People of AI at 499 Days

Original article was published by Alex Moltzau 莫战 on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Elisabeth Fosseli Olsen

I was introduced to Elisabeth during a weekend seminar at my university. She seemed to have some crazy ideas about blockchain and international development combined with her critical perspectives on technology informed by extensive qualitative research. I became very interested in working with her on a project. During an internship with KPMG in 2019 we managed to receive an almost year-long project working with Red Cross on financial innovation.

During my time working with Elisabeth I have increasingly been allowed to explore different sides of how the technology sector can help in international development especially within the private sector. From large evaluation projects to increasingly being allowed to use programming at work and move towards building datasets, I am indebted to Elisabeth for her patience and joyful way of working.

Thanks to Elisabeth I have so much fun at work that I get the energy to do other things (such as writing 500 days about AI) on my spare time.

Jessica Cussins Newman

I first saw Jessica speak at the Stanford HAI 2019 Fall Conference — AI Global Governance (CS+Social Good). Immediately after this I tweeted her and sent her an email. At the time I was writing about national strategies within artificial intelligence, and she had made a neat overview explaining aspects of the different strategies. We set up a video chat and I started contributing some policy summaries to the page she managed at the Future of Life Institute.

Jessica is an AI Policy Specialist at the Future of Life Institute; and Research Fellow, UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. Jessica received her master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and her bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley with the highest distinction honors. She has published extensively on the implications of emerging technologies in outlets including The Los Angeles Times, The Pharmaceutical Journal, Huffington Post, and CNBC.

More recently she wrote the part about North America in the Oxford Insight AI Readiness Index 2020.

I personally think her work and combined background inspired me to think more extensively about working with AI policy.

Alexander Taylor

Another person I met through email and later had a video chat with is Alex. As I was writing a lot about data centres I wondered where to begin, as I wanted to locate ethnographic studies of data centres. He was very kind to answer med and to help give suggestions for the course module in Digital Anthropology I had taken the initiative for at the University of Oslo.

I have since then sent him emails asking for updates on his writing and he has sent emails with opportunities that I have not properly taken in terms of submitting essays and writing. One of the best parts is sending an email with Hello Alex… Then at the end signing off with Alex. From one Alex to another.

I hope now that I finish this project I will have more time to actively listen to his suggestions, and hopefully get some advice on my master’s project.

He is running a publication called Digital Exhaustion here on Medium. His research is located at the intersection of social and digital anthropology, science and technology studies, media archaeology and security studies. His PhD with the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge investigated the work that goes into ensuring the uninterrupted continuity of the digital services that now underpin industrialised societies.

Amund Grytting

I have known Amund for more than five years, worked with him a few of those, and collaborated loosely on a report to the government for the last years. Writing about participation and entrepreneurship in relation to the sustainable development goals with clear suggestions to the Planning Department would naturally shift into my writing.

Amunnd is a social geographer turned Chief Operating Officer of a large network for sustainable entrepreneurship. He grew up on a farm and will be the most calm person you ever have met (and will meet, ever). Meeting Amund gives me important reminders of why I write, and help shift my focus back towards topics relating to sustainability. Learning about how the government works together through a report has been one of the most rewarding experiences that took place before and ran parallel to writing these 500 days of AI.

Why am I writing about AI? Making artificial intelligence work for our shared ecology. Amund’s focus is on generations, those who will carry on making life burst forth on our planet. That is why he is a constant source of inspiration.

This is pretty much Amund every day

Håkan Silfvernagel

Do you sometimes get an important call that you immediately think could be a phone salesman? No? Håkan called me up out of nowhere and asked me if I could talk. He was running a chapter of a community called city.ai that was holding a series of talks at the Microsoft office in Oslo. He asked me if I would be interested in talking, I was sceptical and wanted to see if this was real. Then after a few emails I ended up speaking at an event during Oslo Innovation Week. I am really grateful that Håkan is a community builder in the field of AI here in Oslo, and that he invited me in. He is the kind of person who simply calls someone, and that you will be glad to meet.

A friendly character

The events that him and his team organise really makes me happy and hopeful. He received the Microsoft MVP award. He has 20 years’ experience of software development in various positions such as developer, tester, architect, project manager, scrum master, practice manager and team lead. Before becoming a consultant he previously worked as a researcher within the field of human-computer-interaction in the process industry with a focus on process automation and robotics. He has a broad educational background with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineer, a master’s degree in Behavioural Science and a background in psychology.

