The implications of Artificial Intelligence for the society

FinnishNews&Nordic Week is proud to have Kristina Persson as a contributing columnist. She is a Swedish politician of the Social Democrats and served as Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Minister for Strategic Development, under Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, from October 2014 to May 2016. She started her career in the Ministry of Finance in 1971, moved to the Secretariat for Future Studies, and then spent the 1980s in the Swedish trade union movement. During the 1990s she was an MP and then a MEP, before becoming a County Governor and Deputy Governor of the Swedish central bank. From 2007 she founded and led the one of Sweden’s most important think tanks called Global Challenge.

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There are five statements,which I think have a fundamental importance for the discussion we are having about AI:

1st–  Knowledgeis the prerequisite and the condition for future development in all countries. In the long run, even for the survival of the human race. And so it has always been.

2ndWe live at a time when a huge Transformation is absolutely necessary, in our economies and our societies. There are 2 main reasons:

  1. Global warming, and
  2. The rapid technological development of a disruptive nature, AIin particular.

The UN Agenda 2030 is a good starting point for this transformation, showing us what needs to be done in both the short and medium term.

3d – Governanceis key for all this. The greatest challenge of all is the absence of good and adequate governance in the world. We are running a race between real world challenges and our ability to govern our own future. We need good governance leading to better institutions and cooperation on all levels. Here is a recent report of the latest example.

And 4th, ThisCooperation – between public sector, industry, academia and civil society – must be characterized by high ethical and moral values.

5thValueswill decide whether the AI revolution will be a blessing or a curse for humanity in the future.

We will soon be reaching a decisive junction in the history of mankind when we have to ask ourselves some very fundamental questions like where do we want to go and be in the future?  Do we want life on earth to flourish for many 1000 years to come – or take the risk to end it, within a couple of centuries – if not even sooner? The answer should be easy. What is difficult, however, is to deliver the action needed and do the right things now.

New technology can enable us to eradicate famine, diseases and poverty all over the world. It can stop the serious threats to our ecosystems and climate. But at the same time, new technology in the wrong hands and for the wrong reasons can mean the end of our civilization.

This may sound very dramatic, but I can assure you – it is not science fiction. The development of AI is now so fast that many researchers believe that artificial general intelligence is only a few decades away. This means that AI will be able to accomplish any cognitive task, at least as well as humans – not only learn to play chess better or compose beautiful pieces of classical music, as it can already today.

It is therefore high time for governments around the world to act; The technological development can deliver increased productivity and great economic development but will need the interaction with a competent public sector. And there are a number of security and social issues at stake.  Access to the rawmaterial  for AI , so called “big data” is one. And the new rules and regulations need to be developed in international cooperation.

In short, AI will deliver, but the question is – what will it lead to? Solutions for the benefit of the planet and all mankind or huge economic gaps and injustices, maybe even the end of freedom and democracy? It´s we who decide. If power becomes very unequally divided, serious threats to democracy will be the consequence.

Last year I was invited by Google at the time of the OECD Annual conference to discuss the consequences for society of the new information technology. We were some 10 selected Europeans, representing the public interest. No-one could report any activity coming close to matching the potential consequences and challenges of the new information technology.

Why are governance and governments falling short of meeting the many challenges before us?

There are strategies and agreements, even laws but the crucial factor is missing: Concrete Action.

One reason is the complexity of the tasks and an inability to manage the whole. Politics should be proactive but is in reality characterized by reactivity and short-term thinking. The traditional government offices are often structured in vertical silos, unable to see and act in time in the interest of the whole. The silos are also reflected in the thinking and acting of both politicians and the civil servants.

It is this absence of good governance that has resulted in continued global warming and degraded ecosystems that, if not stopped very soon will have fatal consequences for our planet and for all of us. Without the balancing power from the public interest the continued AI revolution will in the hands of a small group of individual researchers and a few, extremely rich individuals and private companies. That is where we stand now.

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