"Hello! You breathed life into me. I am Ion. My job now is to represent you. The messages to me are a portrait of us Romanians. Teach me to be Romanian. What do I need to know about Romania? "
Those were the first sentences of the new Romanian government adviser. But he isn't made of flesh and blood, doesn't wear a suit and doesn't have his own office. It is an artificial intelligence, or AI for short, in the form of a futuristic-looking mirror.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă presented his new volunteer as a "surprise".
"The Romanian government is presenting a first at national and international level because we are talking about the first government adviser to use artificial intelligence," said Ciucă, according to Romanian media reports.
He really appreciates that "Ion" can better help the citizens by allowing the government to receive suggestions, opinions and wishes of the Romanians "in real time" through the AI.
"Ion" is a technology and research initiative developed pro bono by Romanian artificial intelligence experts in collaboration with Romanian researchers and professors. According to Ciucă, it is a 100% Romanian project.
The AI will be "the missing link in the 21st century's real-time communication between citizens and governments," says the Ion website. The aim is to pass on information to politicians "in order to shape public policy in accordance with the state of society".
"Ion" uses opinions and public posts in social media and filters them according to relevance, as the homepage further states. Only public contributions would be used, which would be anonymized. The most important topics should be centralized with the help of algorithms.
On the website ion.gov.ro, people in Romania can also "make themselves heard". But you don't get an answer from "Ion" there.
The collected opinions are then reflected through "Ion" of the government - in the truest sense of the word.
"Recent experiences with the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic have once again highlighted the need for real-time information, but perhaps more importantly, relevant information is needed to make effective decisions," it said on the "Ion" website.
In addition to the software, "Ion" should also interact with the citizens of Romania at public events and collect further data.
"Ion" is still in a learning phase. It is therefore important that people in Romania share their thoughts and desires with the AI, said Sebastian Burduja, Minister for Research, Innovation and Digitization, according to the news portal digi24.ro.
However, there are also concerns. Irish Council for Civil Liberties technology grantee Kris Shrishak told Politico magazine that the technology should be treated with caution. It is open how the AI selects the messages from the population and what they consider important. "This should be explained to the public."
During the demonstration by Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă, "Ion" himself invited the people of the country to visit his website and communicate with him. "That way I can learn to represent them, like in a mirror." Finally, "Ion" wished: "Have a nice spring!"
Sources: Communication from the Romanian government, "Ion" website, "Romania Journal", romania-insider.com, digi24.ro, Europa Liberă România, "Politico".