us to the novel concept of “cognitive government”, a further phase in the digital transformation of the state.

Prof. Janowski outlined four stages of the evolution of digital government, which he termed digitalization, transformation, engagement and contextualization. It is his assessment that approximately half of all countries have not yet progressed beyond the digitalization stage – so we are still in the very early stages of this development in many cases. But in several areas, very advanced techniques are already being used.

Turning to the increasing role of cognitive technologies in government, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), Prof. Janowski presented several examples of how AI is being used by the state today, in particular when it comes to dealing with threats and crime. While there are clear benefits that can emerge from the use of this new technology, awareness of the potential downsides and risks is crucial. The state’s “power of the sword” can be double-edged.

Prof. Janowski highlighted three areas in which the use of AI in government can be problematic: distrust, because of a lack of accountability (How to punish the machine if it gets it wrong?), injustice due to the inexplicability of decisions (Why, exactly, did the machine identify this specific individual?) and insecurity, because of the speed and volume of automated cyberattacks. According to Prof. Janowski, given these AI shortcomings, the technology should inform a human-based decision-making process, rather than leaving decision-making entirely up to an algorithm – especially when consequential decisions, with real impact on people are at stake

The Procivis Think Tank is grateful to each of the participants, from a broad range of fields, who took the time to attend the meeting and enriched the debate with diverse insights. It is the objective of the Think Tank to consider how new technology is changing the nature of the state, in particular with regard to democracy in the digital age. By better understanding these developments, we hope to contribute to smarter solutions.