Artificial intelligence is often heralded as one of the key solutions to tackling some of our societal issues — including the current pandemic — but what does such technology mean for society and the individual? Malmö University researchers have been granted funding to further enable the understanding of this issue.

The rapid development of AI is much like a gold rush right now, and it is an important time to be involved, says Michael Strange, associate professor at the Faculty of Culture and Society.

Grants for recruiting an assistant university lecturer and a doctoral student have been awarded to Strange and Paul Davidsson, professor at the Faculty of Technology and Society.

The ongoing pandemic could increase acceptance of surveillance and breaches of privacy.

Michael Strange

Davidsson will focus on AI and social simulations; Strange will research the international political-economy, and regulation of AI in healthcare. Both initiatives will be in light of new circumstances brought about by the pandemic.

What artificial intelligence adds to simulation models is to get the simulated individuals to behave as humans would have behaved in a given situation. It is also about combining different simulation models for a more reliable result.

"Decision-makers can consider the advantages and disadvantages of possible measures before they are implemented by looking at different scenarios in simulation tools. But to be able to offer good support to decision-makers, we need to look at different models at the same time,” says Davidsson, who is also the director of the Internet of Things and People research centre.

The ongoing pandemic could increase acceptance of surveillance and breaches of privacy, suggests Strange. Combining private health data, which can be collected by infection-tracking apps, with artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, can involve great risks for both society and the individual.

However, there are also many positive elements of AI, Strange adds, and the research will examine how society can benefit from these.

“As with all development, it is important that we understand what we are doing. Artificial intelligence has such a fundamental part in changing us as a society and a species, and despite that we barely discuss what it means and what we want it for,” says Strange.

Because so few companies in Europe are successful in AI, today our personal information, collected by apps that measure how we move, what we eat, and what our social network looks like, is sent far outside the jurisdiction of our national governments —  despite its impact on us. Individually, the data does not say much, but when the detailed information is processed, long-term conclusions can be drawn.

“’What does this mean for Sweden, for democracy here, and for its welfare system, as well as many other countries in which AI is becoming increasingly central to healthcare? Our decision-makers lack the tools to deal with what is happening right now. Only a few people in Silicon Valley understand this and what is about to happen,” Strange adds.

Text: Ellen Albertsdottir