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Danish government injects €200m into AI R&D

Denmark is investing in a range of programmes to boost research and development into artificial intelligence and its place in various business sectors

The Danish government is investing more than €200m in digital and artificial intelligence (AI) research and pilot projects.

A significant part of the funding is earmarked for ventures that will focus on using AI and digitisation technologies to cut costs in mainstream industry sectors such as transportation, energy, construction, and the delivery of healthcare services.

The spending programme follows the launch of the Danish government’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) in March.

The NSAI, coupled with the government’s projected investment in groundbreaking AI and digital projects, consolidates Denmark’s position as one of the leading member states within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), measured in relation to gross domestic product (GDP), achieving the highest public investment in technology-driven research and development (R&D).

But despite the promise of efficiency gains, research conducted by the ministry of industry, business and financial affairs (IBFA) among Danish companies with 250 or more employees found that just 5% use AI. It is a similar situation in the public sector, with the survey revealing that only 3% of all Danish municipalities are currently using AI to improve their services.

In Denmark, sectors such as healthcare, energy, transport, construction and agriculture have all been identified as having potential to gain significantly from elevated use of AI and digital technologies.

For example, AI has the potential to enable Danish energy utilities to develop new “green” products, services and business models that could optimise consumers’ energy consumption to reduce both costs and carbon footprint. 

In the transport sector, AI is seen as a potentially revolutionary tool to deliver road-safe self-driving cars and more efficient public transport systems.  

In agriculture, AI systems are being tested that support the development of precision and sustainable farming methods. A number of projects are investigating the commercial and environmental benefits of combining data from fields under cultivation and weather data. AI is being pilot-tested to predict which fields need water and fertiliser, and make automatic adjustments.

Denmark’s construction industry is also poised to benefit from the government’s investment. The industry is working to develop a holistic approach to the use of AI and digital technologies, said Michael Nielsen, director of the Danish Construction Association (DCA).

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“We are cooperating closely with state innovation agencies to improve the use of digital tools in the building sector,” he said. “We want to develop open formats and common standards, while enhancing the use of data and digital competencies across the entire value chain. Our goal is to achieve more sustainable construction through digitisation.”

The Danish government has set its total public research budget for 2019 at DKK23bn (€3.1bn) and the portion of this budget allocated to AI and digital R&D schemes, although relatively modest, has increased fourfold since 2010.

Meanwhile, public-private collaboration is expected to lead to more ventures focused on the development and deployment of AI and digital technologies, said Rasmus Jarlov, Denmark’s IBFA minister.

“As a country, we must work better to use AI and digital technologies to create new business opportunities,” he said. “The initiatives we are taking, including the NSAI, are intended to benefit companies, the public sector and Danish society as a whole.”

The IBFA will oversee most of the schemes in the spending programme, with many of the projects routed through state-run technology and research funds.

The Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD) will receive €27m in 2019 to research new tech solutions, including AI and digital, while the Research Fund Denmark (RFD) has been allocated €10.7m to finance digital and AI research.

The establishment of a National Research Centre (NRC) dedicated to new digital technologies is one of the IFD’s biggest capital initiatives in 2019, with €13.4m allocated to it. The NRC will also help to deepen the country’s talent pool in the fields of digital and AI.

Dialogue with private investors

Meanwhile, the Danish Growth Fund (DGF) will manage a €5.4m, four-year pilot project to drive an ongoing dialogue with prospective private investors to co-invest in innovative Danish enterprises producing business models based on AI.

The DGF will contribute about €2.7m to the project, with the balance coming from private sector investors.

The Danish government is also investing €15m to develop its Digital Hub Denmark project. The digital hub will add a new layer to Denmark’s technology development infrastructure and will strengthen the country’s position as a high-yielding growth environment for digital-AI research and development.

One of Digital Hub Denmark’s primary tasks is to support government initiatives to attract foreign investment in digital. It will also advance measures to ensure the responsible use of AI in Denmark.

Improved access to risk capital and specialised talent in the AI-digital domain has become a major policy objective for the Danish government. The availability of private capital and skills is regarded as a critical building block to enable Danish businesses and public authorities to develop, test and use AI-digital technologies.

This also reflects the government’s strong desire to narrow the tech gap with Nordic neighbours Norway, Sweden and Finland, behind which it lags in AI-digital development, particularly the level of private investment in AI.

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