Two European capitals launched public logs of AI systems used by the government.

What’s new: Amsterdam and Helsinki provide online registries that describe the algorithms that govern municipal activities, such as automated parking control and a public health chatbot. The registries are currently in beta testing.
How it works: Entries in the registry describe what each model does and how it was trained, as well as contact information for the official responsible for deploying it.

  • Amsterdam defines AI as software that “makes predictions, decisions, or gives advice by using data analysis, statistics, or self-learning.” Helsinki’s registry includes machine learning systems but also simpler programs that the public may consider AI, but experts may not, a spokesperson told The Batch.
  • The registries won’t be comprehensive, since city agencies aren’t required to comply. “For now, government agencies are doing it voluntarily for building and retaining trust with their citizens,” Meeri Haataja, CEO of Saidot, the Finnish startup that developed the registers, told The Batch.
  • Both cities plan to refine the rules for registration based on user feedback. They also offer ethical statements that describe their priorities for municipal AI.

Why it matters: Budding smart cities will be smarter if everyone has a way of knowing which algorithms are doing what. Documentation is essential when decisions made by automated systems raise questions or when models need to be updated to account for changing circumstances.

We’re thinking: Government investment in AI will be squandered if citizens don’t trust the technology. For instance, Google’s Sidewalk Labs project, which sought to outfit a swath of property in Toronto with sensors, foundered partly on public worries over the handling of the data they would collect. Transparency is crucial for productive public implementation of AI.

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