Helsinki accelerates AI and automation in city services – Cities Today

Helsinki is using rapid experimentation to see how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to improve city services.

The Finnish capital recently completed the second round of internal innovation trials through its Experimentation Accelerator, which launched in 2019 to speed innovation.

The latest campaign tested ten ideas submitted by city employees for the use of AI and RPA. These included employee shift planning, monitoring traffic emissions, checking student data across different registers, and using a chatbot for matters related to business trips.

I believe that artificial intelligence, robotics and data are at the core of future developments. They will also impact the services provided by the City of Helsinki to a substantial degree, said Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki. The most important thing about these trials is to gain new ideas that can then be scaled to suit the production of various city services. The trials also represent a shift in thinking whereby the aim is to make the city organisations operating culture more conducive to experimentation.

Through the Accelerator programme the city aims to proceed from idea to execution within 90 days.

Previous trials in spring 2020 focused on AI and RPA for uses such as the identification of crosswalks from aerial photographs, targeting of fire inspections and the text analysis and classification of open feedback received by the city.

In total, city staff submitted 60 trial suggestions for the two campaign rounds. Seventeen of these progressed to the trial phase, receiving 10,000 (US$12,000) in funding for implementation in cooperation with corporate partners.

Lessons learned from the pilots are documented and distributed to the entire city organisation so that others who adopt the systems can avoid duplicating effort around challenges such as procurement, data protection, etc.

Mikko Rusama, Helsinkis Chief Digital Officer, said: Through agile trials, we can learn to understand how we can use artificial intelligence to build even better digital solutions for the residents and our own employees. We hope that the lessons learnt from these trials help us to avoid expensive and long projects that fail to meet actual needs. We also want to renew our culture and policies and make the city a bit more agile.

Solutions which are adopted permanently are listed in Helsinkis AI Register , which was launched in September to increase transparency and detail how AI is used in city services. It incorporates an overview of AI systems as well as information on the datasets they use, how data is processed, inclusion, risks, and whether the tools have human oversight.

Even trials which dont result in long-term implementation provide learnings, the city said. The experimental approach has also shown that direct digital replication is not always the answer.

Ville Meloni, Project Manager, explained: The Experimentation Accelerator is used to refine innovations and support experimental activities that leverage digitalisation within the city organisation. The trials have also confirmed that it is often not necessary to replace an entire work phase with a robot. In many cases, robot assistance is enough. The trials also provide us with valuable information about the limitations in the data collected by the city.

In this context, we sometimes notice that it may not be feasible to automate work tasks in a way that emulates how a person would complete them. Instead, it may be best to redesign the entire process.

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Helsinki accelerates AI and automation in city services - Cities Today

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