Directing AI for better and smarter legislation

The momentum that the COVID-19 pandemic gave to a digitisation of services needs to be kept up and transferred to law, policy-making, and parliamentary activities

April 10, 2023 12:08 am | Updated 12:28 pm IST

‘We need to make laws machine-consumable with a central law engine, which can be a single source of truth for all acts, subordinate pieces of legislation, gazettes, compliances, and regulations’

‘We need to make laws machine-consumable with a central law engine, which can be a single source of truth for all acts, subordinate pieces of legislation, gazettes, compliances, and regulations’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is attracting the attention of entrepreneurs, political leaders, and policymakers the world over. Most mature democracies are now using AI tools for better pieces of legislation and parliamentary procedures. For instance, AI tools can assist parliamentarians in preparing responses for legislators, enhancing research quality, obtaining information about any Bill, preparing briefs, providing information on particular House rules, legislative drafting, amendments, interventions, etc. They can also empower legislators to make informed decisions by having access to insights into citizen grievances, media opinions, and voices of citizen-centric associations.

Many obstacles

For AI to work in India, we first need to codify our laws. The challenges with current laws are they are opaque, complex and there is a huge translation gap between law-making, law-implementing and law-interpreting organisations. The Indian government has done well to set up the India Code portal, but it cannot be entirely relied upon as a ‘single source of truth’. The interface should contain a complete chain, right from the parent Act to the subordinate pieces of legislation passed by the central government and the amendment notifications, enabling any entity to get a 360° view. Such a requirement becomes more critical in special situations such as COVID-19. For example, in measures related to COVID-19, the central government issued over 900 notifications while State governments issued over 6,000 notifications on the subject (Data as on September 20, 2020).

We need to make laws machine-consumable with a central law engine, which can be a single source of truth for all acts, subordinate pieces of legislation, gazettes, compliances, and regulations. For example, AI can tell us if an entrepreneur wants to open a manufacturing unit in Maharashtra and what acts and compliances are applicable. If a citizen wants to check the eligibility for welfare schemes, AI can recommend which schemes are eligible, based on details provided by citizens.

Assisting legislators

Compared to western democratic nations, in India, parliamentarians manage constituencies with a huge population. AI can analyse citizens’ grievances and social media responses, and flag issues and priorities that need immediate attention. It can also assist parliamentarians in seeking citizen inputs for public consultation of laws and preparing a manifesto.

Many Parliaments across the world are now actively experimenting with AI-powered assistants. The House of Representatives in the United States has introduced an AI tool to automate the process of analysing differences between Bills, amendments and current laws. This is of immense help to legislative staff to readily see the impact of amendatory provisions in Bills that they move through the legislative process.

The Netherlands House of Representatives, for instance, has implemented the “Speech2Write” system which converts voice to text and also “translates” voice into written reports. As per the Inter-Parliamentary Union (an international organisation of national parliaments), “Speech2Write comprises automatic speech recognition and automated editing capabilities that can remove filler words, make grammatical corrections and propose editing decisions.” Japan’s AI tool assists in the preparation of responses for its legislature and also helps in the automatic selection of relevant highlights in parliamentary debates. Brazil has developed an AI system called Ulysses which supports transparency and citizen participation. The good news is that India is also innovating and working towards making parliamentary activities digital such as the ‘One Nation, One Application’ and the National e-Vidhan (NeVA) portal.

AI can also simulate the potential effects of laws. For example, various datasets such as the Census, data on household consumption, taxpayers, beneficiaries from various schemes, and public infrastructure can be modelled. In that case, AI can uncover potential outcomes of a policy. At the same time, it can also help in flagging laws that are outdated in the present circumstances and which require amendment. For example, we all saw how ‘The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897’ failed to address the COVID-19 pandemic situation when the virus seemed to have overwhelmed the country. Not just this, many other provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) are controversial and redundant. According to Article 309 (attempted suicide) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) continues to be a criminal offence. We have many pieces of criminal legislation that were enacted more than 100 years ago that are of hardly any use today. Some include the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, the Public Gambling Act, 1867, the Prisons Act, 1894, etc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a strong thrust to the Digital India initiative and a digitisation of services. This momentum needs to be kept up and utilised in the field of law, policy-making, and parliamentary activities, harnessing the power of AI. While doing all this, it needs to be ensured that the use of AI must be encouraged in an open, transparent, and citizen-friendly manner. AI is a powerful tool, but at the end of the day, we should be mindful of the fact that it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

Mitul Jhaveri and Shubham Singh are public policy consultants at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India

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