Bringing democracy closer to citizens
AI is being deployed in the Houses of the Oireachtas in ways that aim to bring greater transparency and accountability to the democratic process.
“We are on a digital transformation journey,” says chief information officer Finn de Bri. “We are working on a number of areas at present. In some cases, we are actually using the technology while in others we are still in exploratory mode.”
Publishing the written transcripts of debates online is one area where AI is going to be looked at. At present, the objective is to have all debates online within two hours. However, each 10-minute recording can take up to two hours to transcribe.
“We are investigating the use of AI for speech recognition to assist this process,” says chief technology officer Ciarán Doyle. “We are using it for natural language processing. Over time we can train the technology to learn the lexicon of the Irish parliaments and understand the dialects and accents of different speakers. It will deliver a significant saving in time and effort .”
“We are using this assistive technology to make the publishing process more efficient,” says de Bri.
The next stage of the project will see every piece of speech and video digitally tagged. “If you search for words in a speech it will be able to find the text and the video .” Facial recognition software could be used to tell precisely who is speaking and when. “We also plan to use the Microsoft AI-powered translation tool. People will be able to translate the debates into the language of their choice. Our ultimate aim is to have all European languages, including Irish, available to people. If someone from Poland is looking at an Irish parliamentary debate on an EU treaty they will be able to have it translated into Polish in real time. Microsoft has a suite of other cognitive tools and our goal is to use them all.”
“We are opening up the good work being done in the Houses of the Oireachtas,” says Doyle. “We are using AI to make it more accessible to the public. This is a big opportunity for the members, for democracy, and for citizens. It’s very important for citizens to see what they are getting for their vote.
“It will enhance the democratic process by creating much greater transparency and offering people real-time access to their parliament and elected representatives. This is very important in the age of fake news when people need a way of knowing what is true and what is not.”