A New York City-based firm that develops a “digital colleague” named Amelia is the first to state interest in providing artificial intelligence services to the Government of Canada.

A tender notice posted by Public Works and Government Services Canada on Saturday morning is the most recent step taken by the government towards acquiring AI services. It’s open to receiving proposals until Oct. 31. Its purpose is to create a pre-qualified list of suppliers that will deliver AI services towards several key areas where the government believes it has the most to gain from the technology.

IPsoft Canada is the first to be listed as an interested supplier. Its Amelia AI system that promises to handle customer service requests without the need for human intervention.  Amelia can be trained to learn a company’s processes and interacts with users via natural language – a chatbot interface. She can remember every interaction that she’s ever had, and understand how to apply business information to customer interactions. She even seeks to understand the user’s emotions and mood.

“I’ve been in technology for a very long time and I’ve seen a lot of different technology that can bring savings,” says Stephen Kotyck, director or larger enterprise at IPsoft Canada. “What is so different about IPsoft is just how substantial those savings are and how well the technology works.”

Alex Benay at podium
Government of Canada CIO Alex Benay has been working to develop an ethical AI framework. He says Canada can be a leader in this area.

Government of Canada CIO Alex Benay discussed the RFP at his book launch event for Government Digital in Toronto on Thursday.

“I’d like to think we’re one of the most organized governments in the world when it comes to this,” Benay says. “We have an ethical framework that’s coming out in the fall, once this RFP closes.”

Benay has been developing an ethical framework for AI with his team as well as the CIO Strategy Council, a group he co-founded and brings together public and private sector technology decision makers.

The government also has an algorithmic impact assessment tool that assesses the ethical behaviours of AI automation. It plans to showcase this in Israel during a November event, he says.

The solicitation document from the government says Canada’s adoption of AI will ensure it’s governed with clear values, ethics, and law in accordance with human rights obligations. Based on a consultation effort, it identifies several AI categories and business outcomes that it is seeking to achieve:

  • Insights and predictive modeling. The government wants to use AI to “predict outcomes and gain deeper insights into behavioural patterns and trends.” Some applications suggested are comparative analysis of policy decisions, assessing employee performance and job suitability, and financial analysis such as cost forecasting and resource mix allocations.
  • Machine interaction. The government wants to use AI to improve its interactions with citizens. Applications could include chatbots and virtual agents to answer questions and provide instructions.
  • Cognitive automation. The government wants to offload low-value tasks from employees and make business processes more efficient. This could include “Automated Decision Systems to process and review application information, classify cases in terms of risk and priority, and make recommendations and/or render decisions.”

IPSoft’s website pitches Amelia as a government service. “Amelia connects people and employees to government information and services through an intuitive natural-language interface,” it states.

“If you’re talking about citizen-centric services, AI can help with far more efficient delivery of services,” Kotyck told IT World Canada in a phone call. “It’s in the government’s best interests and it’s in the taxpayers’ best interest.”

“Amelia is much more than a virtual secretary and much more than a chatbot”

Training with the new AI tools will also be the government’s focus following the AI tools being put in place, Benay says.

“Our people will have to be our next focus,” Benay says. “For a change, we’re going to have the right tools to do the right job in the age that we live in. So we’re looking forward to that and we’re going to manage it closely.”