Is your country ready for AI? Singapore and UK lead new global ranking

Opinion: China and Russia trail behind the leaders in AI readiness

This article was written by Mark Robbins, senior researcher at the Institute on Governance. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed.


2017 saw the launch of the Oxford Insights Government AI Readiness Index, which ranks governments according to how prepared they are to respond to the disruption that is coming with artificial intelligence.  

This year’s rankings are now out, and there have been several changes to their scope and methodology. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the significantly increased number of countries being ranked.

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The 2019 Index added 159 new countries this year, mostly from the developing world, which represents a roughly 450% increase in the size of this year’s coverage compared with the inaugural index. The Index was produced this year with the support of Canada’s International Development Research Center, as part of their AI for Development (AI4D) initiative.

The major categories used in the Index have also been adjusted somewhat. The 2019 rankings include consideration of more recent developments that have decidedly emerged as quite important to government AI readiness, namely the state of data protection and privacy laws, as well as the presence of a national AI strategy. These are all very positive developments that contribute to the richness of the ranking and contribute to the increased validity of its results.

Singapore jumps straight to the top

As for the results themselves, Singapore comes in on 1st place for government AI preparedness (they are new to the Index this year), followed closely by the United Kingdom, who topped the rankings in 2017, as runners up. Germany is in 3rd place, moving up substantially from 13th place last year. The United States is in 4th place, ahead of Finland (5th), Canada and Sweden (joint 6th), France (8th), Denmark (9th), and Japan (10th).

Many of the top ranked countries from 2017 remain highly ranked in 2019 as well, although there is some marginal shifting of positions within the top tier of countries. All told, 15 of the countries ranked in the top 20 in 2017 remain in the top 20 in 2019. Some countries such as Denmark and Spain have seen significant shifts from their positions in the 2017 Index, but much of this can be attributed to changes in metrics, which from a methodological standpoint have been for the better.

With the exception of South Korea, none of the countries falling out of the top 20 have any form of national AI strategy, and most AI strategies in existence have been developed in the past two years

The 2019 Index places a greater emphasis on direct government activities rather than the innovation climate related to AI more generally, which is easier to capture but less representative of actual readiness. These methodological changes from those in the 2017 Index therefore represent a positive development and a welcome improvement since although private sector innovation metrics may be helpful signposts, private sector innovation does not always translate into government preparedness.

This evolution of the metrics includes a new ranking category for governance and emphasis on metrics such as digital service provision by government, effectiveness of government more broadly, government availability of data, the existence of a national AI strategy and procurement processes for advanced technology.

In this sense the strong declines that some countries saw in their rankings are not altogether an indication of poor performance over the past year, and are partly an indication of the Index’s evolving maturity as the increasing availability of data on government allows for more direct performance measures and less reliance on the use of proxy data.

Failure to innovate

With that being said, the evolution of the metrics has also captured a failure to innovate by some. For example, it is likely no coincidence that with the exception of South Korea, none of the countries falling out of the top 20 have any form of national AI strategy, and most AI strategies in existence have been developed in the past two years.

Other interesting observations include that for all its policy activity and persistence towards achieving global AI leadership, China remains just outside of the top tier, although ranked at 20th. China’s approach to government openness, including with open data, and some issues of government effectiveness are no doubt at play.

Russia, another country which is actively in pursuit of AI leadership, is ranked 29th, being held back principally by low rankings for government effectiveness and private sector innovation competitiveness. As the global race for AI continues to unfold and heat up, this Index from Oxford Insights will no doubt continue to be an important barometer for change going in to 2020! — Mark Robbins

(Photo credit: Unsplash)

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