Exclusive: Moscow’s vision for AI everywhere

By Medha Basu

The city’s CIO, Artem Ermolaev, discusses how AI will be pervasive across public services.

Officials in Moscow, like many other city governments, are discussing how artificial intelligence technologies can help the city do its work better. But the Russian capital has perhaps the most pervasive vision for AI in government yet.

“We want AI to work everywhere,” Moscow’s Chief Information Officer, Artem Ermolaev, tells GovInsider. His team is already trialling AI to advise doctors in treating cancer patients; help residents find new homes; and assess applications for government services and support.

“The Moscow vision of the future is when artificial intelligence is equal to humans - or sometimes, artificial intelligence is higher than the human,” he says.

Diagnosing cancer

Healthcare is one of the most comprehensive cases of AI in Moscow. The city government is training machines to diagnose cancer from CT scans, Ermolaev says. Patients visiting certain hospitals receive a diagnosis from a machine along with the one from their doctor.

In the next three to five years, machines will advise general practitioners on diagnoses, he says. “We expect, in the future, we have robot doctors which will have to work with you 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. It is not a really far future,” he adds.
“We expect, in the future, we have robot doctors”
In trials so far with thousands of CT scans, computers found cancer in 5% of cases where the doctors did not, Ermolaev says. It’s a small but critical portion, as it means that machines help cut human errors, and in this trial, about 200 cancer patients have avoided misdiagnoses. “Machines can’t be tired and the machine doesn’t have sleepless nights,” he adds.

AI everywhere

Outside clinics and hospitals, AI will be widespread in residents’ daily interactions with the government thanks to the detailed data it has on citizens. “We have a pretty big division for big data which helps us to analyse how Muscovites live, where do they live, what do they need,” he says.

In the future, residents’ applications for public services will be assessed by artificial intelligence. “The machine receives it, understand if it can be accepted or it should be declined, and does it automatically.”

AI will also help residents find new homes, he adds. About 700,000 residents move homes every year in Moscow. They can request the city to advise them on other neighbourhoods where they can lead a similar quality of life as in their current home.

The city is building AI to suggest other areas where they will have access to similar social, cultural, health, financial and education services. “What we are working on is that, using big data, we are analysing the school you are visiting and the teachers you have; the doctors you are visiting and the hospital you are also using; and we are trying to find a place which is similar to that in another part of Moscow,” Ermolaev says.


It is also building AI for facial recognition from CCTV footage. The city has a network of 160,000 cameras, one of the largest in the world, he says, which are currently monitored by humans. “We are testing in this system video analytics which will analyse the faces and face recognition.” This will help track down criminals, but can also help find missing elderly people or help parents keep track of their children,” he says.
 Artem Ermolaev, CIO of Moscow City

The city will use the video analytics to track garbage collectors and snow removers. “We need to control if the public objects are cleaned and the companies which maintains, for example, the major squares in the city do their job correctly or did not,” explains Ermolaev. The city is spread out over 2,000 square kilometres, and only AI, he says, can help the government ensure contractors and city officials are doing their jobs.

E-voting on blockchain

Moscow also has a vision for using Blockchain. Distributed systems to hold government records will help increase public trust in government and cut corruption, Ermolaev believes. It will “deliver the confidence that the services we are providing are fair and there is no intervention of government in it.”

Moscow’s first trial with Blockchain is on a platform that allows citizens to vote for municipal and local projects, like setting speed limits and changing bus routes. The votes are now stored on a blockchain platform that ensures no one can tamper with them, and allows citizens to monitor them in real-time, according to the city government.

It plans to connect more public services to Blockchain in the next few years, Ermolaev says. One area, for example, is admissions to free public schools, he explains, which is on a first-come, first-served basis.

At the best schools in the city, there are more applicants than available seats, which has left parents unhappy and accusing the government of meddling and corruption. Implementing Blockchain in such a process will help “convince” citizens that “there is not intervention in the system”, he believes.

There has been a great deal of hype around Blockchain and the city is still cautiously testing its value. The trials have shown that the “speed of Blockchain is still not very good”, he says, and any delays will lead to complaints from residents. Like in every other large city, “Moscow citizens are very tough customers because they don’t want to wait”, Ermolaev says.
“The speed of Blockchain is still not very good.”
As Moscow plans for a high-tech future, building “trust in machines” is a challenge, he notes. The city needs to “invest in explanations” for citizens to understand how the technologies like AI work and how it can help them.

Doctors, for instance, are being told that having an AI assist them on diagnosis can help them keep customers happy and earn more money. “We are explaining to them that they shouldn't be afraid that machines will replace them,” he says.
Moscow’s vision for AI is wide-ranging, but the challenges its officials face are not so different from other cities.