Artificial intelligence – what is it and why is it on everyone’s lips?


Used correctly and in the right circumstances, artificial intelligence has the power to help businesses in the private sector as well as the public sector become more efficient and most importantly; more sustainable.

By Research Director at Institute for Energy Technology Tomas Nordlander and journalist Mari Kristine Buckholm

Artificial Intelligence


The history of artificial intelligence (AI) goes back to the Dartmouth Conference in New Hampshire in the summer of 1956. That is when the word was first coined. The conference gathered some of the key researchers in the United States, who were computer scientists, to look at the potential of the computer. The researchers had already started looking into making the computer intelligent before that, but the Dartmouth Conference is considered to be the founding event of artificial intelligent as a field.

From that time until now, we have had AI winters and AI springs. Every time there is an AI spring, like 1956, we have a lot of funds coming in. Several companies put a lot of money in, and a lot of promises as well, but some of these promises are not realistic. For example, in 1956, they were talking about the autonomous car and the universal translator, and it was promised to be ready in 10-15 years. But, as we all know, 15 years later there were no autonomous cars.

What happens next is that people get disappointed when AI does not deliver, and almost all the funding stops. A lot of good researchers leave the field and move to other fields. So, every time the AI winter comes, we lose a lot of excellent AI researchers.

Then the spring comes again, because someone has gotten a breakthrough, and the funding comes back. Also, every time we have an AI spring, the charlatans show up as well. People who do not really have AI experience, capabilities or AI products come because there is a lot of money involved. They also make promises, which lead to disappointment – and affect the AI hype.

The lasting AI spring

Today, we are in the middle of an AI spring, but there are still some cold winds. The difference this time, compared to previous AI springs that have turned into winter, is that we have available data from Internet-of-Things (IoT), we have mature algorithms, and we have processing power in the cloud. All this makes the current AI spring unique, and I think it is here to stay. With that said, there will be a lot of disappointments as well, where people are promised gold, but get coal in return.

This is why it is important to remember the history of AI. When I bump into young people around 25-35 years old, they tend to think that AI is only about deep neural network and that everything written about AI that is older than 10 years, is irrelevant. That is a huge mistake. You might think that the autonomous vehicle came from the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge or Tesla, but in the 1980s there were autonomous Mercedes Benz cars driving on the highways of France, Germany and Denmark, using AI.

We had cars driving autonomously already in the 80s and people do not know. We have so much more to learn from the history of AI, but people are too short-sighted back in time. Some of the most relevant research papers are not as young as five years old; they might in fact be 20-40 years old.

Hence, if you wish to focus on AI, do not ignore research and results of AI that is older than 5-10 years. You will only do yourself a disfavor and create more work than you need to do.

Definitions of AI

Through the years, there have been many attempts to define what artificial intelligence is. The simplest and most common definition, but a problematic one, is “intelligence demonstrated by machines and software”. The problem is that we do not have a universally agreed upon definition of the word intelligence. If you and I have two different views of what intelligence is, it means we would also have two different views of artificial intelligence.

Therefore, a more comprehensive definition that does not contain the word intelligence would be better: “Machines and software that try to achieve a goal or solve a problem in a changing environment using reasoning, memory, planning, scheduling.” That is artificial intelligence.

Machine learning, on the other hand, is a group of AI techniques (some statistical techniques also belong under the machine learning umbrella). It enables a system to automatically learn and progress from experience without being explicitly programmed.

The most important reason why people and companies should have competence within AI today, is that AI has the potential to help with digitalization. For the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), digitalization means how organizations use digital technology to enable them to do more with less effort and get it done quicker, safer, and cheaper. If AI can help with that, you will get a competitive advantage compared to those who do not utilize it. Basically, it is about staying in the game and being competitive.

It is also necessary to remember that AI might not always be the solution. There are some problems where people apply AI, when other techniques like statistics or mathematical modelling are way better. I have seen instances where people choose to apply AI to a problem simply because it attracts funding, but they end up using the wrong technique to the problem. They would have had a much more efficient solution if they used mathematical modelling instead.

Nevertheless, used correctly and in the right circumstances, AI has the power to help a large number of businesses in the private sector as well as the public sector become more efficient and most importantly; more sustainable.

When is AI the solution?

We have several examples of smart use of AI in the Cluster for Applied AI. Many of our cluster members already utilize artificial intelligence in a way that is both efficient and environmentally friendly. In the following, I will present the most relevant cases.

At IFE, we produce medicine for prostate cancer. It is a radioactive medicine that is given intravenously to patients, but it has a half-life of two weeks. This means that from we produce it, we have two weeks to give it to the patients, otherwise it does not work. We deliver this medicine from our facility at Kjeller to the entire world, and it must reach the patients, wherever they are, within two weeks. The medicine is kept in a vial and we need to identify if there are dust or particles that make it necessary to discard it.

