Den 29 augusti var Kristina Persson, tankesmedjans grundare och f.d. minister för strategi- och framtidsfrågor, inbjuden att medverka på Interamerikanska utvecklingsbankens (IADB) årliga konferens i Buenos Aires, Argentina. Innovation, teknik och artificiell intelligens var konferensens tema och Kristina var inbjuden att prata om sina erfarenheter av att vara en av världens första ministrar med ansvar för framtidsfrågor.
Talet som dels kom att handla om hennes tid som minister och om möjligheterna och utmaningarna med artificiell intelligens finns publicerat i sin helhet nedan:
Inter american development bank conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina 29th of August 2018
Speech by Kristina Persson
”Ladies & gentlemen,
First let me thank you for this opportunity to share with you my experiences in Sweden as Minister for the Future – or Minister for Strategic development and Nordic cooperation, as the formal title read.
It was a great opportunity, but I am afraid, also a controversial one. I will come back to this later, as it holds conclusions that are relevant for other countries.
I have been asked to speak briefly about my work as a minister and also reflect on implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the society as a whole.
I would like to start by making five statements, which I think have a fundamental importance for the discussion we are having:
1st – Knowledge is 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.
2nd – We live at a time when a huge Transformation is absolutely necessary, in our economies and our societies. The reasons are (mainly) two: Global warming and a rapid technological development of a disruptive nature, AI in 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.
3rd – Governance is 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.
And 4th, This Cooperation – between public sector, industry, academia and civil society – must be characterized by high ethical and moral values.
5th – Values will 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 purposes 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 limited tasks like learning to play chess better or to 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 raw-material for AI, so called “big data” is one. And new rules and regulations need to be developed in international cooperation.
In short, AI will deliver – is delivering! – 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?
By now there are new strategies and agreements, even laws but the crucial factor is missing – concrete action.
One reason is the complexity of the tasks and the speed of change. 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 AI revolution will be 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.
It was this kind of intellectual insight that in 2014 made the then newly elected PM of Sweden ask me to become Sweden’s Minister for the Future. His predecessors had warned him of the risks involved in neglecting the long-term; The message was: Your time as PM is so easily eaten up by the daily handling of issues and events of a short-term nature – conflicts, critics and, not least medias preferences – that you risk getting much too little time for the important, long term challenges!
I, for my part had all my life (in different capacities) been focusing on long-term issues, I was well-prepared for the role and started immediately to put together three working groups with the best expertise Sweden could provide: From academia, business, trade unions, civil society and some former politicians.
The groups were:
- WORK IN THE FUTURE How can the Swedish labor market meet the combined challenges from AI, robotization and globalization? THE GREEN TRANSFORMATION: What should Sweden do, in concrete terms, to establish a fossil free society (zero net emissions) not later than 2045? And GLOBAL COOPERATION – GOVERNANCE in order to achieve a long-term sustainable development for the world, as spelled out in the UN Agenda 2030?
1, 5 years later the groups had delivered three main reports, some 50 special reports with 108 concrete proposals and a great number of hard facts and analysis. I had established a standing Council for the Future, consisting of one third of the government ministers, plus the Prime Minister, receiving and discussing the reports. I also gave a few of my staff the task to work on strategic foresight reports, to assess the long-term prospects of technological development, geopolitical changes, migration etc.
The main message from the group Work in the future was that Sweden must invest heavily in knowledge at all levels: – Higher education, research and innovation.
Further education is the most important answer from society to the great structural changes that will take place, as more and more services will be performed by AI instead of by humans.
This also meant a need to invest in broad knowledge and competence among people in general, for a continuous supply of AI and other skills in the labor force. A very concrete proposal from the group was a new scheme for joint financing between unions, business and government for life-long learning for grown-ups, before they are hit by the changes in the labor market.
The need for human beings in working life will still be there but will look different and the new jobs will many times need active support from the public sector to develop. This is not new, but the speed and scope of the changes are unprecedented and will thus put the public interest at a great test. Many more professions will be affected, also the highly skilled.
The interface between machine and man will create increased value in many areas like medicine, education, industry, energy, transport and public administration. But if we shall be able to catch the immense potential of the new technologies we will need a lot of private and public Investments, leadership and innovation.
These conclusions are – I believe – equally true for all other countries, like Argentina, if you want to develop your economy and become competitive on the world markets. We all start at different levels and we are strong in different segments of the world-economy, but we all have the same kind of journey to make. Nothing comes for free, ever.
We also need to adjust our organization of both working life and society – taxes, welfare systems, insurance, labor laws and the like – to fit the changed nature of work.
