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Digitalization for democracy

And so we finally have an election result, and among all the debates and opinions and voting, digitalization issues have once again been conspicuously absent. Digitalization has barely been mentioned in the debate at all. It is not a controversial issue, but an area of vital importance, and one where Sweden is losing ground.

One area where we fall particularly short is digitalization as a tool to support elections. With a higher degree of digitalization in our democratic election processes, we could potentially see higher voter turnout and greater interest in politics and ideology. Nowadays, the majority of people do their banking online, using digital identification. I am convinced that voter turnout would increase if a safe, functioning digital system were in place – although conventional voting would of course have to be possible to ensure maximum inclusion.

Many people use digital vote compasses to guide them ahead of what is our most important democratic task and indeed duty, i.e. voting. The question is whether such tools have occasionally governed too much. Kairos Future’s voting oracle has trained an AI robot, based on data from 50,000 previous surveys. Users then select their three main areas of interest from a list of 100. These are then matched with their party sympathies. When I tested this on friends and acquaintances of many different political leanings, the AI robot predicted the individual’s political sympathies with frightening accuracy. So what we can then ask ourselves is what the vote compasses really predict.

Over the past nine and a half months we have had a Minister for Digital Development, Khashayar Farmanbar (Social Democrat), who has been by far the most knowledgeable in the field – this compared to the past eight IT or digital ministers from three political parties I’ve had the privilege to work with over more than ten years.

It is a real pity that as Minister for Energy and Minister for Digital Development, energy issues have completely overshadowed anything related to digitalization in debates. One wish I would convey to the incoming government is not to combine digitalization with energy.

Sweden needs an aggressive digitalization policy. Our nation is losing ground in international comparisons (see e.g. DESI or the Networked Readiness Index) since we are not investing enough in our digital infrastructure, in the development of digital expertise, in the development of digital services for the public or private sector, or in digital security.