Last Tuesday, 14th January 2020, was a big day for the Norwegian IT sector as the government’s national strategy for artificial intelligence was presented at a breakfast meeting at MESH, central Oslo. Over 160 people from business, academia and the public sector participated in the launch, as well as many who followed the event online.
«Norway has good conditions for succeeding with artificial intelligence. We have a population that wants to use new technology, a business that is already technologically advanced and a public sector that has come a long way with digitalization«
– Nikolai Astrup | Norwegian Minister of Digitalization
The presented strategy claims to serve as a framework for both public and private sectors that aim to develop and use artificial intelligence, especially in areas where Norway already is greatly positioned and has strong foundations, such as in health, oil and gas, energy, and marine industry. Regarding the current digital development, we see many countries have high ambitions where one worth mentioning is the UK.
Their AI strategy was initiated in 2017, which has by 2019 opened 16 New Centres for Doctoral Training in AI at universities across the country, industry funding for new Masters positions and numerous governmental funded scholar-ships. The UK has also partnered with the Open Data Institute (ODI) and Innovate UK on three Data Trusts pilots, which focus on tackling the illegal wildlife trade, reducing food waste, and improving public services in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London .
In order for Norway to advance, stay competitive and succeed they must dedicate significant efforts within their strategy. The most important trait that distinguishes AI from other automation methods is the ability of AI technology to learn and become “smarter” over time within the specific working conditions. Based on these shifts towards AI and new advancements in technology, the Government has identified the need to develop a national approach to AI in Norway.
With the emergence of digital trends, many have realized that AI has high potential and the ability to contribute with significant benefits in a variety of areas through increased economic growth, and solutions to environmental and social challenges.
The Importance of National Alignment
Examples of the contributions that AI make are already evident and help to better and relieve tremendous stress from the healthcare system, identify diseases, optimize energy consumption, reduce traffic accidents, create new services, streamline industrial production, develop new pharmaceutical products and shorten processing times. Although AI is rapidly evolving, benefits of AI will automatically be realized. For AI to best contribute to strengthened Norwegian competitiveness and enhanced welfare, Norway must create the enabling conditions, which this AI strategy is trying to achieve.
It is important that Norway can manage the numerous challenges associated with AI, especially because AI will affect people in general when tasks can be automated, and new tasks emerge. There are many reasons for unintended or unforeseen consequences of using AI which is a result of biases or manipulations in data, the lack of transparency that leads to unethical or unbalanced data, misuse or even hostile use. The reasons may, in turn, lead to discrimination, loss of trust, financial harm and consequences that have a direct impact on the functioning democracy. These reasons are why it is important for Norway to work actively on the issues that AI is already raising within both the private and public sectors. It will, therefore, be safe to say that the countries that succeed in harnessing and realizing the benefits of AI while managing the risks in a responsible manner will have a great competitive advantage internationally. Crucial conditions for Norway to grasp the benefits of the high potentials that AI brings to the Norwegian society, more concrete and specific conditions need to be defined as well as the national objective to align all sectors.
How Does Norway Offer an Internationally Attractive Working Environment?
The strategy is heavily focused on the collaboration between the private and the public sector and how the two should be intertwined with research in academia, where research plays a major role in educating the upcoming generations and funneling the knowledge into the business sector. Norway would need to develop its long-term supply of knowledge and expertise in the field of AI if it wants to reap the benefits of AI and clarify how in this regard. The need for relevant knowledge of AI must be met through education and training, continuing education and research. Innovation and use initiatives are also needed to promote early application projects.
Norway also needs to ensure access to data and infrastructure, such as computational capacity, in addition to appropriate national, European and international frameworks. The active promotion of AI applications in public sector activities can play a significant role in how the public sector succeeds in responding to major social challenges of the future. Public shareholders should therefore actively support AI applications by making relevant data available and creating national digital infrastructure, taking security and integrity issues into account.
What should be focused in the future following this initiative is sustainable AI, meaning that AI applications should be safe, ethical, transparent and secure and reliable where these considerations cannot be an afterthought, rather an integral part of the early design stage. In particular, this applies to critical systems and i.e those that may affect the physical world such as self-driving vehicles or AI applications in health care.
If Norway is able to strengthen these conditions, the nation will be well placed to offer an internationally attractive working environment for researchers, businesses, and others interested in AI research, development and areas of application. The purpose of this national approach is to identify some of the most important conditions for societal shareholders to manage together in relation to AI. For Norway to reap the benefits of AI, all sectors of society must be involved, since this initiative is not fulfillable by the state, municipalities, county councils, academia or private companies on their own.
National Efforts Will Create Technological Advances
AI knowledge and expertise must be available throughout society – in large and small businesses, in municipalities, county councils, and government agencies. Today, there is a shortage of people with AI expertise both in Norway and around the world, resulting in a stiff international competition for qualified people. As the use of AI increases, the shortage of expertise is likely to become more and more tangible. If the broader use of AI is to become a reality, it is essential that Norway educates and trains a sufficient number of people in the field. Norway’s higher education institutions are already developing their educational offer to meet the digital challenge.
