In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, the Ukrainian Minister for Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, talked about Ukraine’s plans to become a leader among global digital countries; how education will be reformed to achieve that; and how he sees the future of artificial intelligence in Ukraine.
You support the view that the government's job is to solve people's problems, but it sometimes forgets this. On March 21, you became Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Development of Education, Science and Technology and Minister of Digital Transformation. So how are you going to solve people's problems now?
The task now facing the Ukrainian government is related to the development of its human resource. That is, where we will be in 5-10 years as a country. What competencies and knowledge will Ukrainians need? And how to educate and teach our people this. It is about the future, education, innovation, and technology.
Therefore, we are currently developing this concept: what will we do, what will be the top reforms and top projects; how will we transform Ukrainian education; and how to implement new technologies.
Photo by Kyiv Post
Do you already have a clear understanding of education?
The first thing we are currently focusing on is collecting quality information about our education system. This is a fundamental sphere of life in any country, so there is no need to make any quick decisions in order not to break anything, while at the same time properly developing the system that already exists.
We will collect all the necessary information about each school, professional education institution and universities. What are the salaries, what is the condition of the premises, what is the situation with professional personnel, with teachers, what is their level of competence?
What is your prediction of when we will be able to see and feel the first impact of the reform?
We are analyzing how Finland, Estonia, the USA and other European countries reformed their education systems. Of course, any experience begins with the knowledge that the result of the transformation of education will only be seen in 10, 20, or 30 years.
But the world is moving faster than ever, and we have advantages. We are actively developing online education. Unfortunately, this is due to a pandemic and a full-scale war. Still, we have changes in consumer culture that differ from other countries. We need to use this to provide a quick result in parallel.
Therefore, the reform will definitely be based on the principle of digitalization, reducing bureaucracy, making up gaps in students' knowledge and online education. We will integrate our weak and strong points in such a way as to give a quick result for our children. But at the same time, we will carry out fundamental reforms related to the freedom of the management educational institutions, training of teachers and lecturers and decent remuneration.
But any educational process is about time. Because first you need to get information, process it, then implement reforms - only then will there be results.
Because of the war, many teachers left Ukraine. Will it have a negative impact on the implementation of the reform?
This is definitely the most difficult challenge, because we are losing the important human capital involved in raising our children. Especially within the de-occupied territories, where there are children but not enough teachers. I want to tell you honestly that, today, we do not know how many teachers have left. Some schools do not disclose this information. Therefore, we are now collecting quality information to generally understand where we are. When we win we need to resume the process of face-to-face education - this will also be a challenge if the teachers do not return by then. But on the other hand, this is an extraordinary opportunity for us to attract more young personnel into the education system.
Do your views on the reform coincide with the new Minister of Education, Oksen Lisovyi?
Of course, we share the same vision. Before his appointment, we had many meetings with the president to synchronize and validate our ideas. That is, it is a conscious reform.
When will you present your vision of education reform to the public?
We plan to make an interim presentation in May and June. Not later.
Photo by Kyiv Post
Not so long ago, Estonia was considered the most digitized country in Europe. Given Ukraine's breakthrough in digital transformation, has the situation changed? Where is Ukraine?
It is difficult to evaluate because there are various ratings, in which we currently do not participate because everything is developing rapidly. For example, how to evaluate the leap we made in digitization if we launched “ePidtrymka” (a program created to encourage people to get COVID-19 vaccinations and to support those sectors of the economy that have suffered the most from quarantine restrictions) - a service that was not available in any country in the world. Or, for example, we are currently working on the launch of “eVidnovlennya”: citizens whose real estate has been damaged by shelling will be given money on a virtual card for reconstruction. That is, we are launching projects that no country has ever launched.
That's why we don't fight for some grade. But from the point of view of the readiness of the digital infrastructure, we are becoming more and more ready for breakthroughs and to take first place in the digital world.
But we don't focus on that. For us, the most important thing is that Ukrainians feel that they live in the most convenient country in the world. We have many projects that need to be implemented. This year, we will definitely finish the most popular services. But there are still a lot of unnecessary services that need to be "killed". We constantly analyze how things can be improved.
Let's talk about artificial intelligence (AI). How long has it been used in government agencies?
We are currently working on pilot projects, based on AI, in support of our contact center. We teach and integrate AI where it will help to process citizens' applications and where the services we provide can benefit from its application.
Our hope is that a person to be able to get a clear answer from AI to any question regarding interaction with the state, even a life hack. And we are already doing it. I think that there will be a result in the summer.
It is a certain challenge, but we mustn’t be afraid to face it. I do not believe in blocking AI.
Will artificial intelligence replace many jobs in the future?
100%. We are talking about tens of thousands of people. Therefore, you must remember: either you will deal with AI, or it will replace you. For example, I actively use it. This is my AI advisor.
Will AI be able to replace the Minister of Digital Transformation?
I hope, one day.