Previously, this was done manually by people looking at and shaking them against light to check. First of all, they would get a small dose of radiation, which is not dangerous, but not great either. Secondly, it is hard for the human eye to detect these particles. Now, we have project where we use a robot hand to shake the vials and we use machine vision with AI to identify the particles, which can do the job faster, more accurate, and safer than humans, which means better medicine reach the patient faster.

A second example is that of eSmart Systems. The software company uses AI to detect maintenance needs on the masts of power lines. Previously, when you were inspecting powerlines, you would rent a helicopter and fly along the power lines with a camera and/or binoculars to try to identify what might be broken. This is traditionally known as one of the more dangerous helicopter trips that you can take. There is always high risk involved when working close to power lines, but this method also has a high carbon footprint.

eSmart Systems’ solution is to use drones to inspect instead. These drones can be autonomous or controlled by man and are equipped with a camera connected to artificial intelligence which analyses the power lines and masts in real-time. This means that the operator will know exactly which mast to go to, what tools and parts to bring, and which error to climb up and fix. The AI has been fed with a broad spectrum of images showing all different kinds of masts and potential errors and trained to detect and identify all types of errors. It can recognize and analyze 200 000 images in one hour, whereas a human being would need one year to analyze 100 000 images.

Before, the utilities left a big carbon footprint, there was more risk involved with the helicopter, it was more expensive, and they still did not get as accurate information.

The third example from the cluster is Husqvarna’s production of saw blades for chain saws in Sarpsborg, Norway. They are interested in AI to look at the quality early in the production line. Very often, if there is a mistake early in the production line, they want to detect it as quick as possible. Because when you build a product and it is faulty early on, but you do not know, you invest more money and time building things on top of it. In the end, after spending a lot of time and resources, you find out it does not hold the standard and must throw it away.

Husqvarna wishes to know early in the process if the tolerance, width and height of the product is perfect. If it is not, they will discard it early on. Hence, the company uses AI to detect faults early in the production process, so that they do not invest or use resources unnecessary.

A fourth example is predictive maintenance. Here, IFE has been using AI techniques since the 1980s to assist in safety critical industries. We predict when failure will occur (based on sensor inputs such as vibrations, sound, and electrical profile used) which allow for optimal selection of time to do maintenance. For example, predictive maintenance is used on large water pumps for nuclear installation.

From the public sector, the most relevant examples of smart, and in some cases lifesaving, use of AI are within healthcare. For example, AI can be used to predict breast cancer and help identify tumors. It can analyze databases of people’s medical records to identify pre-diabetics, so that measures can be made and medicine given to prevent them from ever becoming diabetic. Of course, today we have laws and regulations that prevent the sharing of medical records, but these things could be evaluated against how much it is worth.

AI can also be used to analyze what some schools are doing correctly in terms of teaching and learning compared to other schools, or to make sure that elderly can stay at home as long as possible with the help of smart sensors.

AI in the future

To sum up, there are many ways that AI can help both private businesses and entire sectors, including the public sector, to become both more efficient and more sustainable. As discussed, AI is nothing new. The reason why AI is in the wind again, seemingly for good this time, and has become a popular buzzword all over the world, has a combined explanation.

Every time there has been an AI spring, it is because one of the AI techniques has made significant progress. In the 1980s, it was a so-called expert system (computer program that emulates the decision-making ability of a human expert) that suddenly started being able to handle industrial problems which gave the industry a huge benefit. Thus, the AI spring blossomed, before it became winter once again.

What initiated the current AI spring, is neural networks and the progress we have made within that field. A neural network model is originally inspired in design by the human brain (but it is not an artificial brain) and is programmed to recognize patterns. We have managed to, in several different areas, use neural networks with a higher degree of accuracy than humans. For example, a neural network can learn how to play chess against itself and get better and better, until it is better than any human chess player.

Even though we have had great success with neural networks, the focus should shift to other AI techniques as well – which could work very well with neural networks. Because AI is much more than machine learning. The latter has the downside that it is “black box”, which means that we cannot see how the knowledge is represented in the AI model. But a big part of AI techniques and algorithms are “white box”, that people have forgotten a little bit about, where you can actually explain the reasoning for everything. In the future, the important thing will be to combine them.

Going forward, everyone should to gain more knowledge about AI. Attending courses is one thing, but what we really need, are initiatives like Siva’s Catapult centers and Cluster for Applied AI, where people and companies can connect, ask questions, test products, share knowledge and experience, and establish collaborations.

If we succeed in creating such a national AI team and work together instead of competing against each other, we will be able to create value within our own borders and become a force to reckon with internationally as the world enters the AI age.