We have through the last years seen this happening with Telenor funding the Telenor-NTNU AI Lab with 50 million NOK for investing in AI-related endeavors which results in up-scaling resources needed to produce advances in AI.
Relevant AI knowledge is not only essential for technical experts but also for leaders, managers and other professionals who interact with the technology. The rapid development of AI creates an increased need for lifelong learning. Closer collaboration between several societal actors is needed to address this. Increasingly rapid technological and societal development will require a very strong relationship between research, higher education, and innovation in AI.
Internationally, major investments are being made in AI research, especially in the United States and China, as the rapport states. In Norway, a large share of the central government research appropriations goes to basic research that is related in varying degrees to AI, such as computer science and mathematics, and primarily conducted at the technology-focused higher education institutions.
In the period 2015-2019, approx. 1.3 billion NOK was invested into IT development. Of these, almost 400 million have been allocated to research infrastructure, while over 240 million have been allocated to innovation projects in the business sector. AI, robotics and information management are also the areas that increase most of the various technology areas within ICT in the period 2015 – 2019 (Figure 1). Which indicates the future relevance and importance of AI in the future; Especially when AI strategies are NOW emerging.
Both the public and private sectors are very interested in harnessing and commercializing new research findings on AI. Innovative AI research will be able to contribute to exports, enhanced public services, and additional employment. Simultaneously, it is important that AI systems are carefully designed to prevent them from doing harm. Therefore. It is collateral critical that companies and public institutions collaborate with relevant academic environments, i.e through joint projects or employee exchanges.
Most of the world’s leading AI research is conducted beyond Norway’s borders and for Norway to be at the vanguard of AI research, it is important to maintain and develop cooperation with research environments in other countries, which the willingness to participate in the Horizon Europa Program comes forth in the rapport.
Risk-factors which AI entails may include new types of intelligent cyber-attacks or manipulate data that can have serious consequences, however, AI may also lower the thresholds for attacks against democratic practices such as through disinformation. The use of AI requires responsibility to be taken of moral and legal issues and presents challenges related to rule of law procedures and the automation of agency decisions.
Norway’s public sector has an almost unique volume of high-quality data, which is often a prerequisite for AI applications and if properly managed can contribute to creating considerable benefits and where Norway is a small country with a small domestic market. At the same time, many countries are investing heavily in AI and Norway will, therefore, need to develop partnerships with prominent players in other countries.
In light of the societal transformation that AI entails, it is important to work for a coherent and strategic AI policy that aims to create a safe, secure and favorable climate for digitization and capitalizing on the opportunities AI brings.
The development and use of AI need to be guided by norms and ethical principles while minimizing the risks to both society and individuals. This is not only a matter for researchers and engineers but for a wide range of professions. Access to data is the bread and butter of AI and a crucial part of the infrastructure. As societies become increasingly digital, a growing volume of data will most likely be available in digital forms. This includes manually and automatically collected data.
Appropriate frameworks of principles, norms, standards, and rules are therefore crucial prerequisites to triumph on an international scale. Such frameworks must balance fundamental needs for privacy, ethics, trust and social protection with access to the data needed to ensure a controlled and consistent commencement.
In such a fast-paced field where technology is evolving rapidly, guide frameworks and standards will be essential at an early stage to guide both private and public shareholders. AI standards have the potential to promote technical, semantic, legal and other forms of interoperability, between companies and public institutions, and further contribute to greater clarity for both users and consumers.
On a national scale, having an alignment with all involved parties would greatly benefit this initiative, where education, research, innovation and applied application within industry are build on top of well defined frameworks to rise Norway to a competitive arena within AI.
About the writers:
Pedram is currently working as an expert Machine Learning Engineer with emphasis on developing object recognition systems which in addition to his background in Artificial Intelligence is an attained experience gained during his several endeavors within a professional domain. Furthermore, he has been involved in diverse fields of Information Technology such as Front-End and API development or Machine Learning applications.
Pedram has a background in Nanoelectronics and Robotics with specialization in Signal processing and wrote his Master thesis research within image classification of medical imagery. He developed an assistive real-time classification system for doctors performing endoscopy on patients, which was the leeway into the exciting domain of Artificial Intelligence.
Pedram has a long term interest in the area of application of machine learning and AI. His main interests are in topics such as Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing and DataOps. And how the combination of the topics and how explaining, utilizing, producing solutions and understanding new challenges and situations where AI & ML is at the center, can create value.
Salman holds a master degree in Robotics and intelligent systems, and a bachelor degree in Nanoelectronics from University of Oslo and is a motivated and achievement-focused data scientist with years of experience in data analytics and machine learning fields.
With in-depth knowledge of data structures and algorithms, programming, statistical machine leaning from Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence) oriented academic background, Salman has further develop sound knowledge and skills in advanced analytics, deep learning, business process diagnostics and optimization, commercial acumen, and project management. Though working across a number of industries in Australia such as IT, healthcare, insurance, property, retail and GIS in recent years, Salman has gained extensive exposures to different domain knowledge and hand-on experience of solving various business challenges.
His enthusiasm would stay focused on data science, computer science and AI, especially around how to apply those technologies to solve real-world problems in multidisciplinary manner.