Denmark is planning to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to decide which citizens and businesses get support or assistance from the government, the country’s digital chief has told GovInsider.

“If we could put the legislation in place, we could let a machine decide if you should have that grant or not,” said Lars Frelle-Petersen, Director-General of Denmark’s Agency for Digitisation. He was in Singapore to attend an annual summit called the Digital Government Exchange.

Frelle-Petersen is considering how artificial intelligence would allow a machine to process digital applications for grants. “Can we make it actually readable and understandable from a machine perspective, so that they can make a decision of should you or shouldn’t you have the grant?”

This includes both grants for businesses and welfare payments for citizens, which could mean support for the elderly, retirement payments, funds for low-income families, or assistance to pay housing rent, he said.

Denmark is also looking at using AI in healthcare, which is largely provided by the government. “We’re very interested in machine learning and how we can support our doctors and nurses in decision-making and in description of medicine and diseases,” Frelle-Petersen said.

The government is also interested in using AI to help recovering patients retrain themselves and predict when they will be fit to work again, he added. It is building tools that will allow discharged patients to train themselves from home. “Some of that can actually be supported with machine learning, so that a machine can see if you improved and give you more advice to maybe increase your training,” he explained.

Denmark will need to change existing legislation before these technologies can be implemented at scale, however. “A lot of legislations could say that there has to be a case handler who has to overlook the papers, has to make the decisions,” he said. Changes to such laws will allow more objective decisions based on data, without biases from humans, he added.

There are two reasons Denmark is interested in using artificial intelligence to deliver public services. The first is that citizens want quicker responses from the government. “There’s a wish for real-time,” Frelle-Petersen notes.

Already, 90% of all transactions coming in from citizens are done digitally. Now, the government’s internal processes must be automated so that it can respond quicker. “We have to build more intelligent services that can actually give an answer to our citizens more or less in real-time,” he said. “That means building systems where there’s no person involved – only machines.”

The second reason is that the country’s population is ageing, and the public sector has a limited number of people it can put to work processing the high volume of applications for welfare grants. “We can see there’s a big effort today, we use a lot of employees to look over these papers,” he added.

Now read: Exclusive: Denmark’s vision for digital government