AIWS Summit 2020: Speech by Andreas Norlén, Speaker of the Swedish Parliament
April 28, 2020
Anf. Andreas Norlén, AI World Society Summit 2020, the Boston Global Forum and World Leadership Alliance-Club de Madrid
Ladies and gentlemen
As the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I can only regret that I cannot be with you in person, but given the current circumstances, that is obviously not an option. And let me on behalf of the Swedish Parliament express my sympathy to the people of the United States and to all other countries represented at the conference for all the hardship and the suffering that this corona crisis has caused.
Today, some 3 billion people use social media. That is in itself a good thing; the advantages of more and more people going online, learning new things, exchanging ideas, criticizing political policies or interacting is something the world as a whole will greatly benefit from.
The problem of course is that everyone online is not honest and everyone is not our friend. There are many attempts to hack our systems and also to hack people’s minds. Thera are strong players who are very interested in what we do on the internet, and algorithms can track people’s actions online and then offer tailor made news that they think you want and provide you with either fake news or very biased news in order to make you think or vote or act in a certain way. Often the aim is to question our common values such as democracy, rule of law or personal freedom.
We have all heard about how elections in democratic countries have been exposed to this. For this reason, the awareness was quite high in Sweden when we had our last parliamentary elections in 2018.
Much to our surprise, no significant external organized hostile influence operations were detected. Maybe the most important advice on how to protect oneself from cyber-attacks, disinformation and organized hostile influence is: public awareness. As long as the public is aware that they run the risk of falling victim to those kinds of attacks, I think much has been won.
Do some news items seem too good to be true? Or maybe too bad to be true? Think again before you share them on social media. That is a very good advice.
I know it isn’t always easy to apply these virtues, but slowly but surely, I think the Swedes are getting better at this. Since 2016, it is mandatory for government agencies to report serious IT incidents. There are also many different agencies closely cooperating to detect cyber-attacks and hostile disinformation campaigns.
The role the parliament can play in this respect would be to facilitate the cooperation as much as possible, to stay alert and to also engage the public on how to behave on social media and on how to handle hostile disinformation campaigns. Even weak signals that something is going on are important. We must stay vigilante so that we can counter and handle hostile attacks.
There is also the strictly technological part – and I may not be the right person to elaborate on that in detail – but there are systems based on artificial intelligence that can expose influence operations. They include the use of algorithms to detect automated behaviour and hijacked user accounts. With this technology, you can detect potential deceptions in the large amount of data that is produced in social media every day.
It is hard to find a subject that is of greater importance to our democracies than safeguarding elections and making them legitimate, including safeguarding the public discourse and trying to keep it sound and balanced.
I think that the greatest challenge to any election is public trust. As politicians in democracies, we are all in the so-called confidence business. If the voter confidence is lost or even weakened, we are on a slippery slope. As we all know, confidence is something that takes quite a while to build, but it can be lost very easily.
In Sweden we have traditionally taken pride in having a society with comparatively high confidence between people and for the institutions. According to a recent survey, the Swedish Parliament enjoys higher confidence than many other actors and organizations in the Swedish society and I think that is a very good thing for our democracy. We also have a high voter turnout, 87 percent voted in the last parliamentary elections in 2018. That also indicates that people trust the institutions. Thanks to this trust, it is easier to have meaningful conversations also online and I believe it is harder to manipulate people’s minds.
By raising awareness both among the public and among civil servants, we managed to conduct our last elections in relative peace and protect our democracy and our common values, such as free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law.
Increased awareness demands education. The more educated we are, the better we can, hopefully, detect fake news and biased information.
Education also applies to the new social contract in the age of artificial intelligence. New technology means automation in the workplace and that workers risk losing their jobs. Again, education and retraining are key. In Sweden, we talk more and more about “lifelong learning” – meaning that you are never really fully trained. In a society dependent on high technology you just have to accept that technology develops so fast, you will always lag behind – if you are not offered the proper training. For this reason, I believe that education must play a vital role for us to handle the new challenges in the new era.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For me as the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament it is a priority to follow developments in the scientific field. That task is probably more crucial today than ever before. For this reason, I am looking forward to your World Society Summit and the conclusions that will be drawn. I am also looking forward also to following the discussion that will take place after this summit.
Let us all engage in this important dialogue about how best to handle technology in this new world.
Please, ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, stay safe and I hope we will meet in person in the future.
Thank you very much!