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Norway bolsters digital transformation drive

Norway’s government backs digital transformation with major capital investment this year

Norway is accelerating digital and artificial intelligence (AI) transformation across business and society, backed by government investment of €90m (NOK1.1bn) in digitisation and AI research in 2024.

A significant part of the proposed capital funding, around 12%, will be used to support research that will help shape rules and legislation around emerging technologies and evaluate the potential impact on society of possibly disruptive and trailblazing AI, digital and machine learning (ML) innovations.

The greater part of the investment plan will be rolled out in stages through the latter half of this year. The various elements of the core research and linked initiatives contained in the capital investment plan will be financed within the budgetary framework of the Ministry of Education (MoE), with responsibility for project management delegated to the Department of Research and Higher Education (DRHE).

The investment will be used to elevate key research activities in three primary areas. The first area of research will investigate how digitisation can optimally enhance business and the public sector. Research area two will probe the use of AI to support research across different areas of industry and society. The third area of research will examine the long-term implications and challenges to society posed by AI and evolving digital technologies.

Norway is already one of the most digitised countries in the world. As such, we have a unique starting point [from which] to achieve a higher level of success. A more technologically advanced Norway can best be achieved by expanding our research, innovation and competence as a country. This will enable us to embrace and use new technologies more quickly and efficiently,” said Karianne Oldernes Tung, Norway’s minister of Digitalisation and Public Governance (DPG).

The core areas of digital and AI research will focus on concepts and concerns aligned to themes of trust, democracy, ethics, economy, legal certainty and regulations, privacy, teaching and learning, in addition to art and culture.

A more technologically advanced Norway can best be achieved by expanding our research, innovation and competence as a country. This will enable us to embrace and use new technologies more quickly and efficiently
Karianne Oldernes Tung, minister of Digitalisation and Public Governance

In relation to digital technologies, the DPG plans to run research programmes that will explore the risks and opportunities presented by AI, the next generation of information and communications technology, in addition to conducting studies to analyse public and corporate concerns connected to potential societal disturbances and change caused by the ripples of emerging innovations such as new sensors and quantum technology.

Targeting societal improvements

The investment plan forms part of a broader strategy by Norway to better manage societal transformation technologies such as AI and digital. In March, the government expanded a programme that affected all state departments and public sector agencies. The programme will investigate what new measures are needed to strengthen research and innovation expertise, datasets and infrastructure to meet future data processing requirements in Norway.

The level of ambition embodied in recent initiatives, said Tung, reflects the Norwegian government’s goal of enhancing the country’s efficiency and competitiveness using digitisation as the chief tool.

“Digitisation affects the whole of society. This government views it as an opportunity to improve society and make our lives easier and better by finding answers to the major challenges we face. Across Europe and the world, there is a heavy focus on AI. Despite Norway being advanced in digitisation policy, we must take a long-term view to assess the future and upgrade to the legislative tools we will need to regulate, develop and use AI for the betterment of the whole of society and business,” said Tung.

The DPG is tasked with playing a primary role in the development and coordination of the Norwegian government’s digitisation policy. The ministry will lead the development of new digital technologies and solutions that will benefit society and end-users.

In March 2023, Norway ’s Labour Party-led centre-left government set the Department of Research and Higher Education the task of devising a clear and joined national policy to further develop AI and advance digitisation. The DRHE based its mission on key research targets and development ambitions laid out in the government’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, which was launched in 2020.

The defining ambition for the Norwegian government should be to develop AI within a responsible and safe framework that ensures humans, not machines, will be making decisions about the lives of citizens, according to Inga Strümke, a senior research professional at the Norwegian Open AI Lab (NOAL).

“Digitisation and artificial intelligence are key to handling the societal challenges we face going forward. These technologies will provide new insights and contribute to improvements in medicine, transport and climate, including cancer diagnostics, among many other benefits. In the case of government and business, AI and digitisation will help the public and private sectors provide better services,” said Strümke. 

The NOAL centre, which serves as a hub for research, education and innovation in AI, is hosted by the Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the Trondheim-headquartered Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Digitisation and artificial intelligence are key to handling the societal challenges we face going forward
Inga Strümke, Norwegian Open AI Lab

Mapping out digitisation

The challenge the DRHE faces in formulating a cohesive national policy to further advances in AI and digitisation was greatly aided by the DPG ministry’s decision, in February 2023, to commission a report to map out the most important driving forces that can be expected to impact Norwegian and global societies moving forward.

The Digitalisation and future challenges report, which was commissioned as a joint research project between the Norwegian Digitalisation Agency (Digdir/Digitaliseringsdirektoratet) and the Norwegian Technology Council (NTC/Teknologirådet), was presented to both the DPG and DRHE in December 2023.

The findings in the report will be used to inform, shape and refine the Norwegian government’s more expansive national digitisation strategy.

The findings will also be shared with business and industry in Norway, said Kristin Karlsrud Haugse, a senior advisor to Digdir and the chief lead on the agency’s National Digital Transformation programme.

“Applying strategic foresight tools, we looked at driving forces within five central areas: power, economy, technology, people and climate. We are already feeling many of the driving forces strongly today, such as seeing technology come closer to us, or economies that are becoming more challenged by their ageing populations,” said Haugse.

One of the main benefits of understanding the driving forces of technological change, said Haugse, is to build the competence required to better prepare to develop policies, strategies, solutions and services that take future societal challenges into account.

With generative AI (GenAI) that can interpret and create content, the world is fast approaching a future with more powerful, micro-tailored and advanced digital services that are increasingly accessible and user-friendly, said Ellen Strålberg, project director at the NTC.

“As a global community, we are faced with new questions about the boundaries between man, machine and commercial interests, and what new technologies can offer in terms of productivity growth and the more efficient utilisation of society’s resources. How it will play out depends on several influential factors, including regulation and political decisions,” said Strålberg.

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