Estonia’s 40-Year Digital Revolution Spares 2% GDP: A Pioneer in AI Prepares Society
Estonia has emerged as a pioneer in the digitization of government and public institutions, and now it is gearing up to prepare its society for the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution. The country has been deploying a comprehensive strategy in this area for the past four decades, resulting in significant benefits for its economy and governance structures.
The journey began in 1990, when Estonia regained its independence. Faced with the task of rebuilding the nation, its economy, political system, and governance structures, it became evident that innovation thrives when funding is scarce. This realization prompted Estonia to leverage the power of modern technologies to build its governance structures, a move that not only saved a considerable amount of money but also streamlined bureaucratic processes.
According to calculations, Estonia’s adoption of digital technologies has led to savings of at least 2% of the state’s GDP. This reduction in government spending is attributed to the collective use of digital platforms, resulting in less bureaucracy, fewer procedures, and a more efficient allocation of resources. However, embracing technology required fostering an open-minded culture within society, which proved to be the most challenging aspect of the process.
Estonia encountered debates and concerns about the safety and reasonableness of implementing digital systems, especially regarding the digital signature and digital identity requirements. However, consensus was quickly reached as people began to trust in the safety and robustness of the technology. The digital systems were designed to protect privacy and withstand cyber attacks, gaining the confidence of the population. As a result, Estonia has been able to continuously develop and expand its digital services, such as enabling electronic voting since 2005.
Today, an astounding 99% of the services required to communicate with the state can be accessed digitally through citizens’ digital identities. This means that individuals can conveniently handle their interactions with government entities online, eliminating the need for paper-based processes. For instance, the electronic tax reporting system has been in place since 2000, allowing taxpayers to file their taxes within minutes by simply checking the pre-filled data. This level of convenience and efficiency has been embraced by Estonians across different age groups.
Building upon these achievements, Estonia is now venturing into the realm of personalized public services. The aim is to anticipate citizens’ needs and preferences by tailoring services according to their specific circumstances. For example, when requesting care services for an elderly family member, citizens will no longer need to repeatedly provide the same information. Instead, the state will have the necessary details readily available, making the process faster and more user-friendly.
By leveraging their digital proficiency and AI capabilities, Estonia is setting an example for other countries to follow. The Estonian experience demonstrates the tangible benefits that come with embracing digital innovation in government and public services. It not only enhances efficiency and cost-effectiveness but also empowers citizens by providing them with personalized, easily accessible services. As Estonia continues to lead the way in AI preparation, it paves the path for a future where technology serves as a catalyst for societal progress.