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Q&A with Ieva Martinkenaite

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This month Policy World interviews Ieva Martinkenaite, PhD, Vice President, Telenor Research, Head of Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab / Start IoT

Q. Telenor’s interests are wide-ranging indeed, and at the IIC’s recent Forum in Singapore, your colleague, Jasper Mikkelsen, said about 50% of Telenor’s revenue came from the Asia region. That is really about ‘traditional’ services. You are at the cutting edge of research and development, very much based in Norway. How does Telenor balance these areas – the domestic and the international at the same time?

A. Telenor Group started more than 160 years ago as a national telecoms operator in a small Scandinavian country – Norway – with only 5 million people. We were early in recognizing the growth potential for mobile communications. We now have 178 million mobile customers across 12 markets, 35 times the population of our home market. We are in some of the world’s most advanced mobile markets – like Norway, Sweden and Denmark – and some of the world’s fastest growing markets. 9 out of 10 of our customers are in Asia, with 47% of our revenues as my colleague underscores. However, Scandinavia represents 40% of Telenor’s value. As one of the world’s major mobile operators, we see every day how connectivity changes people’s life and work, and how businesses and societies develop. Beyond telecom per se, we aim at becoming a real digital service provider, investing also in artificial intelligence (AI).

Q. AI presents many opportunities in the immediate and near-term. Telenor’s CEO Mr Brekke said: “Artificial intelligence is perhaps the single most important technology of our century”. The area that you are working in – the ‘AI-Lab’ – offers facilities to startups, students, and developers to collaborate on joint projects with the research and industry Lab. What are the criteria for being accepted into the Lab?

A. The Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab is a joint lab for research in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Big Data Analytics which we have established together with NTNU and SINTEF in 2016. The ambition is to make the lab a ‘centre of gravity’ in AI research and education in Norway, and also an innovation hub that stimulates the creation of new products, companies and jobs. The AI-Lab is open to all, both small and big companies, private and public organizations that are willing to contribute with real-world problems, datasets and dedicated resources to work on projects with Lab students and researchers. We are already seeing the first results.

Q. Are there particular areas within the range of technologies we call ‘Artificial Intelligence’ that you are most likely to back?

A. We believe in Machine Learning, and more specifically Deep Learning as the future, cutting-edge area of AI research where we aim to focus. Norway also has strong research communities in other AI and advanced analytics methods which the Lab will pursue. Further, we see personalisation, language understanding, IoT as important application areas of AI across critical domains for Norway, such as Health, Ocean Space, Energy, Smart Environments and Telecom, which we have prioritized in the Lab.

Q. A stated aim of the AI-Lab (and its partner, the IoT Lab) is to ensure Norway is at the forefront of digital innovation and can compete well within the coming digital economy. How in your view, can Norway – or any country – create legal and regulatory conditions which will allow the effective digital transformation of its economy and bring positive benefits to its society?

A. There is a global race for excellence in AI that Norway and any other country in Europe cannot afford to ignore. Building strong AI innovation ecosystems that integrate knowledge, capacity and access to data is important. We should move fast, experiment without creating large bureaucracies and think global. In Norway we see big opportunities within energy, maritime and aquaculture industries, in digitalizing our welfare and health care sectors, within smart cities and transport. In all of these sectors, IoT and 5G will be key enablers. Together with important applications of AI like industrial robots and autonomous systems, these will be areas where Europe may develop world-class AI/ML research, where we have access to training data, talents and where we retain high investment ambitions.

Q. When you speak at the forthcoming IIC Telecommunications and Media Forum in Brussels, you will have an audience of policy makers from government, regulatory authorities as well as industry. It is clear that policy decisions made now could have significant consequences for the momentum of digital innovation and the longer term implications of AI. In your role as a supporter and enabler of innovation, what do you think are the top three areas that the policy maker needs to think about in terms of regulation?

A. A European AI strategy should in Telenor’s opinion be based on four pillars: better access to data, ensuring critical competencies, strong innovation ecosystems and the development of ethical principles that facilitate the use of AI. Most advanced research and development in AI/ML requires massive amounts of data, and we are seeing how international companies and countries are leveraging on that. If data is the new gold, we need to find good solutions for accessing and sharing data across Europe. In that respect data protection and privacy are important regulatory areas for AI. Further, investment into AI competence and the enablement of start-up ecosystems around AI, IoT and other transformative technologies is important for developing research and bringing it to real-life. Europe has good chances to step in as a leader in promoting high ethical standards of AI across the world by also enabling innovation and growth of AI companies. In fact, Europe could become a leader of trusted AI by design – through developing transparent, explainable and certified algorithmic systems that are trusted by its citizens.

This month Policy World interviews Ieva Martinkenaite, PhD, Vice President, Telenor Research, Head of Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab / Start IoT

Content: innovation, regulation and markets, Investment
International Women's Day 2020
Ieva Martinkenaite (Dr) Ieva Martinkenaite (Dr) Vice President of Telenor Research, Head of Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab / Start IoT
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