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Nordic public dispels fears over AI and welcomes its advance

People in the Nordic countries are more welcoming and less fearful of the advance of artificial intelligence than those in other regions

Artificial intelligence (AI) has both excited public interest and stirred regulatory actions by Nordic governments to police its evolution more closely. 

The Nordic region is today ranked among Europe’s most advanced testing grounds for AI innovation, development and usage.

Public perceptions of AI, with a particular focus on the underlying fears and anticipation, have been examined in a new pan-Nordic AI survey conducted by the YouGov research institute for the Helsinki-based Tieto Group.

The Tieto Nordic AI survey (T-NAIS) interviewed more than 3,500 consumers in Norway, Finland and Sweden in April to discover public perceptions of AI’s pros and cons. The survey revealed that private citizens are fundamentally enthusiastic about current advances in AI.

From a public perspective, the highest positive expectation for AI is the technology’s capacity to deliver more convenient, user-friendly and value-added advantages in areas such as education, municipal services and financial services. The keenest expectations are for municipal, banking and insurance products and services delivered digitally.

As regards fears, the survey revealed that Nordic consumers are less enthusiastic about AI in the delivery of healthcare services. Uneasiness here is linked to a perception that traditional contacts between patents and medical personnel, including medical examinations performed by humans, may be affected by AI.

Although AI will replace some functions, the human-to-human interface will continue to be an essential part of healthcare delivery for many years to come, said Christian Guttmann, head of AI and data science at Tieto.

“AI has the potential to revolutionise the healthcare sector, and we have only scratched the surface in terms of the opportunities that will transpire,” said Guttmann. “Despite the many benefits, the prevailing scepticism seems to be mainly connected to a fear of losing human validation and contact.”

The degree of public trust in AI emerged as one of the survey’s more notable findings. As regards role replacement, the survey found that 64% of Nordic consumers above the age of 18 believed AI is capable of providing a service as good as, or better than, that offered by accountants. Similarly, 58% expressed confidence that AI could deliver a level of service on a par with, or superior to, bank clerks and financial advisers.

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Also, 54% of respondents to the survey indicated they would trust AI to deliver an equal or better role performance than politicians elected to local government or national parliaments.

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed less public confidence in the suitability of AI to perform a range of health service roles traditionally conducted by humans.

Some 67% of respondents believed that nurses outperform AI in the area of professional care, while 60% felt humans outperform AI as doctors, and 58% said humans outperform AI as teachers.

The Nordic survey reinforced the generally held view that the broader deployment of AI has the potential to generate substantial cost and efficiency advantages across industry. In the public view, manufacturing, banking, insurance, accounting and postal services are the most obvious business sectors that will utilise and extract most commercial advantage from AI. 

In the survey, Nordic enthusiasm for AI diverged on the technology’s capacity to assist with, or resolve, routine daily problems. Although 55% of respondents thought AI is an effective tool to detect fraud and security breaches, only 39% felt it could be relied on to check and pay their bills automatically, safely and accurately.

In the area of bank products, 31% of respondents expressed confidence in the use of AI to process credit card applications without direct human input, while 25% were happy with AI being used to process loan applications and 23% had confidence in it to provide investment advice to customers.

Joel Hellermark, CEO of Stockholm-based AI innovator Sana Labs, said AI has huge potential to create dynamic business value and release untapped value in Nordic organisations.

“Trust is the key for Nordic AI companies,” he said. “We must continue to combine our efforts as an industry to build confidence by educating the market about the possibilities and the shortcomings of AI.”

Sana Labs joined 11 other Nordic AI firms in March to create the Nordic AI Alliance, a collaborative industry initiative to accelerate the introduction of AI in enterprises and other private and public organisations across the region.

The advance of next-generation AI, the internet of things, 3D printing, robotics and virtual reality technologies has, to a large extent, left Nordic governments and national legislators playing catch-up in the face of innovation accelerators that are powering them.

Attitudes of political leaders

The attitudes of Nordic political leaders to the advance of AI were shown in a separate Tieto survey conducted in May. That survey, run to coincide with elections to the European Parliament, polled candidates in Finland and Sweden vying for seats in Brussels. It found that candidates were generally positive towards AI, but supported tighter regulation for the industry.  

The survey also highlighted disquiet over the competitive threat posed by the US and China to the Nordic countries and the European Union. Nordic governments are backing a more aggressive approach by the EU to promote AI research and innovation while taking the lead in setting down defined ground rules for the AI world, particularly in the areas of transparency and ethics.

The political consensus, as demonstrated in the Nordic MEP-focused survey, favours stricter regulations to police AI better. Just over 90% of MEP candidates endorsed tougher controls to regulate the level of transparency in AI-made decisions that are based on algorithms.

Some 70% of Nordic MEP candidates described AI systems are unethical and biased, and 76% questioned whether AI systems are transparent and ethical when presenting decisions based on algorithms.

Also, 78% of candidates expressed concern that the US or China might undermine the EU’s influence and authority by setting the boundaries for transparency and ethics within AI globally.

The Tieto survey also shone a light on political attitudes to the role played by the IT industry in AI research, development, innovation and commercialisation. Some 40% of the Nordic MEP candidates surveyed said the IT industry has neglected its responsibility to communicate the opportunities and challenges of AI to the wider society.

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