»Easy Access to Child Benefit« with AI

After the birth of a child, everything is new at first, leaving little time for dealing with the authorities. »Easy Access to Child Benefit« is a successful service that has been reducing the red tape for parents in Hamburg since 2018. You can legally name your new-born baby, register its birth at the register office, order birth certificates, transfer the fees easily and apply for child benefit at the same time – without having to go to the authorities. In less than ten days, the birth certificates, child benefit notification and the child’s tax ID number arrive at your home by post. The child benefit is transferred directly to your bank account, and the child is automatically registered in the residents’ registration system. Since 22 June 2020, it has also been possible to do this online. The »Easy Access to Child Benefit« online service is available to parents via smartphone, tablet or a terminal at the hospital where the child was born. The data are sent electronically to the Register Office and the Family Benefits Office – meaning that there is no longer any need to present original documents nor any costs for printing forms – and much more besides. Authentication and signature are done via electronic identity card and PIN. This is not only convenient for parents, but also gives public administration the possibility for fully electronic data processing.

Hamburg Senate Chancellery, Fraunhofer FOKUS and Fraunhofer IDMT are now taking the next step: artificial intelligence (AI). The integration, unique so far, of a voice assistant into an online application will make the popular service even more convenient for parents and ensure optimum accessibility.

Applications made easy – with simple and intelligent communication 

Since the successful joint implementation at the beginning of 2019 of the »Speech Assistance for Citizen Services« demonstrator based on AI, Fraunhofer FOKUS and Fraunhofer IDMT have been working together to develop a flexible voice assistant solution for local authorities and public institutions. To this end, they are combining three building blocks based on different, high-performance AI approaches: Fraunhofer IDMT in Oldenburg is responsible for developing the speech recognition component (speech-to-text), which is insensitive to background noise and can be optimally adapted to application-specific terminology. The intelligent dialogue guidance and process control system developed by FOKUS, which can be flexibly adapted to specific scenarios, works primarily in an inference-based way and builds on a constraint handling rules engine. The versatile speech synthesis component (text-to-speech), which was also designed by FOKUS, uses special, state-of-the-art deep learning methods. Throughout the entire system, the confidential handling of speech and the text data derived from it is guaranteed in compliance with the highest data privacy standards through local data processing (in an on-premises private cloud infrastructure).

In the current project, this Fraunhofer speech assistance solution is being integrated into the »Easy Access to Child Benefit« online service in close cooperation with the Senate Chancellery’s project and service provider Dataport, and subjected to extensive practical tests in order to be able to advise and support citizens in the future, through simple and intelligent communication in natural language, when they apply online for administrative services.

»Our goal is for parents to be able to transmit their data online to the authorities simply, quickly and conveniently via their smartphone, either while still at the hospital or from home, and to send them their documents by post after a short time and, for example, for the child benefit to be in their bank account just a few days later,« explains Dr Brigitte Klamroth, project manager for »Easy Access to Child Benefit« at Hamburg Senate Chancellery’s Department of IT and Digitalisation. »With the integration of the voice assistant, Hamburg is once again pioneering and with this project creating a good example for the use of such systems in other administrative areas too.«

»AI has already been used by public administration for some time now for communicating with citizens – but only in the form of chatbots that just provide information,« adds Lutz Nentwig, project manager at Fraunhofer FOKUS. »Our system can help users to submit applications and answer individual questions at the same time – a big step towards easy and fast operability, and thus a more citizen-friendly public administration overall.«

Accessibility and compliance with data protection standards

In the course of the German government’s digitalisation programme – the Online Access Act – the development of intelligent digital voice assistants is of great practical relevance. While these have already established themselves in the online economy, smart home and private use as wide-ranging alternatives to conventional interaction with touchscreen and mouse, digital speech-assisted applications are still uncharted territory in public administration – among others for data privacy and data sovereignty reasons. In the Hamburg project, both are guaranteed: The data processed are stored in IT service provider Dataport’s secure, BSI-certified data centres directly in the city.

The new AI-based speech assistance solution is an important step towards simple communication between Hamburg’s public administration and its citizens: Digital citizen services in natural language not only help to make administrative processes more efficient and attractive, but are also a big advantage as far as accessibility is concerned. Especially for partially sighted people or those with reduced mobility, these technologies can make it easier for them to participate in modern everyday life.

Speech Assistance for Citizen Services

Interaction with authorities is often complex and lengthy. Can long waiting times and the time-consuming filling out of applications be avoided? Fraunhofer IDMT in Oldenburg and Fraunhofer FOKUS in Berlin are addressing this question in the »Language Assistant for Citizen Services« project.  

Speech Recognition for Products and Processes

Speech detection systems allow operation of technical systems without visual or physical contact. The speech recognition technology of the Fraunhofer IDMT in Oldenburg functions robustly - with and without an internet connection.

Oldenburg Branch for Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology HSA

The objective of the Oldenburg Branch for Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology HSA of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT is to transfer scientific findings related to hearing perception and man-machine interaction into technological applications.