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Artificial intelligence to the front in Sweden’s National Technology Strategy

Sweden has launched a more far-reaching National Technology Strategy (NTS) that is front-loaded by an artificial intelligence (AI)-focused long-term investment plan to bolster the international competitiveness of indigenous companies large and small.

The NTS represents the most ambitious technology project to be rolled out by prime minister Ulf Kristersson’s centre-right coalition since it took office in 2022.

The development of AI products and services is at the core of the NTS’s capital investment plan. To further elevate state-funded investment and research and development (R&D) activity, the Swedish government has established an AI Commission (AIC) to contribute to AI policy formation. The AIC is chaired by Carl-Henric Svanberg, the former CEO of Ericsson and the present chairman of heavy vehicle maker Volvo.

The AIC’s key mission is to strengthen Sweden’s competitiveness as a global force in international trade, said Erik Slottner, the public administration minister in the Kristersson government responsible for digital and AI policy. “Used correctly, AI can contribute to increased innovation capacity, stronger competitiveness, improved welfare and a more efficient public administration. We want to ensure that Sweden takes advantage of the opportunities while managing the risks to fully realise the potential of AI,” said Slottner.

The AIC is tasked with providing concrete proposals to help the Swedish government shape policies that deliver optimum conditions to ensure the competitive, secure and ethical development of AI in Sweden, both in the public and private sectors. The AIC is tasked with conducting a comprehensive analysis of prevailing “conditions” in Sweden that will examine key areas such as higher education and legislation to determine if existing educational and legislative structures are sufficient to meet the future needs for AI use and development.

Moreover, a significant element in the AIC’s review will focus on providing proposals that identify how Sweden can attract international venture capital to enhance value in AI projects run by state or private organisations, and intended to improve the competitiveness of public administration and propel efficiencies in business and industry generally.

The NTC’s expansive mission will include producing a framework under which the government can more effectively promote and increase state support to public-private partnerships, particularly in the area of advanced AI and digitisation initiatives.

Additional funding

Additional funding is being provided by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to the National Advanced Digitisation (NAD) project run by a consortium that includes leading corporations Ericsson, ABB Group, Saab, Teknikföretagen and state-owned innovation agency Vinnova.

The role of Teknikföretagen in the NAD is regarded as pivotal given that it functions as the central organisation for employers and companies in Sweden ’s increasingly global-minded engineering and industrial manufacturing sector.

Sweden ’s march towards a more forceful technology-based economy, and one that employs the utilisation of advanced AI and digital tools to drive economic growth, is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing developments in the European Union (EU) to establish a common regulation for AI.

The EU’s regulation focus is on areas of use for AI systems that, although may be either considered prohibited domains or high-risk, can be used if operated correctly under a tighter degree of transparency and oversight rules.

“That the EU can produce common rules for AI products is important for Sweden,” said Slottner . “It makes no sense to have 27 separate pieces of legislation for such an important technology as artificial intelligence. A common approach, and common regulation, is positive for both Swedish and European innovation and competitiveness.”

Sweden’s AIC review will both analyse and identify how the Nordic country can best promote a competitive and safe AI environment in the EU and globally. The AIC is organised into specialist lead and sub-groups to examine key areas such as AI advances, global social policy, digitisation, sensitive information security and related legislation.

Statista, the Hamburg-headquartered research organisation, has forecast that the market size of Sweden’s AI sector is expected to reach over US$3bn in 2023, and show an expected growth rate of over 18.2% over the next decade, to reach a market volume of US$10.6bn by 2030.

Healthcare, public administration, defence, engineering and financial services are regarded as the primary areas for capital investments in AI development and use in Sweden . The Kristersson government views Sweden as one of the best-positioned states in the EU to initiate projects that seek to integrate AI with other technologies, including blockchain and the internet of things (IoT).

As part of its mission, the AIC will liaise with AI-Råd (AI Board), a consultative group formed by Sweden ’s 12 municipal regions in August. The municipalities have drafted a series of recommendations for new initiatives that are intended to enhance the ability of Sweden ’s municipalities to gain from AI usage. All 12 municipalities are represented on the AI-Råd’s governing board.

“Our aim is to achieve a common direction for strategic work within AI at local government level in Sweden,” said Katarina Lagerqvist , Kristinehamn Municipality’s chief digital officer. “ The goal is to create opportunities for all municipalities, large and small. It is important that we find ways to fully harness the possibilities of AI as a municipal group.”

Potential value

A 2020 report by DIGG, the Swedish government’s agency for digital administration established in 2018, estimated the potential value AI could create in Sweden’s public sector to be in excess of 140 billion kronor (€12.5bn) annually. The report noted that municipalities are primed to become a major beneficiary of AI on the cost and efficiency side of their operations.

The government has assigned Innova, the state innovation agency, to support AI projects run for and by municipalities. Innova, which is currently investigating the conditions for optimum gains from the use of AI across all 12 municipalities, instigated the Joint Initiative for AI in Municipalities and Civil Society (Kraftsamling för AI i Kommuner och Civilsamhälle) project in August to help municipalities embrace AI.

“There is a great need for more municipalities to seriously engage in AI usage and to do so in a way that creates conditions where they share information and learn from each other to jointly address important issues,” said Fredrik Weisner, Innova’s area manager for digital transformation.

The development of Sweden ’s national AI strategy has triggered relevant and important changes to legislation. The government’s new Foreign Direct Investment Act (FDIA), which passed in to law on 13 September 2023, included for the first time comprehensive sections covering the use of AI and protections for AI technologies.

The updated FDIA more strictly controls foreign investments, direct and indirect, in Swedish companies regulated under Swedish data protection laws.  

Overall, the FDIA deals with emerging technologies and strategic protected technologies such as AI, quantum computers and other technology that may have future or current significance for essential societal services. The legislation also provides for stricter regulations to protect sensitive personal data and location data as defined under General Data Protection Regulation laws.

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