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Turkey: The first national AI strategy

On 20 August 2021, Presidential Circular No. 2021/18 on the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2021-2025 ('the Strategy'), prepared in cooperation with the Digital Transformation Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey ('DTO') and the Ministry of Industry and Technology, and with active participation of all relevant stakeholders, was published in the Official Gazette, immediately entering into effect upon its publication. Fatih Ermis, Can Taşdemir, and Meriç Yıldırım, from Ozbay & Okumus, analyse the Strategy and its potential impact on the development of AI in Turkey.

goinyk / Essentials collection / istockphoto.com

The Strategy identifies six strategic priorities. Within the scope of these strategic priorities, 24 objectives and 119 measures have been determined. These aims and measures outline the actions that the implementing institutions will determine in detail afterwards. As in other countries, the Strategy will be revised and updated when the need arises during the implementation period.

The Strategy will be implemented in a two-layered system. The first layer will provide coordination at the strategic level, while the second layer will coordinate at the administrative and technical levels. These strategies have been designed around the aspects of 'organizational competence', 'strategic consistency' and 'governance'. Furthermore, three core artificial intelligence ('AI') competencies, 'skills', 'data' and 'infrastructure', are at the Strategy's centre of focus.

In addition, the Strategy envisages the following high-level objectives, to be achieved by 2025, which is the end of the implementation period of the Strategy,:

  • the contribution of AI to Gross Domestic Product ('GDP') will be raised to 5%;
  • employment in the field of AI in all public institutions and organisations, private sector, and universities will be increased to 50,000 workers;
  • employment in the field of AI in central and local government public institutions and organisations will be increased to 1,000 people;
  • the number of graduate-level diploma holders in AI will be increased from 1,218 to 10,000;
  • AI applications developed by the local ecosystem will be prioritised in public procurement and commercialisation will be supported;
  • active contribution will be made to the regulatory studies and standardisation processes of international organisations in the field of reliable and responsible AI and cross-border data sharing; and
  • it will be ensured that Turkey is among the first 20 countries in the rankings in the international AI indices.

Key values and principles

The Strategy was prepared with the participation of local and central government institutions, private sector, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations, who contributed to the drawing up on a number of key principles upon which the Strategy is grounded.

  • Respect for human rights, democracy, and rule of law: AI systems must give priority to universally recognised human rights, democratic values, and the rule of law.
  • Supporting the environment: AI systems must support a sustainable environment and ecosystem.
  • Ensuring diversity and inclusion: Social and cultural diversity must be ensured throughout the life cycle of AI systems. These systems cannot impose restrictions on people's lifestyles, thoughts, and beliefs.
  • Living in peaceful, equitable, and interconnected societies: AI systems should aim to help contribute to human live in harmony with one other.
  • Proportionality: AI systems can never pursue illegitimate purposes. Risk analysis must be made against potential damages and necessary measures must be taken to prevent occurrence of damage.
  • Safety and security: AI systems must work reliably to ensure safety and security against possible damages which may occur on the environment and living beings.
  • Fairness: AI systems should be designed in a manner that adheres to fundamental rights and freedoms and that benefits everyone equally. The special needs of disadvantaged groups in society must be considered and it must be ensured that the actions of AI systems do not discriminate against different demographic fractions.
  • Privacy and data protection: AI systems should be designed in a such a way that they do not violate privacy and protection of personal data. Documents and information regarding the processing of personal date must always be open to inspection.
  • Transparency and explainability: People have right to be informed about their decisions based on AI algorithms and to request information from relevant firms.
  • Accountability: Individuals and organisations in the life cycle of AI systems are responsible for these systems running orderly and the applications of the principles enumerated.
  • Data sovereignty: AI systems must fall into line with international and national regulations in the use of data throughout their life cycle.
  • Multi-stakeholder governance: The involvement of various stakeholders is required in the life cycle of AI systems, including public institutions, NGOs, international organisations, academics, media, private sector, educators, and human right institutions.

Strategic priorities, objectives, and measures

  • Raising AI experts and increasing employment rates in AI: First, the employment of AI experts will be increased in line with requirements. Moreover, academic and technical capacity of universities will be increased, in turn enhancing the quality and quantity of the undergraduate, graduate and master programs. Programming, algorithmic thinking, and practical AI courses will be provided for other students according to their talent and interests.
  • Supporting innovation, entrepreneurship and research: Public support for the development and application of AI technologies will be increased and the quality and quantity of initiatives that develop original AI products and services will be increased. In addition, clusters where advanced R&D activities can be carried out in the field of AI will be established.
  • Facilitating access to quality data and technical infrastructure: Shared access opportunities will be provided to researchers and initiatives that need infrastructures in AI studies, open-source software, and algorithm libraries for AI will be compiled and made available to the AI ecosystem and open data sharing will be generalised.
  • Regulating and accelerating socioeconomic adaptation: An agile and inclusive legal harmonisation process will be implemented, including a governance mechanism that will facilitate impartiality, data privacy and ethical values audits and algorithmic accountability. Moreover, research and awareness on the effects and risks of AI technologies on the socioeconomic structure will be increased.
  • Strengthening international cooperation: Global data governance, reliable and responsible AI studies, participation in cross- border filed projects (with a priority in the financial frameworks of the EU), carrying out joint projects and cooperation activities at the international level.
  • Accelerating structural and labour transformation: The DTO will establish a public AI ecosystem and technical infrastructure to speed up AI studies in public organisations. Moreover, there are plans to restructure Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) Artificial Intelligence Institute, which will play a significant role in the development of the AI ecosystem.

Governance mechanism

A two-layered governance mechanism will be established, with the following two core aspects:

  • a steering mechanism for strategic alignment, maintaining the visionary attitude and top-level coordination; and
  • an AI Ecosystem administrative and technical governance mechanism for administrative, technical and legal coordination, and application of AI values and principles, developing solutions and implementing actions.

Conclusion

The Strategy establishes a number of short, medium, and long-term plans for the development of AI in Turkey. It is expected that statistical data collection will be difficult in the near future due to the lack of comprehensive data such as the GDP of AI and employment statistics in this field. Although the majority of the effects of the plans determined in the Strategy are hard to fully envisage at this stage, it is highly likely that investments made in AI technologies in public sector and private sector will increase due to the measures and incentives indicated in the Strategy. In addition, it is likely that we may see an increase in regulations in the field of the protection of personal data processed in relation to AI.

Fatih Ermis Associate
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Can Taşdemir Intern
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Meriç Yıldırım Intern
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Ozbay & Okumus, Istanbul 
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