Telenor sets a good example on AI upskilling

The Norwegian government has encouraged companies to strengthen their workforce’s skills in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Telenor has already answered the call by offering an online AI course and a global upskilling programme to all its employees.

Written: Jan 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“I believe AI can impact our society on the same scale as the internet has. We have the infrastructure required to succeed with this technology in Norway, so the next step should be to ensure that we have the competency. Here, I am not just referring to high-level competency. We also need to significantly increase the number of workers who have a basic understanding of AI,” says Nikolai Astrup, Norwegian Minister of Digitalisation.

On 14 January, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation presented a new national AI strategy, setting a path for Norway’s ambitions in this new technological era.

“Telenor has long been asking for a national AI strategy. We consider it necessary for Norway to set clear ambitions and a clear direction on AI in order to harness the technology’s potential and to stay competitive. Such a strategy is also important to ensure responsibility and sustainability within our AI models, acknowledging that we are likely to face many ethical dilemmas when working and experimenting with this technology. We are therefore pleased to see that the Ministry now provides us with such a framework,” says Sigve Brekke, President and CEO of Telenor Group.

Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke and Minister of Digitalisation Nikolai Astrup during the preannouncement of Norway’s national AI strategy at Telenor headquarters at Fornebu.

In 2019, Telenor and trade union, Negotia, presented a declaration for responsible use of AI to Astrup, emphasising the need for AI-supported decisions and recommendations for AI to be fair, non-discriminatory and transparent.

The #AIchallenge

Four days prior to the presentation, Astrup visited Telenor’s Innovation Centre at Fornebu, where he spoke about the future of AI to representatives from Telenor and several other major Norwegian companies, including Equinor, DNB and Aker BP. In addition to giving participants a glimpse of the new strategy, the Minister announced what he calls the #AIchallenge.

“We challenge all Norwegian companies to take responsibility for developing AI competency among their employees. The objective is to see more than 100,000 Norwegians complete the online AI course Elements of AI. To achieve our goal, we depend on the big employers to take the lead in this effort.”

Elements of AI added to Telenor Campus

Brekke praises the Minister’s approach and says Telenor share his view on the importance of raising the level of basic AI competency among workers.

“In Telenor, we believe in creating growth through learning. That’s why we launched the concept of the 40-hour challenge in 2018. Everyone at Telenor has 40 hours of training at their disposal each year in order to stay up to date and develop their skills. Through the Telenor Campus, our online learning portal, employees are provided with a wide range of learning resources, and we have recently added the Elements of AI course to our campus. So Minister, challenge accepted,” says Brekke.

Telenor trainee Per Carlsen presented Elements of AI to Nikolai Astrup, Minister of Digitalisation.

Astrup applauds the decision of including Elements of AI in Telenor’s online course portfolio.

“The future belongs to those who are at the forefront of new technology. By allowing every employee to take the course during working hours, Telenor’s way of answering the AI Challenge is an example to be followed by others,” says the Minister.

The need for AI ‘dugnad’

“The first word I learned in Norwegian was ‘dugnad’, which can be defined as joint work for the benefit of many. I consider dugnad to be a vital ingredient in the AI future, as the power of partnerships will help strengthen the development of generic AI capabilities and the building of AI capacity in Norway,” says Dr. Ieva Martinkenaite, VP of Telenor Research, and member of the EU’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.

She points to the Norwegian Open AI Lab in Trondheim, started by Telenor in collaboration with NTNU, as an example of such joint work. The lab aims at building AI competency by fostering partnerships between academia, the private sector, the public sector, and research institutes. Martinkenaite says the lab’s research environment has been growing in strength since it opened in 2017.

Ieva Martinkenaite (in front), Vice President of Telenor Research, addressed the participants on the importance of joint work on AI technology.

“We believe initiatives like this is key to grasp opportunities that AI can provide. Working with this technology is complex, but we are many in Telenor who want to engage with researchers, other companies and customers in exploring the seemingly endless possibilities of AI. If we dare to think big and bold enough, I believe we can create an extensive, agile and productive AI ‘dugnad’ in the coming years.”