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AI – a threat to Nordic democracy?

AI – a threat to Nordic democracy?

| Text and photo: Line Scheistrøen

How will artificial intelligence influence democracy? That was the big question during the marking of Nordic Day in Oslo. Do not think the EU’s AI Act will solve all our problems, the warning went.

Nordic Day was marked in Oslo with an event focusing on artificial intelligence and democracy. The seminar was a collaboration between the Norwegian parliament, the University of Oslo and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The question was: What does the technological revolution we are facing mean for our democracies? What can the Nordic countries gain from working together on these issues? How do we face new challenges and how do we use artificial intelligence to strengthen our societies? 

The Nordic region can contribute

During a meeting in Oslo in October last year, the Nordic Council of Ministers set up a working group to look at AI's impact on democracy.  

“The Nordic countries play a special part here because our societies are built on social cohesion, transparency and strong democratic traditions. That’s why we have decided to establish a working group which will look at the concerns we all share when it comes to how new technology can influence the democratic conversation,” said Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir at that time. 

Gry Hasselbalch and Eirin Larsen

Gry Hasselbalch (left) from the think tank, with moderator Eirin Larsen, head of social media at Dagens Næringsliv.

Co-founder of the think tank Gry Hasselbalch is a member of the Nordic working group that will provide recommendations on ethics and AI for Nordic authorities.

Hasselbalch has also been advising the EU during its development of the new AI regulations. The aim is to introduce common rules and a legal framework for artificial intelligence. 

Hasselbalch participated in the panel debate at the Oslo seminar. She underlined that the EU regulations will have a big impact but that the Nordic region also can contribute a lot. 

“The Nordic region is in a good position. It has established a reputation as a region that develops technology and industry that address some of the challenges we are facing,” said Hasselbalch.

Level playing field

Norway’s Minister of Digitalisation and Public Governance Karianne Tung (Labour) believes in combining the EU regulations and Norwegian legislation. 

“The EU is creating a good framework, but the Norwegian legal system is also well equipped for the use of artificial intelligence. Our laws are by and large technology neutral,” said Tung. 

She underlined that the government will work rapidly to implement the EU regulations as soon as possible.

“I believe it is also important to regulate in order to create room for innovation. Regulations set out good rules for what is allowed and what is not. For businesses and others in Norway it is important to be on a level playing field with the rest of Europe,” said Tung.

Warned against being naive 

Nikolai Astrup from the Norwegian Conservative Party was Norway’s first Minister of Digitalisation between 2019 and 2020. Today he is an opposition MP.

Late last autumn, the Conservatives launched a plan for artificial intelligence. The party presented a long list of measures aimed at making sure AI will be used in a safe and valuable way. 

Astrup underlined that AI presents both challenges and opportunities. It already has a role within the health sector and in industry, amongst other things. 

“Nordic industry has the chance for instance to take the lead on industrial applications of artificial intelligence,” he argues.

Helge Orten and Anne Beathe Tvinnereim

Head of the Norwegian parliament's delegation to the Nordic Council Helge Orten ( Conservatives) and Minister for Nordic Cooperation Anne Beathe Tvinnereim (Centre Party) hosted the seminar in the Norwegian parliament. 

He strongly supports cooperation within the Nordic region, but also in Europe. He is in favour of the most effective implementation possible of the EU’s AI Act. At the same time, he had this warning: We must not believe we can regulate away all the challenges that come with artificial intelligence. 

“When every one of us, no matter where we are in the world, can start using this, we have a gigantic challenge,” he said. 

According to Astrup, it would be naive to believe that nobody will try to influence things like elections, also in the Nordics, when we see that this has been happening in other countries.

Cannot regulate everything

Petter Bae Brandtzæg is a professor in media innovation, linked to the University of Oslo and SINTEF. He warned against believing that the EU’s AI Act will solve all challenges linked to artificial intelligence. He encourages new thinking and more innovation.

“Rather than introducing a heap of restrictions, we need to create good verification tools,” argued Bae Brandtzæg. He believes it is important that we can still live in a well-functioning democracy. 

“We have to keep having an open society where everybody can be in dialogue even though we have AI-generated content,” the professor said.

AI in school

Minister of Digitalisation and Public Governance Karianne Tung believes it is important to strengthen the population’s digital skills. Tung said she is following closely Sweden and Denmark’s introduction of AI as a separate subject in higher secondary education. 

“We think that youths have a lot of digital competence, but I am actually not so sure. Yes, they are good at clicking on screens, but how much do they really understand about programming and content, for instance? Understanding the technology and not least the connection between tech and society is incredibly important,” Tung said.

Petter Bae Brandtzæg thinks it might be wise to introduce a separate subject in schools covering artificial intelligence and media literacy. 

“We do not gain these important skills by using ChatGPT on an iPad. I do not think children and youths should be using this type of technology before they are media literate enough,” said Bae Brandtzæg.

A democratic challenge

Minister of Digitalisation and Public Governance Karianne Tung (Labour), MP Nikolai Astrup (Conservatives) and Gard Steiro, VG editor-in-chief sjefredaktør, participated in the panel debate on artificial intelligence and democracy.


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