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Rector Dag Rune Olsen’s opening speech, ViSmedia’s conference Watching in the Media

«Technology helps set the parameters of possibility. It frames our range of potential futures, but it doesn’t select one for us.»

Important words by The Guardian columnist Ben Tarnoff, as our everyday lives have indeed changed drastically over the last decades. Especially when it comes to how we interact with each other through technology, such as social media.

The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” was clearly not coined on todays use of pictures and video. Now, a single swipe on Instagram is worth a thousand pictures.

Boundaries are pushed every day, and we find that principles of privacy that previously were held in high esteem are challenged. This in turn effect journalistic work and the media.

Where journalists used to be characterized as a bit invasive, the tables may now have turned. It is our closest family or friends who share pictures and moments from our life in the public space of social media. Never has “private” information been this accessible.

Today it is not unusual to see private drones with cameras patrol the sky. We can be snapped, instagrammed or shared almost at any given moment. And the public now has instant access to news and live feed wherever they are.

Our own phones are no longer just for calling, but have become tracking devices like those we used to see in old James Bond movies. Except our phones are a lot more accurate at tracking our every move, because we allow them too.

I think we should be very aware of the technological advancements when it comes to who is being watched, and who is watching who.  But how does this affect us, is it a negative development or are there positive effects that outweigh it?

What does it all entail?

Perhaps we can find some wisdom in George Orwell’s novel “1984”. The novel describes the fictional and dystopic future of Great Britain, where the country is ruled by a totalitarian regime. And here is how Orwell imagined being a citizen in such a future:

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”

… Considering the influence of Facebook, I think Orwell was on to something with his facecrime, even if his dystopic description may be a lot darker than reality.

But all things considered, quoting Orwell is not an answer, and I certainly cannot tell you whether todays technology may have a positive or negative impact on us. Luckily for me, being rector of a university, I know where to find those who can.

And the future is looking bright!

Because I am of course talking about our students. It is they who will both live in and shape the future. The knowledge and methods students acquire through their education will be of enormous importance for coming development. On topics like these critical thinkers and sharp minds will be a deciding factor.

Therefore, it also makes me both proud and happy to see that there are students on the program here today.

I am convinced that students have a whole different understanding of all this surveillance advancement than we “elders” ever can achieve.

You see, I have witnessed this myself as some students at Media City Bergen were trying to show me how AR-googles worked, and how the program they had designed can be an important video editing tool. However, it really became clear who was the future, and who was the elderly.


Besides our students, excellent researchers like the ones from ViSmedia, are of great importance.

Through projects like ViSmedia who perform responsible research and innovation according to an international framework we may understand the development and adoption of visual surveillance technologies.

After all, academic knowledge is the key to understanding many societal challenges, and this one is no different.

And with that I welcome you all to the University Aula, and I hope you will have an enlightening and thought-provoking conference here today!

Thank you!

SDG Conference Bergen, rektor Dag Rune Olsen’s opening speech

Bærekraftskonferansen 2018 / SDG Conference 2018. Foto: Eivind Senneset, UiB

This very day. This very hour.
The citizens of Cape Town face a draught that threatens the whole city.
The last update is that the so cold “Day Zero”,
when the taps run dry,
is expected to be on the 11th of May.
How could this happen?
Was there no prior knowledge that warned of the crisis beforehand?
Of course there was. One thing is access to knowledge, how it informs decision-making and political action is something different.
The example from Cape Town is only one of many reasons
why we need to talk about the science-policy interface.
And, that is exactly what we will address in this conference
on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs.

We as scientists need to get across
to politicians and other decision-makers
how important our knowledge – based on research – is for the SDGs to succeed.

The sustainable development goals are radically different
and more ambitious than the previous Millenium goals.

The responsibility is now global.
We all need to develop,
that means the perspective of developed and developing countries is challenged.
In the context of the SDGs we are all developing countries.
Norway included.

