While artificial intelligence continues to prompt fears that are often exaggerated, it has also seen spectacular technological advances that can help humans perform tasks that were impossible before. Its use could help public agencies concretely improve the quality of the public service they offer citizens. At the request of the Prime Minister, the Conseil d'État today published a study that argues in favour of the adoption of a resolutely ambitious IA strategy to serve public efficiency. As recommended by the Conseil d'État, such a strategy could create the conditions for confidence and give France resources and governance in line with its ambitions.
Recent advances in the area of artificial intelligence have led to spectacular developments (facial recognition, automatic content creation, semantic analysis, etc.), at the same time exacerbating fears that are largely exaggerated (control of humans by machines, behaviour manipulation, mass surveillance, etc.) And yet, artificial intelligence is first and foremost a set of digital tools designed to serve humans. In particular, it allows rapid problem solving through automatic learning, offering a unique opportunity for improving the quality of public service.
Building trusted public artificial intelligence
Currently, IA is only being deployed very gradually in public services, often on an experimental basis. For instance, it is being used in traffic management, defence and security, anti-fraud measures and employment policies. But if artificial intelligence were to be embraced wholeheartedly, its potential benefits for the quality of public service would be many: improved continuity of public service 24/7, enhanced suitability of the decisions and services provided or equality of treatment, shorter processing times for users’ requests and so on.
Artificial intelligence should help strengthen the relationship between citizens and public servants by freeing up time through the automation of some tasks (confirmation of receipt, requests for additional documents, etc.) and improving service quality by performing tasks that were physically impossible until now.
That is why the Conseil d'État is recommending the implementation of a resolutely proactive artificial intelligence policy, to serve the general interest and public efficiency.
France must anticipate the adoption of a regulatory framework, particularly on a European level, through the rapid implementation of pragmatic guidelines for the step-by-step deployment of artificial intelligence in public services, in a clear-sighted and vigilant way, to better address the needs of French citizens. Trustworthy public artificial intelligence based on seven principles: the primacy of humans, efficiency, equity and non-discrimination, transparency, safety (cybersecurity), environmental sustainability and strategic independence.
Giving France appropriate resources and governance
To apply this public artificial intelligence policy, France must have appropriate human and technical resources. One of its priorities must be to train public managers, recruit data experts, and equip itself with the necessary technical resources. The relaxing of the legal framework, particularly for sharing data within agencies, must also be examined.
The reinforcement of Etalab* and the national coordinator for artificial intelligence, with support from the Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires (French agency for territorial cohesion), would also make the State a possible service provider and supplier of resources, including human resources, for local government authorities.
Lastly, the study recommends sweeping changes to the French data protection authority (CNIL) to make it a national control authority responsible for regulating IA systems, including public systems, to embody and internalise the dual requirement of protecting fundamental rights and liberties, on the one hand, and enabling innovation and public efficiency on the other.
*Etalab is a department of the inter-ministerial directorate for digital affairs (DINUM), which coordinates the design and implementation of State strategy in the field of data.
Download the study in French