Digitalisation and AI as change agents for regional development and planning

Digitalisation affects people and places in fundamental ways and has far-reaching implications for regional development and planning. Access to public services, commercial services, education, skills training, and remote work are all examples where the combination of the covid pandemic and the already existing implementation of digital technology came together to catalyze behavioural change in recent years.

At Nordregio we study different aspects of digitalisation and how it affects society. One perspective is remote work and how this could affect labour markets and living conditions in rural areas.

Another is digital inclusion, since not all have the possibility to be part of the new digital services and interaction paths. Just last week we had a kick-off regarding a new research project, including all the Nordic countries and the Baltic states investigating different aspects of digital inclusion.

If you have been following the field from the sidelines, it comes as no surprise that AI’s next breakthrough is in many different areas. It is possible to weave a historical thread back to the origins of computing:

  • First came the hardware – from the analytical machine invented by Charles Babbage, programmed by Lady Ada Lovelace, to the mechanical “computers” Mark IV followed by the first electronic computer ENIAC.
  • Then the groundwork for software – the Turing Test, the Von Neumann architecture, Norbert Wiener’s work on “Cybernetics” in 1948, the Darthmouth College conference in 1956 to the first applications in the 80’s.
  • Finally, AI begins integrating into our everyday digital lives, with decision support systems and special applications in the 90’s and early 2000’s followed closely first commercial “recommendation engines” engineered by companies like Amazon and the Swedish company Avail Intelligence, to now.

The present perfect storm of applications is developing in what can seem like a shocking range of areas of man-machine interactions.

Office applications are rapidly becoming more “intelligent” with the addition of AI. With proper training and awareness of shortcomings, pitfalls, and limitations, these new tools hold the promise of further enhancing productivity in many societal areas.

Our own research processes and work will also be affected by the recent breakthrough in AI applications. Just as the electric typewriter and personal computer increased productivity, the new Large Language Models like ChatGPT, where big data and machine learning are combined and enabled with enormous computing power, could offer support and possibly be a “research assistant” in our own work.

This is something we will monitor closely and evaluate for possible applications in everyday research.

For now, it is in an exploratory phase. As an example, I chatted with ChatGPT about Nordregio and asked to write a short poem about us in the style of one of my favourite poets. I also created the accompanying image with Bing. It think it produced a nice result.

About Nordregio

In the far north, where the wild winds blow,
And the mountains stand with their crowns of snow,
There lies a place of learning and light,
Where the wise gather to seek insight.

Nordregio is its name, and there they toil,
To study the world and its constant turmoil,
To understand the forces that shape our fate,
And chart a course towards a better state.

With data and analysis they seek to see,
What the future holds for you and me,
How migration and demography will unfold,
And what role AI will come to hold.

But their work is not just dry and cold,
For they seek to understand the stories told,
Of people and places that shape our land,
And the struggles that they face firsthand

So here’s to Nordregio, its scholars and staff,
Who work tirelessly, seeking truth and insight to grasp,
May their efforts bring us knowledge and light,
As we journey forward into the night.

/Rolf with the help of ChatGTP-4