It is consistently ranked as one of the most, if not the world’s most modern country. That’s how Swedes like to look at themselves, at least and is true in many ways. Of course, Sweden is at the forefront of digitisation and has a number of interesting startups that we took a look at in 2018. Nowhere else in Europe do households use the internet both to listen to music and to watch movies. The expansion of broadband is also at the top. In the EU Commission’s digitisation ranking, Sweden ends up on an honorable second place after Denmark. But at the same time, there are clouds of concern and a question appears: is Sweden really keeping up?
In 2018, we reported that Sweden had set clear goals about its ambitions, which is more than you could say about most countries. Sweden wanted to be the best in the world in the sphere of user-friendly AI according to the government itself. But how far is that goal, especially with the chaos and disturbances in the current formation of government? Even researchers are saying that Sweden as part of Europe are far behind the big AI giants USA, China and Russia. Let’s be realistic and not compare ourselves to heavyweight countries that can afford to inject capital into ambitious projects. That does not mean that Sweden is not competing well in various areas. Au contraire, it puts up a fight in areas of digitisation and digital infrastructure.
Sweden has both good digital infrastructure and Swedes are among the world’s best at embracing new technology. But a significant number of countries are rising to the test and, for Sweden, the important part is not to lag behind. It should be emphasized that one third of all Swedes have insufficient digital knowledge but it doesn’t really look that bad when you break it down into further statistics: Of these Swedes, 46 per cent have more than basic digital competence, while 31 per cent have basic, 18 per cent low and 5 per cent completely lack digital skills.
How is AI changing society for… the regular Swede?
In 2018, Vinnova, a Swedish innovation agency, looked at interesting ways that AI could be implemented in society, and some of these initiatives have already been steadily rolling out until present time. Two examples demonstrate that AI is not just an intangible dream that exists in the mind, but something that can be felt making a difference in society. Take the AiFloo smartband, as an example. With a bracelet that alerts you if something happens, the elderly can maintain their independence while care providers and relatives do not have to worry. It’s a special bracelet that a person wears in the field of home care that by wearing it, you can see where the wearer is and how they move. If something unforeseen happens, such as a case, the system sends an alarm. The bracelet is combined with one cloud-based AI engine that enables smart motion analysis. Other features are to see if the wearer woke up and stepped out of bed, if the person eats or takes their medicine.
Another crucial area of Swedish society that has been making use of AI is the field of cancer-screening with Karolinska University hospital making big steps in this area as they traditionally do. Around 1500 Swedish women die from breast cancer annually and with the assistance of AI, the cancerous tumor can be detected earlier and thus act more rapidly in treatment. The AI part of this lies in deep learning, where artificial neural networks and algorithms based on the human brain learn vast amounts of data. By practicing deep learning on over one million mammography images (using X-rays to examine the human breast for diagnosis and screening) combined with clinical data from the breast cancer register, a decision can taken more effectively. The goal of the decision support is to identify easily assessed mammographies and find the women who benefit most from a supplementary study. The digital decision support will easily be distributed across the country and reduce regional differences in the screening system. It is believed that this will provide a social economy value with safer diagnostics and an efficiency improvement of the mammography process in Swedish health care. As we can see, Sweden is implementing a reality of AI, but are there problems in government and bureaucracy?
Do problems remain on a governmental level?
In the past, the red-green political bloc of government consisting of, notably, the Social Democrats, has acted vigilantly. Only in the summer of 2018 did Sweden receive a national strategy for artificial intelligence with a document that is eight pages long. Again this gap between the stated level of ambition and political action. . At the same time, the government is investing SEK 50 million per year for a decade (!). If you want to compete with the big fish in the ocean, this is a minuscule amount. Instead, the Wallenberg Foundation has emerged and taken the lead in the work through its research foundation to fulfil this role. In other parts of the world, countries are investing on a completely different scale. The real race around AI is going on between the superpowers USA and China. But also countries like Canada, Singapore and Switzerland are far ahead. Sweden has even been surpassed by neighboring countries such as Denmark and Finland. Is funding the issue here? While forming a government is difficult to do, they should nonetheless address matters of investments in this sphere as soon as possible.
Sweden needs a clear vision and take into account that it is a successful country in digitization and artificial intelligence. Ultimately, both its future competitiveness and prosperity depends on this. AI will fundamentally change society. All tasks that are rule-based can eventually be automated. According to calculations from McKinsey, up to 2.1 million jobs in Sweden could be replaced by already existing technology. In Trelleborg, in the north of the country, the robot Ernst handles 85 per cent of all payments of supply support. The algorithm manages a matter of one minute and works 24 hours a day every day of the week. No human social secretary can match that efficiency; on the other hand, they can devote themselves to other things like meeting children who are ill. Individuals are freed up to devote themselves to pressing matters that no robot can commit to. In the same way, AI will be able to make diagnoses in the healthcare sector and contribute with a better decision-making basis in a large number of activities.
The Swedish tech-model is there and has a structure, but that structure needs to work efficiently with the resources it has to compete with the giants. This well-developed digital infrastructure and technology-friendly population should, however, be built on. It is a matter of aiming in the direction. The skills examinations must end. Sweden cannot tax human capital with the world’s highest marginal taxes, but must reward excellence. It is a country that needs to inject much larger amounts into AI research and make sure that it is not “free” to steal what is created in the country and intellectual property being protected securely. The locomotive of AI does not need Sweden, for it is Sweden that needs to adapt to the change that is coming.
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