05 June 2024

Towards a Digital Society: Trinidad and Tobago’s AI Ambitions

By Livia Martinescu

Trinidad and Tobago’s growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) signals a significant shift in the nation’s digital landscape. With a keen focus on leveraging AI for the public good, the country is embarking on strategic initiatives to harness the potential of emerging technologies. Our conversation with Irwin Williams, Head of Software Development at iGovTT, provides valuable insights into Trinidad and Tobago’s evolving approach to embracing AI.

The country’s ambitions regarding AI are closely tied with the nation’s broader national policy priorities, comprising a clear focus on digital transformation and societal advancement. While Trinidad and Tobago currently lacks an AI strategy, the country published a National Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Plan 2018-2022. As part of the wider approach to digital transformation, the government is using ICT as the vehicle for the delivery of public goods and services and strengthening of institutional capacity. 

All Government entities are now online and information on Government services can be found on the government portal, ttconnect. The aim is to deploy ICTs to transform operations of Government Ministries and Agencies to a state where digital becomes the default, in turn reducing inefficiency and increasing productivity. The overarching goal of making Trinidad and Tobago a digital society underscores the importance of embracing emerging technologies such as AI. Despite the challenge posed by the country’s relatively small population, multiple initiatives are underway to leverage AI to its fullest potential. 

AI in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Digital Transformation was established in 2021 to further Trinidad and Tobago’s objective of becoming a ‘Digital First Government’. The department represents the forefront of the country’s AI agenda and plays a pivotal role in steering the country towards becoming a digital society. The ministry has adopted a multifaceted approach to realise this goal, with notable achievements in capacity development and fostering innovation.

Central to the ministry’s agenda is the nurturing of talent and fostering an environment that is conducive to innovation. By empowering teams of developers through grants and support, the ministry is driving the creation of solutions tailored to local needs and laying the groundwork for potential economic growth. 

The success of these efforts is exemplified by the DHub program, which has garnered significant participation from developers. What began as an initiative to engage a few hundred developers has now flourished into a community of over 700 registered participants. The uptake level signals the widespread interest and commitment to digital transformation within the country.

Another notable step forward is establishing a whole-government data centre, which aims to optimise resource allocation and facilitate seamless data flow across different sectors.  Additionally, the ministry focuses on fostering an ecosystem that is conducive to the development of unicorns — standout startups with the potential for exceptional success. 

Moreover, Trinidad and Tobago is actively exploring the integration of AI technologies into both new and existing services. This includes the deployment of large language models for internal development purposes and enhancing software capabilities. The country’s AI utilisation for citizens is concentrated in a robust Chatbot programme, pointing to the country’s commitment to enhancing public engagement and service delivery. Through such Chatbots, citizens gain easy access to information regarding government services, streamlining interactions with various agencies and providing invaluable assistance.

Developing a policy framework for AI

In terms of AI governance policies, Trinidad and Tobago is taking deliberate steps to understand the nuances of the AI landscape before crafting tailored approaches. Central to Trinidad and Tobago’s policymaking tactic is community engagement, characterised by a grassroots ethos that prioritises inclusivity and diverse voices. 

By involving stakeholders from all strata of society, the government seeks to co-create policies that are not only effective but also reflective of the country’s unique context. The approach prioritises putting in place safeguards and promoting public awareness, as the government prefers to advance prudent governance in a time of rapid technological advancement, marked by the advent of LLMs.

Recent initiatives, such as a seminar jointly hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation and local Intellectual Property offices, demonstrate the government’s proactive approach to engaging stakeholders and fostering dialogue around AI-related issues. By convening experts across various domains, including mobile app development and intellectual property law, the government is able to gain deeper insights into the multifaceted implications of AI across sectors. This way, Trinidad and Tobago aims to understand the intricacies of their AI landscape, accommodating diverse perspectives.

Domestic and international collaboration

In terms of public investments for AI research and development, Trinidad and Tobago is nurturing collaborations between government and academic institutions. The University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago have demonstrated a commitment to advancing AI research and leveraging its applications within the country – both institutions have established programmes dedicated to AI research and utilisation. Although the extent of direct financial support from the government to these specific AI initiatives remains unclear, it is plausible that government funding indirectly supports these academic endeavours through broader institutional support.

The country also aims to foster collaboration with other neighbouring nations. Trinidad and Tobago’s involvement in regional cooperation mechanisms focused on AI and government digital transformation reflects a proactive approach towards fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange within the Caribbean community. 

A notable instance of Trinidad and Tobago’s regional engagement at the CANTO conference,  hosted by the Caribbean Network of Telecommunications Operators with the intention of advancing a sustainable digital economy in the region. In January, The National Information and Communication Technology Company Limited (iGovTT), representing the country’s digital governance initiatives, presented its mission and goals, extending an invitation for collaboration to other operators within the region. This platform served as a springboard for dialogue and cooperation, with a shared recognition of the value in collective progress within the digital space.

Trinidad and Tobago’s strides in AI governance and digital transformation underscore a strong commitment to leverage technology for societal betterment. With initiatives fostering innovation, inclusive policymaking, and regional collaboration, the country is poised to harness the full potential of AI for the benefit of its citizens and the broader Caribbean community. As Trinidad and Tobago continues its journey towards becoming a digital society, its approach serves as a testament to the relevance of strategic vision and collaborative action in navigating the complexities of the AI landscape.

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