Meet the unique competence community behind AI+:​“Nothing but fantastic to have this environment

Together, Smart Innovation Norway, Institute for Energy Technology, eSmart Systems, and Halden Municipality have created a leading conference on applied artificial intelligence, AI+. The goal is increased knowledge of the technology’s value and more green jobs.

By Mari Kristine Buckholm, 23 March 2021


“Artificial intelligence (AI) is an enabling technology with an enormous potential to make existing processes more efficient, contribute to the development of innovative solutions and products, and to contribute to more sustainable development. Nevertheless, it is still an area where many people feel that they lack knowledge of what is possible. Therefore, our community wants to contribute to increased value creation by making the technology better known to more players,” says Marianne Jansson Bjerkman.

She leads the Cluster for Applied AI network, which is managed by Smart Innovation Norway. The cluster is co-host of the digital conference AI+ together with Smart Innovation Norway and the cluster partners Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), eSmart Systems and Halden municipality.

Together with Østfold University College, these actors form the unique AI community in Halden, an open competence environment that collaborates across sectors and complements each other seamlessly.

Leading the way in Norway

“It is important to have a national artificial intelligence community. In Halden, we have companies that are so strong in this area that it is important to lead the way. The intention is to connect a large network and get more attention around what we are doing, and also more opportunities,” comments Knut Johansen, CEO of software company eSmart Systems.

He explains how the initiators of the conference contribute and complement each other as follows:

  • Smart Innovation Norway is incredibly important in managing the conference and making it work professionally through its network and cluster initiative Cluster for Applied AI.
  • IFE has been involved in applied research for many years and has a network of energy companies and organizations in countless countries, which is essential in this setting.
  • eSmart Systems brings in the industrial business part. The company is out in the market with its applications, taking it from applied research and into reality.
  • Halden municipality has been a strong supporter in all these activities. The municipality has been the first to adopt new solutions from the AI community and serves as an important testing arena.

40 years with AI

Dr. Tomas Nordlander, Research Director at IFE, points out that the Halden environment’s AI strengths are not only about competence and long experience in the field, but rather that the businesses have had a uniquely solid cooperation over many years.

“It is the multiplayer. We have several organizations that have been working within artificial intelligence and applied artificial intelligence for almost 40 years. IFE was one of the few organizations in the world that started implementing AI solutions in safety-critical industries, such as oil, gas and nuclear power plants, almost 40 years ago,” he says.

During AI+, IFE contributes with expertise from many areas of artificial intelligence, including knowledge of the development and implementation of applied AI. In addition, IFE can assist with knowledge boost on AI and opportunities for both local and national companies.

“We are also deeply involved in national AI strategies and advisors for private and public investment organizations,” notes Dr. Nordlander.

A forward-leaning municipality

For Halden municipality, AI+ is an important step towards fulfilling the vision of the community plan for 2018-2050, which points to three main challenges that need to be solved.

The first is about creating new jobs in Halden at the same time as more people become employed. Number two is about increasing the level of education of citizens while also preventing young people from dropping out of school. The third and final is about the climate challenge that the whole society must contribute to solving.

“As a municipality, we are facilitators and a driving force for the success of businesses and academia in Halden. We believe that the AI+ initiative can help us solve all three of our main challenges, and especially the first. At the same time, Halden aims to be Norway’s most innovative municipality, and this is a good fit,” says Jens-Petter Berget, Head of Department for Community Development in Halden municipality. He adds:

“It is nothing but fantastic to have this competence environment in our municipality!”

For useful and good purposes

The research and innovation company Smart Innovation Norway exists with the purpose of creating green jobs and helping to solve the climate crisis.

“We are working to leverage technology and ensure that it is used to solve societal problems and create jobs. That is exactly what AI+ does. The conference aims to disseminate information about the technology, show what opportunities it provides and how this can help create sustainable jobs. AI is like all other technologies; it can be used for good purposes and less good purposes. It is the useful and good application of artificial intelligence that we want to spread through the conference,” explains Kjell Reidar Mydske, CEO of Smart Innovation Norway.

AI+ will be held for the second time on 19-20 May 2021 and the ambition is to make the initiative an annual, magnificent event in Halden. The following day, Friday 21 May, an academic sister conference organized by Østfold University College and IFE, called ICAPAI, will be held – targeting those who have more professional interests in artificial intelligence.

Almost 500 signed up when AI+ was organized for the second time: ​“A conference at the top intern

When AI+ 2021 was held on Wednesday and Thursday last week, it was with a varied and highly relevant program full of quality speakers. First up was Norway’s Prime Minister.

By Mari Kristine Buckholm, 25 May 2021


“Data and artificial intelligence will be important for solving the challenges of the future. Therefore, I am pleased that this ambitious conference can be held even if we are in the midst of a pandemic. But AI is also important to combat the pandemic. Over the next two days, you will discuss topics that will shape society in the years to come. I hope you get an interesting and productive conference!”

