As Estonia's chief data officer, the 28-year-old graduate student is overseeing the tiny Baltic nation's push to insert artificial intelligence and machine learning into services provided to its 1.3 million citizens.
"We want the government to be as lean as possible," says the wiry, bespectacled Velsberg, an Estonian who is writing his PhD thesis at Sweden's Umeå University on using the Internet of Things and sensor data in government services. Estonia's government hired Velsberg last August to run a new project to introduce AI into various ministries to streamline services offered to residents.
Deploying AI is crucial, he says. "Some people worry that if we lower the number of civil employees, the quality of service will suffer. But the AI agent will help us." About 22 percent of Estonians work for the government; that's about average for European countries, but higher than the 18 percent rate in the US.
Siim Sikkut, Estonia's chief information officer, began piloting several AI-based projects at agencies in 2017, before hiring Velsberg last year. Velsberg says Estonia has deployed AI or machine learning in 13 places where an algorithm has replaced government workers.