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Sanna Marin, the popular former prime minister of Finland, on Putin, powerful women and legislation in the age of AI | TechCrunch

Earlier this month, at the Slush tech conference in Helsinki, this editor had the opportunity to sit down with Sanna Marin, the popular former prime minister of Finland, known internationally for her friends , but whose achievements in power are much more significant. notably by successfully pushing Finland to join NATO to better protect the country from its Russian neighbor after its invasion of Ukraine.

Marin, who retired from Finnish politics in September, now works at the Tony Blair Institute as a strategic advisor; she’s also working on a startup with one of her longtime political advisors. Still, based on the rapt crowd Marin drew during our conversation at Slush, it’s easy to imagine his eventual return to the political scene.

She didn’t rule it out during our interview. However, we spent much more time discussing what Russia’s aggression means for the rest of the world, why women should be more easily trusted in positions of power, and the promises and perils of AI – and what lawmakers should do about it. Here are excerpts from that conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

At the end of 2019, you took up a position which typically constitutes the culmination of a long career in the public service and you took it quite early (at age 34). What does it feel like to be pushed into this position?

Of course, when you accept this kind of position or job, you are never completely prepared. When you do the work, you learn what the work is, so it’s a leap of faith. In Finland, we have had a few female prime ministers, but if you look at the world, the situation is not very good. We have 193 countries in the United Nations and only 13 of them are led by women, so the world is not very equal (in terms of) leadership and it never has been. I just hope we see more female leadership in the world in the future.

We’re sitting here in front of a very large audience of tech founders who are trying to break down walls and break glass ceilings. What advice do you give them?

My main advice is to trust yourself. Believe in yourself. If you are in a position where you are capable of being in a leadership position, then think, “Maybe I am capable of this. Maybe I can do it. Especially women, they often question themselves. Are they ready for this work? Are they good enough? Can they do everything perfectly? Men don’t think like that. They think, “Yeah, I’m better.” I am the best for this job. I think women need this attitude too and they need support and to be encouraged to take risks and take leadership positions because women are good leaders. And if you are at this point where you can take this position, it is because you are good and capable. So go for it.

You have experienced a lot as Prime Minister. Shortly after your election, COVID took over the world. Last year, Russia invaded Ukraine. You have a very long and complicated relationship with Russia. You have a very long border with Russia. Can you take us back to that day when you heard the news (of the invasion) and what was going through your mind?

I remember it very well, as it was yesterday, because we knew then that it was likely that Russia would attack Ukraine. During this (previous) summer, almost six months earlier and throughout this fall, Russia, for example, slowed energy flows to Europe to reduce the storage of different countries, and thus, Russia could later use energy as a weapon against Europe. Russia also sent numerous troops near the Ukrainian border, saying it was an exercise and would not attack. Now we know that was a lie. Many leaders were in contact with Putin, trying to find diplomatic and peaceful ways out of the situation before the full attack began, and he is lying to everyone. Now we must learn from it. I have said many times that Western countries, democratic countries all over the world, should stop being naive. We should become aware of authoritarian regimes and (recognize that this is how) they operate and see the world and that their logic is very different from that of democratic countries. In the case of Russia, we believed that because of our close economic and trade ties with it, those ties could ensure peace, because it would be very costly and so stupid to start a war. Because it’s stupid. This is illogical, from our point of view. But authoritarian countries don’t think that way. So that didn’t stop anything.

You’ve spoken before about people’s naivety in the face of authoritarian governments, particularly when it comes to technology, where you think autonomy is also important. I’ve heard you express concern about Europe’s heavy reliance on chips from China, for example. How do you assess Finland’s progress in this area?

Finland is doing quite well compared to many other countries. . . When looking at technology, the most important thing is to invest in education from early childhood to universities (and to invest heavily in) R&D and new innovations. . . We have agreed in Finland that we aim to increase our R&D funding to 4% of our GDP by 2030, which is actually a very ambitious target. . . but I am optimistic and want to believe that technology can actually help us solve the big problems of the future, like climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics and other critical issues. We therefore need technical solutions. We need innovation. And we need to make sure that we also have the platforms and the will to encourage this construction. . .

How do you assess the work of the European Commission?

In many ways, the situation in Ukraine has deepened relations between Europe and the United States, but also Britain. Europe as a whole has an important role to play in ensuring that we have good international rules on big tech and AI development. So we need ethical rules that all countries in the world should or should follow. I see a lot of risks if the European Commission or other legislative bodies do not work with entrepreneurs or private sector companies, because the development of new technologies is very fast and cooperation is therefore essential. And I would like to see more interaction and cooperation between the private and public.

We are already seeing a lot of good from AI in healthcare and education. We are also hearing more and more about risks to humanity. I know you’ve been excited about AI for some time. Have you changed your view of its potential?

Every technology – every new thing – carries risks. There is always a negative side to everything. But there is also a positive side, and that is why I would like to see more and more interactions between those who create the technology and the legislators who create the rules for these technologies. . . so we can make sure there are more positives than negatives.

I like the work-life balance in Finland, and I also like that there is a certain aversion to excessive wealth, which we see in the United States and especially in the Bay Area, where people tend to value themselves based on their worth. the money they earn. I wonder if that’s a driving factor for ambition here or for attracting and retaining entrepreneurs.

It is very important that you have balance in your life. If you only work, you can work very hard for a while, but then you will burn out. I think we should encourage ambition but also (ensure people) that they have free time that they can spend with their family. In fact, we renewed the parental leave system in Finland (when) I led the government to ensure that more time was given to fathers to spend with their young children, while also allowing (making more possible) mothers to build their careers. I’ve never met a father who said, “I really regret spending time with my child when he was little,” have you? Nobody ever says that. This time away from work gives people perspective.

You are now a political consultant working for the Tony Blair Institute. What do you think about TBI being called “McKinsey for global leaders”?

Well (my long-time advisor, Tuulia Pitkänen) and I were doing that, working in almost 40 countries around the world, advising governments and heads of state on different issues. Of course, this varies from country to country, whether it’s agriculture, technology or many other things, and my job (at TBI) is (similarly) to advise heads of state and also different governments on certain issues. You know, when you’re in a leadership position, when you’re running a country, no one really understands that. You can’t read it in a book, you have to experience it. So leaders need that kind of interaction: talking with people who really know the job, how hard it is, and all the factors you need to consider to do that job. So that’s my job there. But I also do many other things, like speaking at different events and interacting with people. I always want to change the world. I haven’t lost my passion for the issues (which got me into) politics in the first place. I still have all these passions, but now of course I have more freedom to do other things and I’m open to it.

You were so popular as Prime Minister. You are also still very early in your career. Are you interested in returning to politics at some point?

I didn’t say I would never go back. Of course, that’s a possibility. One day, maybe I will find that passion again to pursue a political career. But for now, I’m doing something else. And I believe that we always have to close certain doors to open new ones. Closing some doors, doing something else, finding new paths has worked well for me so far. So I never had a five- or ten-year career plan or anything like that. I believe that opportunities come to you, and then you take them or not. You can always choose. But my advice is don’t plan your life too much because life is always a mystery and it’s always unknown and that’s why it’s so interesting.

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