You call on the Deezer, YouTube Music, and Apple platforms to block Russian music. Because the money received by Russian performers on these platforms goes through taxes to finance the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Have you already managed to agree on something?
So far, there is no substantive result regarding our requests. But I think that it is necessary to raise this topic, we need the support of Ukrainians and citizens of other countries. Otherwise, there will be no reaction.
But this is really a big problem - cultural and ideological. Because, on the one hand, I don't understand why Russian songs, even by maximally pro-Russian artists, still enter the Ukrainian charts. At the same time, these platforms make promos for Russian artists who publicly support the Russian army.
Photo by Kyiv Post
It seems to me that the blocking of Russian music content is also important as part of the information war. This is an important tool for protecting our democracy and freedom.
Currently, the blocking of the TikTok social network has begun in many countries. Officials in particular are prohibited from using it due to the threat of leaking information to Chinese owners of the application. Is Ukraine planning to join?
We are not considering blocking TikTok at this time. Instead, we actively train officials in basic digital literacy. Therefore, I hope that they will not be vulnerable using these or other applications. Ukrainian officials are very often attacked by phishing and mailings. They are constantly trying to break us.
Do you use TikTok?
Are you not afraid that Chinese hackers can use your data in their own interests?
In this case, I have protection against cyberattacks installed on my smartphone. It works 100%.
What is the situation with cyber-attacks in Ukraine? How many cyberattacks can there be per week?
Since February 24, Russia has launched about 7,000 cyberattacks on Ukraine. Most complex attacks are against government organizations and authorities, the security and defense sector, the commercial sector, transport, telecom, IT, the financial sector, and the energy sector. There is a constant attempt by phishing to gain access to administrators and registries. Constant DDoS attacks - dozens every day. Ukrainian cyber experts are successfully repelling them.
Can we, Ukrainians, be sure that the registers are 99% protected?
We have been in a full-scale war for over a year and we have not had a single leak of sensitive information.
Photo by Kyiv Post
I will say that all the agencies responsible for cyber security re vigilant 24/7. We have done the most important thing - moved our digital infrastructure to the cloud. It is now maximally protected from physical impacts, for example, missiles. But this does not mean that we should relax and do nothing. We are currently working on a new cybersecurity law. We will conduct cyber training. We are constantly developing, improving, and updating the rules of administration of registers. We attack ourselves and look for vulnerabilities in ourselves.
When the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation began, Ukraine was helped by the global hacker community Anonymous. Are they still in contact with us and helping us?
I'm sure they're on the bright side, as they were. But I personally have no communication with them. Currently, so many Ukrainian groups are involved in cyber warfare that all public and non-public cases, that I know of, are conducted by Ukrainian specialists.
What has changed after the decision of Elon Musk's company SpaceX to limit Ukraine's use of the Starlink Internet for controlling drones?
I have already emphasized that I consider Musk to be one of the largest private investors. And his influence on the war is inestimable. What he did for Ukraine is one of the most important components for our defense.
Everything is working now. Everyone uses Starlink. We continue to be in touch. Therefore, in general, there are no negative changes for us now.
If one-day Musk tweets that will ban Ukraine from using Starlink, do you have a plan B - just in case?
Of course, we are working on backup networks even on the front line. No company will replace Starlink, this must be understood. But we will not remain abandoned and helpless.
Do you keep in touch with Musk?
I have constant communication, to him in person or with his team when needed.
What was the last thing you talked to him about? Did he ask you anything about Ukraine, about the war?
It is not very correct to talk about personal communication. As I said, I'm sure everything will work. Musk once assured me personally that despite everything (when there were questions about the financing of Starlink in Ukraine) he would never stop supporting Ukraine.
Does he want to invest in Ukraine after the victory?
All our conversations are now about current issues. But after our victory, I think he will invest in Ukraine.
Do the Russians use Starlink?
No, they don't use it. So that this does not happen in the temporarily occupied territory, we have the right safeguards against it.
Photo by Kyiv Post
You announced the launch of the military tech cluster in Ukraine. Tell us more about what it is about.
We saw that in a year of full-scale war, many projects appeared that ensure our security and which were not previously on our radar. And they have already become quite influential on the battlefield. Thanks to United24 (the platform for one-click donations to Ukraine from anywhere) and other donors, even without the state budget, assistance has already been given to such projects. And they began to grow actively.
We are currently studying the experience of other countries, how they lived during the great wars, what they did, how they made decisions, how governments worked, what innovations were developed and what weapons were made.
We have come to the point that we have to launch a platform that will support military projects with grants, expertise, and communication with the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense. It is necessary that these projects receive large-scale funding, and scientists can integrate into the real sector. The military tech cluster Brave1, which we will launch in the coming weeks, will be such a platform for them. If you want to do business or have an idea for a startup in the field of security, you apply and get all the answers and help.
I am certain that projects will be born there that will protect us and strike the Russians.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter