Bring­ing democ­racy closer to ci­ti­zens

The Irish Times - Business - - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE -

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.”

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