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Weak threats and strong opportunities for digitalisation 2023

Publication date 6.3.2024 16.18 | Published in English on 15.3.2024 at 11.29
Press release

In 2022, the Digital and Population Data Services Agency published an article on the weak threats, strong op-portunities and tensions in digitalisation to support the annual Digihumaus report. The future work of the Digi-tal and Population Data Services Agency examines trends, phenomena, weak signals and scenarios, the obser-vations of which are linked to both strategic and practical development work. The time has come to publish the threats, opportunities and tensions of 2023.

Weak threats signal potential adverse events or trends. The weak threats we have identified are derived from the weak signals we have identified. We believe that anticipation and imagination can also be used to identify strong opportunities for taking a different course of action or creating a positive future. It calls for a discus-sion on different possible futures and the appreciation of the desirable and avoidable developments associat-ed with them.

Tensions in digitalisation

The development of digitalisation is associated with many tensions. Here are some key identified tensions related to digitalisation and, in particular, public digital services from 2023.

Centralisation – Decentralisation

In a centralised system, control and decision-making are focused on few, and in a decentralised system, con-trol is spread more evenly, giving more autonomy to individual parties. The perennial question of data man-agement and information security also spills into other areas of activity. Where do we need speed and effi-ciency, where do we need experimentation and flexibility?

Sustainable – Unsustainable

The sustainability of digitalisation is measured in a number of aspects, including social, economic and environ-mental sustainability. Unsustainable practices can, however, prevail if sustainable practices are not adopted or they cannot be easily implemented. The activities may also be unexpectedly unsustainable: the environmental impacts of digitalisation may not always be easy to measure, and the activities may be unintentionally unsus-tainable. How does sustainability become a natural, self-evident part of the activities?

Standing out – Identifying

Digital environments simultaneously involve conflicting elements that may also support one another. Seeking experiences of standing out and identification increases the fragmentation of the shared environment, but they can create important encounters and experiences for individuals. What will be the significance of shared services and platforms in the future?

Limited resources – Unlimited world

Digitalisation may seem like an intangible phenomenon, as the data flow is mostly invisible to us. However, there is no fully intangible service. Digitalisation consumes global and limited resources, including work, miner-als, energy and water. As a rule, however, the growth of the virtual environment is unlimited. How do we want to use limited material resources for unlimited intangible growth?

Shared – Unique

International tensions, distortions of globalisation and the fragmentation of the shared world are advancing rapidly. However, we are exceptionally connected with the whole world, where local and regional solutions also compete with each other. Where do we need cooperation, and where do we need distance and independ-ence?

Responsible – Irresponsible

Responsible action requires agreed practices, discussion, participation and deliberation. Irresponsible activities mean neglecting different ethical practices or disregarding different perspectives. However, irresponsibility in the digital world can be an attractive way to do, adopt and experiment with things. Which ones are more valu-able: long-term effects or temporary benefits? Can we afford to act irresponsibly?

Attractiveness - Resources

Digitalisation and emerging technologies offer countless opportunities and attractions for both individuals and organisations. Opportunities and available resources or competence do not always meet. Some believe that attractive opportunities are the ultimate paragons of technology stress and malfunctioning digitalisation. However, an uncooperative attitude may also disrupt the possibilities for smart development. How are true needs identified? How are resources secured in transitions and when operating methods change?

Immersion – Restriction

Digitalisation is everywhere and there are great hopes that it can make life smoother. On the other hand, the spreading of data and technology as part of more and more areas of life also causes adverse reactions. We can read it as debates on the disadvantages of social media and as a suspicion towards the emerging artificial in-telligence. On the other hand, few would like to give up digital services that make life easier. Do we just allow people to immerse themselves in digitalisation or restrict the use of devices forcefully or optionally, both for adults and children?

Weak threats 2023

Save a copy?


