Norwegian wealth fund warns of AI risks while reeling in billions from the tech

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To say that Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund made a killing these past months would be an understatement. The world’s largest investor in the stock market earned 1,501 billion crowns (€131.1bn) in the first half of 2023, and much of it due to the recent boom in AI.

To a large extent, the profits came from the fund’s shares in tech companies such as Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Nvidia that all saw a surge from the current AI craze. Meanwhile, the fund is telling the very same companies to get serious about the responsible deployment and risks of artificial intelligence

“As AI becomes ubiquitous across the economy, it is likely to bring great opportunities, but also severe and uncharted risks,” the €1.28 trillion fund said in a letter published this week.

It added that the technology continues to develop at a pace that makes it challenging to predict and manage risks in the form of regulatory and reputational risk to companies, as well as broader societal implications related to, for instance, discrimination and disinformation. 

In order to mitigate the threats posed by the technology, the letter suggested the fund’s 9,000+ portfolio companies develop their expertise on AI on the board. 

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Boards “absolutely not on top” of AI, fund CEO says

In an interview with the Financial Times, the fund’s CEO, Nicolai Tangen, stated that “Boards are absolutely not on top of this.” He further added that the fund would vote against companies that failed to deliver on AI expertise at directorial level. 

The oil fund also wants companies to disclose and explain how they use AI, and how systems are designed and trained, so-called transparency and explainability. Furthermore, it is looking for robust risk management beyond a traditional business focus, adding human oversight and control to mitigate potential threats to privacy and discrimination. It did not go so far as to mention the doom of humankind

Meanwhile, Tangen is not shy in stating that, “If you don’t think there are opportunities with AI, then in my mind you are a complete moron.” 

In the letter, the fund also states that it supports the development of “a comprehensive and cohesive regulatory framework for AI that facilitates safe innovation and mitigation of adverse impacts.”

Yet, Tangen acknowledges that this will be “very hard” to achieve on a global scale, due to the technology’s near ubiquitous application in everything from education and military to cars and finance.