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Sweden takes the leadership role in the AI race

Global investment in artificial intelligence is gathering pace. Naturally, the United States and China are the giants in the field; however, there are many stages of the race in which the leader’s jersey is up for grabs. In Sweden, RISE is leading the development of a national action plan: the AI Agenda. The goal is to coordinate and sharpen Swedish resources with the aim of making applied AI a factor in the journey towards a sustainable society.

This is a rapid, open process with six working groups consisting of technology leaders from academia, the business community and the public sector. In December, concrete proposals will be submitted to the Swedish Government for consideration.

“I have encountered such a positive response to our efforts to gather all of the initiatives and drive the work forward to strengthen Sweden’s position,” says Jeanette Nilsson, AI ecosystem driver at RISE.

Public discourse

In part, this journey begins by opening the way for pubic discourse; in order to educate and allay concerns, as well as to further arouse curiosity in what AI can do in various sectors: how can the technology make life easier for a hairdresser or plumber?

“One of the challenges lies in the enormous fear of AI. Understanding has largely been built on the back of films in which self-learning robots become evil and kill their creators; however, an AI is a machine, a string of code, a one or a zero. A computer doesn’t find three ones in a row any more satisfying.”

Another discussion that needs to be conducted is the design of rules for how data is used and interpreted. And by whom. For example, China’s 350 million surveillance cameras generate gigantic amounts of data for algorithms to train on and improve facial or gait recognition. But does someone running constitute suspicious behaviour? Should a corporation or foreign power decide?

This is how Sweden can take the lead

China and the United States are at the forefront of AI, while Europe is lagging behind. If Sweden is to continue at the cutting edge within specific areas, we require collaboration – access to technology must come from both inside and outside Sweden and from both the private sector and academia.

“There are areas in which we are currently outstanding, such as natural language processing. We need to make this plain in order to continue to compete for pre-eminent researchers,” says Jeanette Nilsson, with the proviso that a strong industrial base and infrastructure will also be crucial to attracting those who want to work with AI.

Data collection vital

“One important factor for asserting oneself in the AI race is the collection of data; for example, the progress made in research on breast and cervical cancer would have been impossible without anonymous data collection,” says Jeanette Nilsson.

“You should be able to feel secure in sharing your data. If we are to be able to compete and develop in the field in parity with China, we must begin to trust in the system and those who take care of our data.”

Work on the AI Agenda will continue throughout the summer and autumn, among other things through panel discussions at Almedalen Week, working group meetings and workshops. Working groups include experts who are involved in the ongoing AI Innovation of Sweden initiative, as well as representatives of the private and public sectors, academia and other organisations.

“During the late autumn, we will be aiming to secure long-term funding and further increase the pace of work,” says Jeanette Nilsson.

Published: 2019-06-18