A multi-disciplinary collaboration between academia, industry, and the public sector
The Trust-M project team, which includes Academy of Finland Research Fellow Johanna Ylipulli and Associate Professor Tom Bäckström at Aalto University, aims to broaden the concept of digital public services and migrant trust. This will be done by engaging migrants through ethnographic research, by investigating the interplay of law, policy, and technology, and by developing alternative technologies and service design concepts to support migrants’ integration.
‘Our aim is not to create something to put up on app stores, because there are better service providers for that type of work,’ says Thomas Olsson, professor at Tampere University. ‘Rather, we’re trying to provide new ideas, concepts, and prototypes that could be further utilised in the design of innovative digital services by other actors, including the City of Espoo and many other partners.’
Commercial providers can also use these understandings and concepts to offer better and more inclusive hybrid digital services to fit the needs of both migrants and public service providers.
‘To achieve successful inclusive digitisation in society, we need to develop trustworthy technologies that work towards the benefit of all end users,’ says Sara Elo Dean, Watson Solution Architect at IBM, a project collaborator. ‘Therefore, all AI solutions must be based on three ethical principles. First, that the purpose of AI is to augment human intelligence. Second, that data and insights belong to their creator. And third, that new technology and AI systems must be transparent and explainable.’
Elo Dean has an extensive background in working with natural language processing (NLP) and in building AI-powered solutions for clients at IBM. She is confident that by adhering to the three principles, trustworthy and ethical AI can be made a reality.
‘In the context of this project, advancements in NLP and speech technologies allow us to build refined solutions that can interact more precisely with a broader variety of both languages and level of language skills. The research project will build prototypes of trustworthy digital public services and based on continuous feedback from testing and user experiences, the aim is to further improve the digital public services in question,’ says Elo Dean.
Inclusion nurtures agency
As societies become increasingly interconnected and technology races ahead, it is essential that we re-evaluate our perceptions of trust, digitalisation, and public services. If digital public services overlook inclusivity, they run the risk of alienating migrants and Finnish society at large. While the Trust-M project seeks to generate deeper insights into the forces shaping our society, it also aims to help foster a stronger, more inclusive future that recognizes diversity and invites everyone to engage in civic matters.
Migration is often considered in terms of national politics and policy, but it is the local level that is responsible for supporting people to navigate their day-to-day lives in a new country. Supportive and vibrant communities give meaning to people’s lives. They also offer tacit knowledge and good practices for how to operate in a new society. Digital public services would do well to tap into these communities of both migrants and native citizens for sustained two-way integration and build nurturing foundations of trust from the bottom-up.
‘If the receiving society is not welcoming towards newcomers, migrants may feel let down and start turning away from Finnish society. This is not ideal for the migrants’ or society’s well-being,’ says Viivi Eskelinen, doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki and interaction coordinator of the Trust-M project at Aalto University. ‘People have an inherent need to belong, and migrants are no different.’
The Trust-M project is a collaboration between Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, Tampere University, and the City of Espoo, in partnership with the City of Helsinki, the City of Turku, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Moniheli, CYF Digital, IBM Consulting, and VoxAI. It received 3,2 million euros in funding from the Strategic Research Council’s Security and Trust in the Age of Algorithms (SHIELD) programme in 2022. It’s first phase will take place in 2023-2025 and a potential second phase in 2025-2028.