This is what the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, told participants from both Norway and abroad when she opened AI+ 2021 on Wednesday morning.

Changed view of AI

The conference was organized for the second time on 19 and 20 May and the goal was to offer both Norwegian and international environments and companies a competence and collaboration arena within applied artificial intelligence (AI), which will lay a solid foundation for succeeding with data-driven economy and innovation in the future.

The digital event was broadcast from the Simulation Centre in Halden and led by journalist, meeting leader and writer, Ruth Astrid Sæter.

“I have to say that being allowed to lead AI+ 2021 has been incredibly instructive. I knew very little about applied artificial intelligence before this. Now I have learned a little more, and I also see that there are many areas that need to work more together – both to accelerate development, but also to make sure that all the important considerations are taken,” Sæter comments after the end of the conference.

This year’s conference host admits her views on what artificial intelligence is and how the technology can be used have changed after hearing varied presentations from universities, research firms, big tech companies and small startups over the course of two days.

“That notion of ‘God, are we letting the machines take over?’ is not there as much anymore. I’m excited about when the algorithms get so smart that they’ve detected everything, what kind of acceleration will we see?”, she asks.

“Clean air for everyone”

Business developer at the startup AirMont, Ole Gabrielsen, was among the companies that pitched their solution and use of artificial intelligence for the digital audience. In addition, he participated in the panel debate on day 2.

“The conference provides the opportunity to make contacts. Since it is digital, it gets a little harder, but you are also inspired to check out new things. When you hear what Oda (formerly Kolonial.no) says about their experiences and what the Norwegian School of Economics says about innovation models, it is very useful input for us. As a new startup, we do not get this anywhere else. It is crucial to be part of such an environment early on,” says Gabrielsen.


AirMont’s vision is “clean air for everyone” and the company aims to ensure better air quality using artificial intelligence and sensor technology. The first product on the market is chimney sensors with a built-in digital system that will be rolled out to all households with chimneys in Halden municipality during the fall of 2021.

“The sensors use artificial intelligence to correlate research results and historical data. When collecting many datasets, such as the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the municipality, the EU, weather and traffic data and sensor data from us, this data can be used to predict poor air quality using artificial intelligence. This would be impossible for a human being to do,” explains the business developer.

In the long term, Gabrielsen envisions that such predictions can be used to encourage residents use their fireplaces less during certain periods of time, as it is often smoke from chimneys that is the main cause of poor air quality in cities. An incentive may be, for example, that the inhabitants who do not use their fireplace, which will be possible to keep track of with the help of sensors, can get half price on the electricity during the relevant time period.

Microsoft offers aid

On the way there, however, a startup needs help, both with financing, good advice, and follow-up. Here is where giant Microsoft enters the picture. The technology company has massive expertise within digital systems and was broadly represented at the conference, both as a sponsor and partner in Cluster for Applied AI, but also as speaker and participant in the panel debate.

Izabela Hawrylko is Data&AI Solution Specialist at Microsoft and Microsoft Norway Startup Team Lead. She was Microsoft’s representative in the panel debate.

“What is most important for us is different perspectives. Being here and hearing from startups like AirMont allows us to think about how Microsoft can assist with resources and funding. By the size we have, I believe there is a responsibility to support businesses and academia. That’s why it’s important to attend conferences like this, talk to people and listen to what kind of challenges they have,” says Hawrylko.

She is concerned that there are too many people talking about artificial intelligence and wanting to test it out in their organization, without being willing to make the organizational changes required to succeed with new technological solutions.

“Technology is important, but you also need to be able to use the technology and change your organization so that you get the most out of the technology. There is no meaning in acquiring an innovative solution if you do not know how to use it or have a plan to use it. We see that artificial intelligence has been hyped up and used as a buzzword, and I hope that more companies eventually understand that one must also have a plan to adopt it,” she emphasizes.

Even bigger next year

Two of the initiators behind AI+ are Knut Johansen, CEO of eSmart Systems, and Dr. Tomas Nordlander, Research Director at the Department of Energy Technology (IFE). They were both very pleased with the implementation of this year’s digital conference and look forward to next year – which will hopefully be a physical event.

“AI+ has become a conference at the top international level. Those who participate get very good and useful input,” says Johansen.

«During the first conference this last fall, we learned a lot and we have had another conference now that have gone very well, but there is still a lot to improve. Hopefully, the third conference will be a physical event that is even bigger, and then we will have had two training rounds,” adds Nordlander with a smile.

AI+ was organized by Smart Innovation Norway, eSmart Systems, Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) and Halden Municipality, in collaboration with Cluster for Applied AI.

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