PhD project: Infectious Ideas – Ideational Power in Artificial Intelligence Policy Development

The last couple of years of AI research show very promising societal applications that are not yet but soon will be implemented that could affect the society in very fundamental ways; self-driving cars, facial recognition video cameras, smart agriculture and decision-making robots to name a few. Reports show that the academic interest in AI is growing, that private and government investments into AI technology are exponentially increasing by the year, that the technological performance of AI is rapidly increasing.

But as a new and emerging technology without clear large-scale implementation, there are both utopian as well as dismal visions about the future “AI society” which arguably affect the policy framing processes. AI policy is a new and emerging policy field with a considerably limited degree of historical path-dependency. This offers both challenges and opportunities for policymakers and ultimately begs the question: What grounds can policies be founded upon when there is no earlier precedents of the potentially societally disruptive challenges and opportunities lying ahead?

Research questions

This ongoing PhD project aims to answer three questions;

  1. How is public policy on Artificial Intelligence (AI) overall being framed by governments?
  2. Are there differences or similarities in AI framing across European nations?
  3. To what extent is it possible to observe ideational integration and/or differentiation across national governments in relation to international policy organizations such as the OECD, the EU or the UN?

Theory and methododology

This is an interdisciplinary study, drawing on literature from political science, organizational theory as well as information systems in order to understand how AI is being framed within public governing. Methods employed are inherently mixed but focused mostly on the qualitative end of the spectrum including discourse analysis, key stakeholder interviews as well as participant observation within government bodies. Since the thesis is article-based, different case studies will be presented, each focusing different policymaking and policy-enforcing actors. The first article will focus on the Nordic region who are digital frontrunners by international comparison to analyze both how AI is framed but also the way in which these ideas travel within the institutional policy environment.

Author bio

Frans af Malmborg is a fellow at the Public Administration PhD program Department of Political Science and Management and a member of the Centre for Digital Transformation (CeDIT) at the University of Agder. His research gives an interdisciplinary insight to Artificial Intelligence Policy. Frans holds an MA in Public Administration from the University of Gothenburg and an MA in Social Work from Malmö University.

Main supervisor: Professor Jarle Trondal
Co-supervisor: Professor Leif Skiftenes Flak

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