Time won´t allow more than a few high-lights from the other reports:
The Green Group made it clear that an extensive transformation to a fossil-free and resource efficient economy is fundamental for Sweden to remain a strong and competitive welfare-state. According to the group there were no contradictions between a radical green policy and future economic strength – on the contrary it would mean a push for technological development in sectors and products that soon will be in great demand in the whole world. All parts of society need to transform – transport and industry was in the forefront, as was green financing. And since the report was published, green bonds have grown considerably in Sweden.
The group on Global Governance focused on the need for cooperation between the social partners – global deals are needed between labor, business and governments to assure inclusive growth and decent work. This work is now continuing in close collaboration with ILO and OECD. I am happy to learn that Argentina has decided to join. The group also stressed strongly the need to strengthen the multilateral cooperation in the world, like IMU for more decent migration-rules, and the need for a Cyberpolicy.
In short, we had formed the perfect base for the continued work of Agenda 2030 in Sweden. All should have been well, but…
I will not go into details why this and similar initiatives before, was stopped, only note that there are three conditions that must be present, if a strong commitment to the long term within a government, shall have a chance to survive:
First, the Prime Minister must him/herself stay strongly committed, active and eager to fulfill a mission for the long term and the whole. A “minister for the future” – senior or young – can assist and do much of the work but cannot replace the PM. Long-term strategic issues is and must be the key responsibility for the top leader.
Second, a Prime Minister must have a holistic and long-term view and be prepared to challenge the silos within the government offices. Power struggles between the silos are very destructive for good governance.
Third, the internal culture of the government offices must move from being 110 % administration oriented and rule-based to a more intellectual and problem-solving culture with creative contacts across sectors and dialogue with the outside world.
It goes without saying that all governments, no matter where on earth they find themselves – in Malawi, Sweden or Argentina – must devote time and resources to at least try to understand what is happening around them, as well as try to foresee what might happen some 5 to 20 years ahead. And against this backdrop formulate strategies how to achieve important goals.
I won´t go further into my experience as Minister for the future, only share with you a few conclusions valid for us all. Like the recommendation that OECD gave Sweden in a recent report to strengthen its central governance capacity. And that the ability to prepare system analyses, that create understanding of how different drivers, factors and processes affect each other, are very significant. This was concluded in a new report on AI from Vinnova, the Swedish research and development agency.
Furthermore, I spoke initially about the need to keep up high morals and ethics in politics and governance. Great changes like the ones I have been talking about will be impossible to realize in a peaceful way, unless they are done with a strong, social conscience. Trust is a must. I believe many governments in Latin America need to establish new and better relations with various sectors in society.
Corrupt leaders or leaders who are more interested in their own wealth and privileges will fail to pursue the kind of reforms that I have been talking about. A good economic and social development depends on both a country’s ability to use new technology and on the public’s trust.
Values will be decisive for our common future. Not least for a beneficial AI development. Governments must get involved and formulate their visions and communicate them to their people. Establish a dialogue. In the meantime it is encouraging that both AI- researchers, employees and some leaders of the tech giants are taking their own initiatives in support of Good AI.
In 2014 a group of AI- researchers from different corners of the world formed an association FLI to promote a beneficial AI-development, supported by some private donors who share their deep concern about the future of humanity in society. In the manifest agreed upon in 2017 by a large number of researchers a number of principles were formulated to secure that superintelligence is developed solely in favor of broadly shared ethical values to the benefit of the whole humanity, and not of a particular state or organization. (I recommend you to read the book Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark.) The companies involved, like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have also formed a group to discuss the effect of tech- development on society as a whole. Governments must to become an active part in these efforts!
In April this year the EU Commission launched an initiative to boost European investments in AI and prepare for the social and economic changes, including ethical guidelines. 20 billion pounds was promised by the end of 2020. The Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said: ”Just as the steam engine and electricity did in the past, AI is now transforming our world…..”)
If Latin America is not already on a similar track, I would say it is high time to get started.
The UN agency for information and communication technologies, called ITU in Geneva has organized two global summits for ”Good AI”. The second one, in May this year discussed how AI solutions could yield long-term benefits and help achieve Agenda 2030 – the Sustainable Development Goals. Latin America and EU should follow up on this. The two national superpowers US and China are dominating the digital race, but they are not likely to lead a multilateral effort. Maybe EU and Latin- America should work more together and support initiatives by the UN?
To conclude: Sweden’s and Europe´s greatest opportunity for competitiveness, lies within the interaction between innovative AI application in business and innovative organization of society. Business will need important new drivers and incentives coming from an inventive public sector. Creativity within the public sector is highly needed. Sweden should have a better starting point than most other countries – but, could it be that the young and ambitious in the less developed countries will turn out to be more flexible and quicker to change? Complacency is a great risk.
Time will show. And I believe we should work together, not just compete. The interdependence in the world is so strong that collaboration will be a more decisive factor for success than competition.
I wish you all success in your efforts!
Omslagsbild: Emmanuel Iarussi CC BY-SA 3.0