Virginia Dignum

Virginia is the only person on this list so far that I have not spoken to. As such, this is more of an appreciation of the work she puts out and her engagement. She is the Professor, Wallenberg chair on Responsible Artificial Intelligence at UMEÅ University. Additionally, she is the Scientific Director of WASP-HS (Humanities and Society). Her research focuses on the complex interconnections and interdependencies between people, organisations and technology.

Virginia is a member of the European Commission High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, the World Economic Forum Council on AI, the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethically Aligned Design of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, the Delft Design for Values Institute, the European Global Forum on AI (AI4People), the Responsible Robotics Foundation, the Dutch AI Alliance on AI (ALLAI-NL) and of the ADA-AI foundation.

Kate Crawford

On the topic of people I have not met, but been influenced by, Kate is certainly one of those. Her work with Vladan Joler from 2018 is one of the most inspiring articles I have read to this date. To me it really pinpoints part of the issue of the large industry surrounding smart speakers, but it tells us something more about the material relationships that are ignored.

She is also the co-founder of The AI Now Institute at New York University. This is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to understanding the social implications of artificial intelligence.

Joy Buolamwini

Another inspiration that I have never met is Joy. She has been working really hard to create a movement towards equitable and accountable AI. The Algorithmic Justice League is one interesting organisation to follow. They combine art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms of AI. I had not been focused enough on the social inequality that AI can exacerbate.

She holds two masters degrees from Oxford University and MIT; and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Fortune Magazine named her to their 2019 list of world’s greatest leaders describing her as “the conscience of the A.I. Revolution.”

Photo by Niccolò Caranti

Oda Marchand

Returning a bit to Oslo. The friend of Solveig who I bumped into at the library is Oda Marchand. Solveig’s friend has been a good person to discuss with and her thesis is fascinating because I am unsure of how to deal with the material. Oda is working on a masters degree in political science and a bachelor in Russian at the University of Oslo.

She has been mapping topics in Russian-language newspapers in five countries at the intersection of Russian and European spheres of interest, to investigate whether the allegations of a Russian information war and accompanying strategies are correct in content and scope.

Oda looking sceptical

Thomas Hylland Eriksen

When I arrived to social anthropology Thomas was fighting cancer. That is what I came to learn. The very first semester at social anthropology I engaged with other students to see if we could learn more about digital and social anthropology in relation to one another. As a representative I suggested we set up a course module on Digital Anthropology. This was met surprisingly well by the programme council at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. However, they estimated that this would take a few years (possibly two) to get into action.

That was not to be the case, since another lecturer was unable to teach a subject, digital anthropology was there as an option. There was a great deal of confusion surrounding who could possibly teach the course module, and Thomas stepped in. SOSANT2630 — Digital Anthropology was held for the first time Autumn 2019 with Thomas as the lecturer, although it was a one-time occurrence as an elective I hope it can happen again.

Thomas is well-known in Norway, but that is not why he is an inspiration, it is because he is an incredible listener and an enabler. If it is thought to be unlikely then Thomas jumps into the fray, and for that I am very grateful. Having digital anthropology as a subject with Thomas has greatly inspired my thinking about artificial intelligence, although I had to run between his lectures and classes in Chinese language over at another faculty.

Jonas Bergan Draege

I was fortunate to receive a grant for a summer school at the University of Oslo in 2019. It was during this time taking a class in International Politics that I met Jonas. He is easily one of the best lecturers that I have ever had with his teaching style and how he facilitates discussions.

When I talked to him about my AI book drafts he suggested I make them shorter and more helpful. Sadly I just made them shorter and forgot to make them helpful!

In summer 2020 I went back to the summer school taking his course in How Democracies Emerge and Survive. I felt completely out of bounds as someone with lacking understanding of the field of political science on this level. Yet, it made me think about how I can connect my interest in AI to a greater extent with political science or at least be aware of certain discussions occurring within the field.

He knows a great variety of languages and is a bright, memorable personality so it is also for those reasons that I find him inspiring. He also makes music as Youni on Spotify, so his range of interests does not stop at excellent academic performance.

Jonas Bergan Draege is currently an associate professor of political science at Bjørknes University College, and a research fellow at Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), at Harvard University.

He finished his PhD project at the European University Institute in 2017. His PhD project focused on the interactions between the 2013 Gezi Movement in Turkey and institutional politics in the country. Draege has also worked extensively on Syrian politics, and he has acted as an adviser for international mediation organizations working on the Syria conflict. He earned his Mphil with distinction in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St. Antony’s College, the University of Oxford, in 2013.

