Why Ukraine is Going 100% Digital in the Middle of War

So the government can function during the invasion.
Photo/s: Ukraine Presidency/Handout via Agence France-Presse

PARIS -- Ukraine's leaders have come up with a plan to allow the government to function even in the toughest circumstances: make every service digital with the help of big tech.

The plan to emerge as the world's "most digital country" after the Russian invasion was first publicized by President Volodymyr Zelensky last month and fleshed out by Deputy PM Mykhailo Fedorov at a conference in Switzerland on Monday.

READ: Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine? FAQs on the War That Shocked the World

What is Ukraine aiming to achieve?

Before the war, Ukraine was already touting itself as a digital frontrunner, so its plan to go 100% digital is a continuation of that.

"Digital services cannot be destroyed by missiles, especially if you store data on Amazon or Microsoft," Fedorov told a conference in Lugano.

One of the main goals is the replacement of bureaucrats with smartphone apps.

Ukrainians will be able to carry out all administrative tasks without visiting government offices or filling out paper forms.

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This would include anything from registering land, cars or property, to opening businesses or filling out customs declarations.  

Fedorov stressed that newly redundant bureaucrats would be retrained for roles in the "new economy".

But the aim goes much further than transforming government services.

Fedorov and Zelensky also aim to do away with paper money and replace it with digital (though not crypto) currency, move education and health services online as much as possible and create a "cyber outpost" to protect from cyberattacks.

Who is going to build the new systems?

During an address to several technology conferences in mid-June, Zelensky made a direct plea to "the world's leading tech companies" to help build the infrastructure.

Fedorov, however, made a more general appeal for funds and donations of technology without specifying a role for big tech.

The deputy PM, who also serves as digital transformation minister, made much of the systems that Ukraine already has, implying that they would form the backbone.

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Ukraine, he said, was already the first country to accept completely digital passports as ID and already had an e-government app called Diia that is used by millions.


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When will the plan be rolled out?

Fedorov broke down the plan by subject area, each with its own timeline.

Some needs are more urgent than others. The e-education plan, for example, has a timeline of just one year.

He highlighted that most of Ukraine's 4.2 million school pupils had been forced to move by the war.

The government is aiming to roll out laptops, tablets, and other equipment to help create the system.

Other goals, such as creating a cashless society, a modern e-health system or overhauling customs, had timelines of three years.

Are there problems with the approach?

One of the more eyebrow-raising parts of the plan is the use of artificial intelligence in the judicial system.

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Ukraine has already piloted an AI system to produce pre-trial and pre-sentencing reports assessing the risk of a suspect re-offending.

Fedorov introduced the idea in his presentation under the title "Judge Dredd".

The goal is to foster trust in the judicial system and provide an "attractive investment environment and business freedom" through use of AI in commercial courts.

However, the Fair Trials NGO warned in a report last year that "the very purpose" of using AI for risk assessments "is to undermine the fundamental right to be presumed innocent".

The NGO called for the practice to be banned.

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