Being a “Tech Optimist” in a Digital Age

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Apr 12, 2019
by Lucy Browett
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Being a “Tech Optimist” in a Digital Age

Eirik Øwre Thorshaug, vice president at Telenor Group, discusses how the public and private sector can come together when regulating technology Eirik Øwre Thorshaug, vice president at Telenor Group, at Salzburg Global Seminar

A significant part of the discourse surrounding the regulation of technology is how the public and private sector should interact to ensure public trust is upheld and technology is used ethically.

Someone who recognizes the importance and inner workings of both the public and private sector is Eirik Øwre Thorshaug, vice president and head of Public and Regulatory Affairs Scandinavia at Telenor Group.

Additionally, Thorshaug spent around 20 years working in Norwegian politics, culminating in him holding the position of State Secretary for the Ministry of Defence from 2011 to 2013. He said, “Most of my friends didn't want to go into the local council at the age of 19, but I did very young. It's very strange also in some aspects, but it was my interest, and I have been active in all levels of Norwegian politics since then.”

Thorshaug attended Privacy, Security, and Ethics in an Asymmetric World, the inaugural program of the Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum, which was held at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg, from April 7 to 9, 2019.

Having experienced both sides of the coin, how does Thorshaug think the two will have to come together?

He said, “I think the private and public sector will need to continue to collaborate to bring about new services and especially with the perfect storm, based on the development of 5G, the power that resides in the technologies like A.I. and the revolution that is probably coming now in the Internet of Things.

“This will probably have a great impact on many sectors across verticals in health care, in transportation, [and] in public services. I see no other way for innovation to happen in a controlled but also quite [a] quick manner to be able to retain European competitiveness.”

Thorshaug describes himself as a “tech optimist,” saying, “I'm not a Luddite. I'm not a machine breaker.”

The continued rise of technology is inevitable. Thus increased regulation is inevitable so “progress needs to be governed, not hampered,” according to Thorshaug.

Thorshaug said, “It needs someone setting direction, someone setting boundaries for how our progress is going to be taken forward. I'm a tech optimist because I believe in the power of technology to actually impact people's lives - doing good.

“I believe that especially within the field of technology we need regulation and governance to be able to push forward the positive effects of what technology can give us.

“It needs governments really to take away the possible negative side effect or the misuse or abuse of technology.”

There has been much debate around whether this push toward using technology for good will be supervised by the public sector or determined by the private sector through acts of self-regulation. Thorshaug, however, believes “both should be focused on technology for doing good.”

“I think that we will see private companies that actually take a stand on ethical questions, who are focusing on responsible business, will probably have a competitive advantage moving forward because I think the customer expectations will be for companies to behave in an ethical manner.”

A rise in social media backlash toward companies who underperform, fail to deliver adequate services or act unethically has created pressure on companies to respond to criticism or avoid it in the first place.

“I think the companies who are the quickest to adapt to these changing circumstances and expectations from customers, whether that is with regard to environmental issues, with regards to how you treat the workforce, how you follow up your suppliers, how you impact the society that you are a part of is really important.”


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Privacy, Security, and Ethics in an Asymmetric World, is the inaugural program of the Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum. More information on this multi-year series is available at the following link: https://bit.ly/2VPcn3z