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Denmark is gearing up to become a trailblazing nation in the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
The commitment is set out in the Danish government’s new National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI), which aims to capitalise on investment in AI technologies to enhance societal advancement and deliver a competitive edge to business and industry.
The root ambitions of the NSAI report, produced by Denmark’s ministries of finance, industry, business and financial affairs, are to develop a human-centric and solid ethical foundation for AI.
The national strategy aims to support the ability of Danish business and industry to develop and offer world-class AI services targeting domestic and international markets.
The NSAI details 20 initiatives that are divided into four focus areas: the need for a responsible basis for AI; access to more and better data; the development of strong digital-AI competences coupled with new knowledge; and the scaled-up flow of capital investments into AI.
The NSAI provides a roadmap to promote collaboration between Denmark’s public and private sectors, said Kristine Helen Falgren, a technology special adviser to Invest in Denmark, the state-funded industrial development agency.
“One of the best ways to use AI responsibly is for public and private sector institutions to collaborate,” said Falgren. “There is a strong tradition for such partnerships in Denmark, and we have some of the world’s best researchers in the AI and machine learning field.”
At the research and development (R&D) end of Denmark’s AI sector, there is an increasing focus on cognitive technologies and applications that will have a significant impact on societal behaviour and business growth. These areas include route mapping, home and business energy conservation, voice recognition and foreign language translation.
To reinforce the existing infrastructure and results outcome, the national AI strategy recommends the establishment of a common Danish language resource to support and accelerate the development of Danish language technology.
More R&D projects are being funded to explore ways to use AI to create new business models and enable faster deliveries through enhanced prediction tools to assess demand in real time for various goods and services.
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As part of its ethical outlook, the NSAI report underlines the need for ultimate decision-making roles and powers to remain in the hands of humans.
“Just as with the internet, artificial intelligence holds a wealth of opportunities,” it says. “However, the technology also raises a number of ethical issues. With AI, the Danish government’s strategy makes it clear that it must be individuals who make the important decisions. Artificial intelligence must assist human decisions – not replace them. Similarly, the use of technology must be consistent with our society’s democratic values.”
The NSAI signposts the future direction of AI development in Denmark. Among the stand-out proposals is a plan to deliver a more open public sector data environment for AI. Working in collaboration with the business and research communities, the government wants to identify five public-sector datasets in 2020-2021. These will be accessible to businesses, researchers and public authorities engaged in expanding their AI platforms and offerings.
The prospect of a deepening private-state partnership in the development and use of AI features prominently in the NSAI’s objectives and targets. The government plans to roll out a series of initiatives to promote joint investments between government agencies and private sector organisations.
One such pilot initiative involves the formation of a so-called AI Investment Pool that will allocate up to €6.2m, over a four-year period, from the fund to enterprises with business models based on AI. Managed by the state-run Danish Growth Fund, it is envisaged that private sector companies will contribute at least 50% of capital to the AI Investment Pool.
Open dialogue with business
The Danish government’s open dialogue with business and industry on AI advancement will lead to ambitious R&D projects in the area of cost-base reduction.
The scope and range of R&D will have a strong concentration on the deployment of AI to help create new and more efficient business models for medical diagnosis, traffic control systems, transport route planning, and logistics cost curtailment. The scope of the initiative will also extend to specialised areas, such as the use of AI to identify routine or random errors in reports to banks, insurance companies and pension companies.
But the implementation of the NSAI is sure to encounter some major hurdles. These include the current shortage of IT, digital and AI skills and specialists in Denmark to drive high-quality research. Thousands of positions seeking IT talent currently remain vacant in Denmark’s private and public sectors.
According to a survey by Statistics Denmark, about 60% of Danish businesses were unable to find IT specialists from a contracting talent pool in 2017. In 2018, IT specialists constituted just over 4% of Denmark’s labour force.
The country’s government will also need to address the fact that few businesses and public authorities have strategic priorities in place for AI. This deficiency is increasingly connected to a lack of IT professionals and AI skills to support digital-AI innovations.
This is particularly the case in R&D fields engaged in finding improved technology in key areas such as advanced IT security to predict and detect virus threats, and enhanced AI capabilities to enable IT systems and networks to withstand systematic cyber attacks.
The Danish government’s response to the IT skills shortage laid out in the NSAI is to collaborate with technical colleges and universities to create new BSc-level courses on AI, machine learning, data science and algorithms.
Harness more engagement and investment
The NSAI is looking to harness more engagement and capital investment in AI by research funding organisations. The AI strategy will also seek to build a stronger digital research infrastructure and establish a national centre for research into new digital technologies.
But although new digital and AI technologies deliver the means to exploit opportunities, they also present security challenges, said Tommy Ahlers, Denmark’s higher education and science minister.
“New AI technologies pose risks,” he said. “That is why we must insist that these technologies are built on Danish values, both in terms of mutual trust and trust in the systems.”
Denmark is already one of the world’s most digitised countries. The NSAI adds a new layer of ambition to the Danish government’s Digital Growth Strategy (DGS), rolled out in February 2018, which seeks to extend digital’s reach across all sectors of the country’s consumer and business economy.
The DGS has produced a number of high-profile innovations, including the leveraging of well-developed digital, mobile phone and broadband infrastructure to deliver Digital Post (eBoks), a digital mailbox for messages and communications between public authorities and their customers.
Also, Denmark’s public sector innovation ministry has launched 22 digital initiatives under the umbrella World-class Digital Service to accelerate digitisation in the public sector.
“Our goal is to ensure we have the right plan in place to digitise at a faster rate and provide public services in a uniform and technology-driven way across the whole of Denmark, regardless of where people live,” said Sophie Løhde, Denmark’s public innovation minister.