In April 2017 Peter Thomson,
then president of the United Nations General Assembly,
wrote a letter to all Deans, Universities presidents and leaders of higher education institutions around the world.
Thompson’s clear message was:
“Everything I have learned […] has convinced me that, taken together with the Paris Climate Agreement,
the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda provides humanity with the best chance we have to shape a sustainable way of life for our species upon this planet. […]
It goes without saying that young people are the most capable of the transformation required,
having the most to gain
or lose from the success or failure of the Agenda.
I therefore make this sincere request to you to make these Goals an integral part of research, teaching and study at your institutions.” 

Why did Thomson address us?
We are primarily decision makers in two fields:
research and education.
It is our responsibility to critically approach the sustainable development goals
and to make our knowledge and research available.
Because it is decisive that we are listened to in the process of diplomacy making.
And the Universities are indeed already reacting to Agenda 2030 and the SDGs,
because we realise that knowledge shapes society.

In Bergen we work strategically with the SDGs.
Just last month we established the Centre for Sustainable Global Ocean Governance and Research.
By creating this centre,
we have created a mechanism for providing research-based knowledge supporting informed policy-making.
Such collaboration will help Norway be a key international player on the SDG14 – “Life below water”.
Through our scientific work and efforts
we progress towards conserving and sustaining the oceans, seas and marine resources.
Sustainable management is also critical to the blue exonomy and thus SDG2 – “Zero hunger”.
At the UN Ocean Conference last year,
Our university agreed to several voluntary commitments devoted to sustainable oceans.
If we are to succeed in the science-policy interface,
we need to build partnerships and cooperation globally.

Climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in the 21st century.
These are the words of Mary Robinson – former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commisioner for Human Rights – referring to SDG13.
But, it also affects a number of the other SDGs, like sustainable cities and communitites, zero hunger, good health and clean water.
The Paris agreement, COP21, represented a breakthrough for combatting climate change.
It was also a victory for high level diplomacy.
And, it demonstrated – eminently so – how science can inform and support policy-making,
International diplomacy and negotiations on topics of global importance.
In Bergen, the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research has conducted research on the highest scientific level, internationally
AND has engaged with the intergovernemnetal Panel on Climate Change – IPCC
and – as such – has a share in the Nocel Peace prize 2007
This show the mutual dependence of scientific quality and societal relevance.

We are engaged in a wide range of research and educational activities of relevance to a number of the SDGs, such as:
Centre for women’s and gender research, – goal five, Gender Equality.
Centre for international health – goal three, Good Health and Well-being.
Centre for climate and energy transformation, CET – goal seven, Affordable and clean energy.

And most importantly, perhaps,
we study human lives, economies and societies, – Subjects subsumed in every goal.

A common grounding of all the sustainable development goals is that we – humans – are the key to succeeding.

Subjects in humanities and social sciences are common for all SDGs.
When populism, polarization and extremism become more apparent,
humanistic and social understandings are more important than ever.
We cannot hope to show the way to reaching the SDGs with
technological advances alone.

It also implies that we must think differently. Business as usual is no option.
We must be critical AND creative, we need to embrace diversity in view and ideas.

To quote artist, song writer, and ICAN activist Nosizwe Baqwa:
“To change the narrative, DARE to invite in other storytellers.”

Our students are our inspiration.
They prove that creation, refinement and dissemination of knowledge and awareness work.
Through these processes, our efforts really do make an impact.
We must work with our students so they can shape our common future into a sustainable one.

Before wells began to dry up in Cape Town, there were forewarnings.
Agenda 2030 and the SDGs are the warning of draught,
conflict and crisis on a global scale.
Knowledge is the prerequisite for tackling these challenges.

Minister, UN representatives, distinguished guests, students, colleagues and friends:
Welcome to this conference on the UNs sustainable goals.
An event we promise to make an annual arena for discussions over the SDGs and to foster the science-policy interface.
Now, it is my great pleasure to introduce the minister of research and higher education, Iselin Nybø. The floor is yours!


(The speech was held on the 8th of February)