Rune Flikke

When I started talking about creating a subject in digital anthropology at UiO Rune Flikke was the person who brought me out to meetings with businesses to consider how we could collaborate on a new subject. Through this I met social anthropologists working elsewhere. We continued to grab coffee together quite a few times to discuss social anthropology. He got increasingly busy as he became the leader of the department, but he still took the time to talk when I knocked on his door.

By some strange coincidence I ended up writing about South Africa, water scarcity and data centres. It was then that I realised how much of a brilliant researcher he is too, reading his articles helped me to think about my own subject in a different way. I had no idea the whole landscape of South Africa had changed so much throughout times simply (and/or partly) because of a belief that a certain tree had medical properties through smell.

How does beliefs we hold about our world change the way we shape the world? How has the way the world was structured affected our social relations and how is this still the case today through the line of present from the past structuring lives. The Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo is blessed with a variety of great listeners and each listen in different ways.

Keir Martin

Can a lecturer be both wonderfully educational and a standup comedian? The answer is yes, and Keir Martin does both. As an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo Keir challenged ways of thinking about a variety of subjects through his extensive knowledge of several fields.

He is another of my favourite lecturers and makes a lot of effort to listen to students. I found that I was suddenly called to a focus group of students, and I had not experienced any other educational staff that employed such methods to increase the output for the students. In the middle of Brexit he managed to bring in our readings to examine discussions about trade, and that made me more aware of how economic theory from an anthropological viewpoint can be discussed with a contemporary twist.

Along with Dr. James Davies and Dr. Thomas Stodulka, Dr. Keir Martin founded the European Network for Psychological Anthropology (ENPA) in January 2018.

Jack Clark

I have never met Jack, the Policy Director for Open AI, but we have exchanged some messages on Twitter. OpenAI is a company working with artificial intelligence that has an increasing amount of responsibility, and as a growing organisation it is important to have people who engage with policy.

Jack predominantly works on policy and safety issues. He also helps develop the AI Index, an AI forecasting and progress initiative that is part of the Stanford One Hundred Year Study on AI. In his spare time he writes an AI newsletter, Import AI (importai.net).

I have followed his newsletter for a while, and find it insightful. I particularly enjoy the snippets of fiction towards the end of each newsletter.

Bjørn Høyland

As previously mentioned STV1515 Machine Learning and Programming for Social Scientists has been highly influential for me personally. This occurred before I started writing about artificial intelligence for 500 days. The creator and convenor of this course module is Bjørn Høyland. His dry humour with a dialect is funny until you realise what he just said and that you need to catch up to his speed. He takes his teaching in strides, and you have to do your best to keep up. Although his course module was difficult it was one of the most rewarding (and maybe even transformational) learning experiences I have been through.

He has been a Professor of political science at the University of Oslo since 2011. He holds a PhD from London School of Economics and Political Science from 2005. He was an Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, University College London, 2005–2006.

Serious with a smirk

Lars Martin Mediaas

Lars Martin works in the government. Saying this to my past self a few years ago that could bring up a lot of assumptions. Working with Lars Martin and his colleagues in the Planning Department I have changed my opinion. His bravery to speak out against the actions of his own affiliated party, and to be engaged in a wide sense within society is inspiring.

Additionally Lars Martin has brought an engagement for the importance of good policy to begin building an interest I thought was unlikely that I would ever have.

It is because of this that my engagement has started drifting in this direction to a greater extent than previously. I worked with Lars Martin and his team alongside Amund on a report to the government, and this was unexpectedly an exciting process full of learning.

That is, not only AI Policy for its own sake, rather towards how it can assist in building a better society.

Loosely translated: “The labour movement is not doing enough for the climate fight.”

Christoffer Bouwer

Throughout my time writing Christoffer has been incredibly helpful. We have had weekly or bi-weekly conversations about artificial intelligence and life in general. I met Christoffer while working at Young Sustainable Impact, and we were both interested in challenging thoughts about innovation.

We have co-written a few articles and discussed several more. It was during a discussion a Christoffer that the title for my book draft ‘Fifty Shades of AI’ appeared.

Christoffer Bouwer on far left. Me in the middle. Lenny Lei Liang on the right.

Christoffer holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Economics. His study has provided insight on the use of technical knowledge and the multiple aspects of business development. He specialised on innovation, leadership and product development.