Photo by @steve3p_0

People of AI at 499 Days

The most valuable experience of the journey

Today is strangely enough one of the only days where I cannot think of what to write about. After writing about artificial intelligence (AI) for 499 days I was not sure.

Side note: I have a project called 500 days of AI writing one new article every day about or related to artificial intelligence.

How have I almost reached 500 days of writing about AI?

Part of the answer is without a doubt the people that inspire me.

When there is talk of AI often it is possible to wander into technical descriptions. I think it is time to talk about people that I have met along the way, people that inspire me.

This article in the form of a list will not be in any particular order. Rather, it will be what comes to mind, as a stream of consciousness.

Of course my wife and family have been wonderful, yet there are people who are worth mentioning besides this.

The people mentioned here does not have to work as practitioners in the field of AI, although some of them do.

In that sense this article could as well be named: “People of AI at 499 Days and other people who inspired my journey.”

They may be known to you, or completely unknown, but it is likely the latter.

I am not sure how you feel about public appreciation?

I am sure that if you do not like it, then you should likely quit this article now.

I never got the time to properly consider all the wonderful people I met along the way or that inspired me to do this in the first place.

So, this article presents a few of them.

This is awkward, and hopefully nice!

Expect pictures to be of slightly different sizes. I tried my best to find pictures of people to connect their names to faces.

When I arrived back to university after having spent time building a startup and an organisation I knew what direction I wanted. However, I did not feel I could go towards that direction at my university until. That was of course until I met Jonas, who encouraged me to think about how I could get more involved with the natural science faculty.

Jonas is a social and medical anthropologist who received his PhD from the University of Oslo in 2017. His research interests include medical knowledge, pharmaceuticals and diseases, with a particular focus in rheumatology, inflammatory joint diseases, and anti-rheumatic pharmaceuticals.

I knocked on his door and he showed me a lot of subject course plans that he had customised himself, although nobody had asked him to do so. He did it from his own engagement. Without Jonas I would not have walked back and forth between the social science faculty and the natural science faculty dozens of time to attempt navigating subjects outside of what I would normally think was possible.

I owe a great many thanks to Jonas for inspiring me to dare to think differently and go outside the discipline of social anthropology, and additionally, to do so in the subjects during my time as an undergraduate (BA student) at the University of Oslo.

Looks a bit crazy, and is, but he is one of the most inclusive and kind academics out there.

I met Haavard spring 2019 at a subject called STV1515 Machine Learning and Programming for Social Scientists. He had been working for a long time as a lawyer, but was learning more about programming. He is specialised in labour law and now works as a developer with a focus on language technology in the Norwegian state.

We kept in touch over the year talking about life and programming. He led a study group that I was part of, and he was working on a startup idea within legal technology.

He gathered a lot of momentum over the year with his skills as a lawyer and programmer, and with around 100 people gathered for the largest hackathon in Oslo on legal technology he gathered a team to participate. Luckily I was invited to his team, although I just participated one day.

We won our category and it was inspiring to see how machine learning could be used to help lawyers navigate information to help their clients.

Haavard lifting his arms as our team wins the hackathon

Haavard has also been a friend always willing to meet up for discussions over the year.

Hanging together with Haavard at Solveig’s workplace in Statistics Norway.

In a corridor at my faculty at the University of Oslo (UiO) I met Solveig through a shared acquaintance. Her friend was certain that we shared interests, and when we met for a coffee at the student café it was clear that we did.

Curiously our programming subject at UiO was dangerously underfunded, and they did not have any seminars for an intense subject — STV1515 Machine Learning and Programming for Social Scientist — that led to a great deal of frustration for all of the students. I had heard that Solveig was working as a scientific assistant for a researcher at the Institute of Political Science. Therefore I suggested to the lecturer of STV1515 that they could hire Solveig. Somehow they managed to get funding from a different faculty and she was hired for seminars.

Photo from her R Studio Education Certification

Solveig Bjørkholt is a political scientist with a passion for data science and artificial intelligence. She works at Statistics Norway where she tracks the development of research and development (R&D) in the Norwegian business sector. She also manages a number of R&D projects within the company.

Strange where Google brings you. When I was searching the Internet for anthropologists who had an interest in computer science Samantha popped up. I found she had written her PhD on the education of computer scientists in Singapore, so I decided to read her dissertation. It completely blew me away and is one of the most interesting readings I have gone through. Her perspectives on gender made me choose course modules on this subject during my undergraduate. Computer scientists nowadays end up being part of shaping large decisions in society, as such it is interesting to understand critically how this education varies across locations.

Samantha is a tenure-track assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology and affiliated with the Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS). Her research centres on political economy and gender in relation to computing cultures. Her current research examines the value(s) of tech entrepreneurship to different actors.

A very cool person

I ended up applying for the MSc in Social Data Science at the University of Copenhagen and got in, so she is now one of my lecturers! She is not any less brilliant than I expected her to be.

How does one meet Anna? I think Anna meets you. For me I think it was through a student of hers that she heard about me, and somehow I ended up at one of her discussion evenings at her home. She had brought a few of her design students and they were discussing topics I found immensely interesting.

We were discussing for a very long time, and she ended up inviting me as a co-speaker to the Anthropology + Technology Conference 2019 where she was due to speak in Bristol. The main focus of the conference was artificial intelligence. I ended up meeting a lot of interesting people, but somehow the most interesting was traveling with Anna back and forth to the conference as well as talking to her about life and death.

Anna is Anna, there is nobody quite like her. She is a design anthropologist and psychologist known for pioneering the people-centric approach in design working first for Boeing and Microsoft, then later as an independent consultant. When we met we were talking about the need to shift or rethink design from people-centric towards ecology and planet.

Anna can often be found smiling

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.

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.

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.

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

I met Emil doing leadership training in 2015, and he had an undying enthusiasm and this winning smile that I thought was due to a special occasion. I was wrong Emil was always cheerful, optimistic, and he always had stellar advice. At the time I was setting up my company and he told me about what EBITA was (if you wondered it is Earnings before interest, taxes, and amortisation). Then we kept meeting each other in the entrepreneurship environment, later from advisor to friend.

Coincidentally fate, and a series of discussions, would have it so that Emil began on an education within artificial intelligence after his education in Economics. It is therefore not without reason that I have to state what an inspiration he has been throughout this journey.

You will find it hard to find someone simultaneously so clever and kind.

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 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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.”

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.

There are likely far more that I could mention.

I could have taken an approach called: “None mentioned, none forgotten.”

Then again it would not help you or me to understand a few of the people that have inspired me through this time.

I sat for many hours writing this down, and these are the names that came to my mind, there are likely more, but I have to sleep.

Tomorrow is 500 days of AI.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 499. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau