Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will speak today about e-Estonia, what we mean by that, what benefits it brings, and what our future plans are.
It is my duty to wear the hat of the Prime Minister today but I hope you do not mind if I occasionally take the position of an ordinary citizen, exposing my personal experience to e-Estonia. In reality I have used only a small fraction of approximately 2 000 e-services that both the public and private sectors have made available in Estonia.
The digital solutions of e-Estonia make our daily life a great deal easier and more efficient. For citizens, for companies and for the state. It allows us to save 2% of GDP every year. As the Prime Minister, I digitally sign tens of documents per day with my digital ID in my mobile phone. Our government sessions are fully paperless.
The start of Estonia’s digitization story goes back to the mid 90s, when the first online banks were launched. In early 2000s we implemented the e-Government, which we have been constantly building further. Estonia has a rather positive track record of disruption in state governance. We have 20 years of experience in building e-governance culture and we are happy to share our experience with other countries. Sharing knowhow and learning from others have been among the keys to our success as well.
Trust is another key element. Technology can help to build trust. For example, the log files of key Estonian governmental information systems have been backed up in blockchain since 2012. Looking from the user side, every citizen can detect who has been looking at their data – we have built such features into services, like electronic health record. Transparency opens up a world with less corruption and more trust.
Let me now take for a moment the hat of an ordinary citizen and give you a few examples. Christmas is coming soon, celebrated by hundreds of million people around the world. It is one of my favourite holidays of the year. My family has a tradition to cut a Christmas tree from the forest. Estonia is one of the most forest-rich countries; about half of our land is covered with forest. Roughly 40% of this belongs to the state. Every citizen is allowed to cut their own Christmas tree from the state forest. A mobile positioning app helps citizens to determine whether they are on a state land. After finding a suitable tree the citizen has to make a mobile payment and obtains momentally a permit and can cut the tree right there.
As a father, I am also a frequent user of the e-School, which brings the children, their families, schools and supervisors together into a connected learning community. The e-school sends me various notifications of the accomplishments, either good or bad, of my kids at school.
Many claim that going digital opens up so many new risks and far more serious than your parents knowing all your grades.
We fully agree that cyber threats must be dealt with utmost seriousness. In Estonia, we have roughly one cyber attack attempt per second. The government must take care of cyberspace in the same way we take care of security in the streets. Our citizens should feel equally protected either they are offline or online.
In the last 2 months, in Estonia we have been facing a potential vulnerability with a significant share of our digital identity cards – which are heavily used to access digital services by both government as well as private sector. Our experts have done hard work and overtime to limit the possible impact by upgrading the services and working out an innovative solution. Our users are currently renewing their identity certificates online.
At no point have we thought that this is a sign that we should go back to pre-digital ways. No – as we get so much benefit from digital tools, Estonia is determined to do what it takes to figure out ways to keep us safe online. With help of technology itself, it can and must be done.
I would also like to say a few words about a new generation of proactive e-services that we are currently building in Estonia. This is the next step of a hassle-free government where services are truly seamless. For example, if you are entitled to receive the childcare benefit, you would not have to apply for it. The government system will be designed to identify you automatically and you will receive the benefit on your bank account. There is no need for paper work!
Looking from the business perspective, we will launch in 2018 the new service bundle called “Reporting 3.0”, which gives small and medium-size enterprises an opportunity to get rid of their tax accountants because declaring taxes becomes fully automatic.
In addition, we have opened up our digital services to the wide world and are eager to expand in this direction. The e-residency provides a transnational digital identity to anyone in the world to do location-independent business online. I invite you to join our digital nation: run a company in the European Union from a distance and digitally sign documents.
There are already over 25,000 e-residents from 150 countries. They have established more than 2 100 new companies in Estonia. Now, our numbers are small on global scale yet – but we are only getting started with e-Residency. Already today, each week we receive more e-Residents than there are babies born in Estonia – hence, we grow faster in digital space as an economy and country.
Now, to close, let me ask a question: “What is on the screen”? ...
The folklore in many cultures is full of mythological creatures like the fire-breathing dragons or snakes, guarding often some hidden treasures.
In the Estonian folklore there is a creature called Kratt. You can see on the screen how it looks like. By the way, the picture is taken from the film called November, which was selected for the best foreign-language film race at the Oscars.
The Kratt is like a living ghost with a physical appearance. It is pieced together from the second-hand items and ordered to steal treasures and to deliver them to its master. Grain, tools, money, and jewellery are the typical examples of an old-time treasure. In essence the Kratt does not create but redistributes treasures – steals. But more important is that the Kratt reflects people’s wish to lead more efficient and convenient lives – which digital world these days greatly enables.
While our ancestors ordered the Kratt to steal from each other, making it a zero-sum game, the digital revolution has made possible to design the treasure-creating version of the Kratt. The technology and artificial intelligence are like a modern Kratt in a modern world.
By the way, we have come to the conclusion that the Kratts or artificial intelligence should perhaps be given a separate legal status because it is neither a natural nor legal person. We are currently working on a legal framework to enable AI, while doing so in a responsible way.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Finally allow me to say a few words also about Europe, especially as Estonia is the EU Presidency country right now. On 29th September I hosted the Heads of State or government of EU countries in Tallinn and we worked together on the digital vision. We had passionate and fruitful discussions. It is important for us that Europe will become a Single Digital Market where e-services and data move freely across the borders. Europe must become united in tackling the cyber security threats and we have to create an environment in which digital solutions and data economy support innovation and growth.
Let me conclude with an invitation to all the innovators out there. Come build and try your new ideas and tech in Estonia or with Estonia. We are happy to offer a nation-scale testbed for your solutions, a flexible legal environment and powerful tech ecosystem to tap into. Together, we can be pathfinders on building the next stages of digital society.