Have you considered saving your life and qualities in an AI avatar for the future generations? If a biography is not enough for you, you can do this right now if you like. As another example, the Pacific Island State, Tuvalu, is at risk of disappearing completely from the map as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. Tuvalu is now preparing for the inevitable by digitally preserving its governance, nature, cultures, traditions and cus-toms. If the island no longer exists one day, will it have a digital twin or will it just be a digital state? Estonia, then again, already has a comprehensive network of data embassies. 

Recording or saving everything is very common and, in another way, very special. With all this datafication, there is an increasing number of everyday things that create a digital trace, reference or object. The weight of the past and the complexity of managing the past are also becoming more prominent. Everything recorded can also be edited with augmented intelligence tools. The recorded object can also be merged with something else and used contrary to the original purpose or somehow differently.

The examples of your own AI avatar and archiving an island state directly touch the questions of identity and existence. Who we are, where is the "correct" understanding of ourselves and how does this affect our self-image? Forgetting is also important, which is why our identity has been based on a subjective interpretation of the selective memory. What happens when everything is saved?

Strong opportunity: Recording and saving is important. The more people record their lives easily, safely and comprehensibly, the more valuable everyday life will be preserved. 


Behind everything is hidden

The digitalisation of everyday life is advancing rapidly. Every new generation in the last 20 years has seen a new version of the internet. According to a study, 48 per cent of under 42-year-olds interact with people vir-tually more often than face-to-face. Up to 50 per cent of generation Z and millennials see online encounters as equal to real-life encounters. In addition to young people, even those who did not even know about the GSM phone when they were children live tied up on screens. This may reduce the social circle based on face-to-face encounters, for the sandwich generation, for instance, and thus affect the social relations of the rest of their lives. This trend may intensify as technology becomes more accessible and hand-held screen devices are replaced by "smart glasses" that deliver a stream of information directly to the field of vision.

The weak threat to development is that, at worst, things will remain only in the digital sphere. On the one hand, this may affect dependence on the digital sphere, on the other hand, the polarisation of well-being if, for example, loneliness, suffering or violence cannot be dealt with face-to-face. These types of experiences have the greatest impact on people themselves, but also on society in a variety of ways: the need for healthcare and social welfare services and the inability to cope with everyday life and work. How will future public service customers feel and manage their business? 

Strong opportunity: You can isolate yourself too much by immersing in digitalisation, but digitalisation can also connect people. Now is a good time to identify what types of meeting places in digital environments are sustainable for both public service and people. At best, technology and digitalisation lower the threshold for building social relations and seeking help.

Creative bravado

In 2022, we anticipated that the use of creative services, i.e. AI as a service, will increase and have tremen-dous impacts. The change has taken place at a faster pace than many could even imagine. 2023 has been a celebration of these services. Augmented intelligence has become a natural part of operating methods and entirely new tools have emerged at workplaces and everyday life. Generative AI is integrated into the most common areas of human life, even critical software in the world such as patient information systems.
The purpose in these instances may be excellent, for example, to improve communication between people and patients at different times. Any carefully created contextual computer programme that knows natural language may be better than a confusing doctor or a health centre that you cannot reach.
However, it is a growing threat that integrations take place unnoticed, and the impacts and consequences cannot be controlled. Especially in generic language models, technology is unclear: how has the material been trained, what does it contain or how does it deduct? It is also important to observe whether developing tech-nology solves problems and genuine needs that have been identified by, for example, nursing staff or patients.
The human-like interface of creative AI also hides the fact that AI requires huge amounts of resources to use and train. One prompt written for artificial intelligence consumes about half a litre of water. On the other hand, training the GPT-3 language model produced as much carbon dioxide emissions as one thousand return flights between Helsinki and Tokyo. 

In order to prevent disturbances to the transition, we must also note that for nursing staff, for example, the reforms do not only concern the user interface but also the entire way in which the work is carried out. To support a successful change in operating methods and transition, care is needed to maintain competence requirements. It is also important to consider what kinds of skills must be maintained in the transition.

Strong opportunity: Language models challenge familiar ways of thinking. Changing them sustainably re-quires safe experiments and learning from them. Above all, there is a great opportunity for rethinking interac-tion in different user interfaces.