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Data for common good: A Nordic approach to artificial intelligence

09.09.19 | Uutinen
Workshop activity at Ethical AI: Actioning a Nordic Stronghold Together, Techfestival 2019
Arild Moen /

Workshop activity at Ethical AI: Actioning a Nordic Stronghold Together, Techfestival 2019

While new technologies of artificial intelligence offer significant possibilities for the Nordic region, they also entail barriers and risks. Could we in the Nordic countries combine data with trust and transparency to solve the unavoidable ethical dilemmas and mitigate future unintended harm?

Highlights from the debate Ethical AI: Actioning a Nordic Stronghold Together arranged by Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) and Association of Nordic Engineers (ANE).

Mikkel Flyvebom, Professor and Director of digital transformations and management at Copenhagen Business School, says a starting point for identifying a Nordic approach to artificial intelligence (AI) should not be what is technically possible, but rather the kind of world we would like to live in.

“Today, we see clear differences in the use of artificial intelligence across the world. In China and USA, the use of AI is seen as problematic in terms of ethics, accountability and justice. The money and ways of thinking in Silicon Valley differs from what we in the Nordics and Europe would like to pursue. Going after a Silicon Valley-approach is really flipping things around, “said Mikkel.

“Instead we in the Nordics should ask which problems need solving and what our ambitions are for justice and fairness towards humankind, open society and transparent public sector,” Mikkel said at Techfestival 2019 in Copenhagen, in a debate titled Ethical AI: Actioning a Nordic Stronghold Together arranged by NCM and ANE.

Based on the Nordic and EU core values, we may perhaps have more resources when it comes to verifying the ethical aspect of AI compared to regions where individual rights are not that strong. If so, that could be a competitive advantage.

A remark from the audience
Panellists at workshop - Ethical AI: Actioning a Nordic Stronghold Together, Techfestival 2019

From  left: Moderator Christiane Vejlø, Mikael Anneroth, Lars Maaløe, Mikkel Flyverbom and Vanessa Julia Carpenter

Arild Moen /

Ethical AI

However, Mikael Anneroth, expert on the human and society perspectives of information and communications technologies at Ericsson Research, said it would be dangerous to think that we in the Nordics are the ones facing ethics in the “right way”.

“MIT made a survey among 2.3 million people about how a self-driving car should decide between two bad outcomes, revealing three distinct value bases. So, we need a global discussion and bring in USA and Asia to find the common denominators for what is ethical,” said Mikael.

He reminded that while it is not possible to make AI systems that are ethical in themselves, we can develop algorithms that take ethical considerations to minimise or prevent unintended harm.

AI can be understood as the intelligence attributed to the computing of systems that display intelligent behaviour by perceiving, learning and concluding.

“Today’s AI systems are very narrow, doing specific tasks and not always that well. A bottleneck for developing ethical AI is a lack of awareness among engineers about the future impact on societies, the work force and new business models. There is a felt need in the AI industry to maintain trustworthiness, but it is still a long way to go before the mitigation of possible negative side effects becomes part of the DNA of engineer culture,” said Mikael.

“We lack a tool kit to assess future AI solutions ethically, so it is not enough to just make public and corporate guidelines.”

In 2018, the Nordic ministers responsible for digital development adopted a policy to develop and promote the use of artificial intelligence to serve humans better.

To serve humans better

Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the NCM, says the emergence of new technologies, such as AI, machine learning, big data robotics, and blockchain, and especially their convergence, will be the driving force of change and innovation in the way we are doing business and how we live.

"Used in the right way digital technologies can be important enablers and tools to achieve sustainable solutions. As digital frontrunners the Nordics have a responsibility utilising our strong capacity and skills developing advanced digital solutions to help solve major societal challenges in our societies," said Paula.

Trond Markussen, President of ANE said on the sideline of the debate that it is important to ensure that the use of AI technologies do not undermine the trust, which is the cornerstone of the Nordic region.

“While EU GDPR bans using data to identify people, there is an example of one Swedish school allegedly running facial recognition to check attendances. In the USA, the use of surveillance technology to monitor workers' every move and rank performance is growing alarmingly fast. Instead, artificial intelligence should be made to serve humans better and not invade our privacy,” Trond said.

Be proactive

Vanessa Julia Carpenter, Ph.D. in Designing for Meaningfulness in future smart products at Aalborg University, said she sees disconnect between academia and the AI industry.

“A lot of research on ethical technologies are being done, but it is really hard to bring that out in the open” Vanessa says, adding “So, go ask a researcher.”

“Ethics and technology should not only be on the political agenda, we also need to actually implement. When starting digital design projects, we need to start thinking ethics from a very early start and throughout the process,” Vanessa said.

Input from the audience

The workshop was moderated by Christiane Vejlø, CEO of consulting and digital media company Elektronista. Here are some of the comments she got from the audience:

  • “Regulations in the Nordics is a bottleneck, we do not move fast and break things.”
  • “We should not fool ourselves believing that a late and slow upcoming Nordic market will make cutting edge AI.”
  • “Why not export the concept of the Ombudsman supervisory authority as the Nordics’ contribution to AI, instead of running behind Silicon Valley.
  • “There is a lot of focus on how to use AI to make money, but I think there is a great potential for benefiting public services.

“It is important to have this democratic conversation right now, and to open it up to a broader group of stakeholders and citizens. Inspired by Techfestival’s The Copenhagen Catalogue, we are very happy to have created the session together with ANE, and to have engaged an active crowd to provide a catalogue of ideas to our future work with data, AI and ethics, " stated Signe van Zundert, project officer on Digitalisation at the Nordic Council of Ministers.

"We want to thank everyone who participated, contributed and brought new perspectives in to our work.”