Sweden's Economy Embraces AI & Automation
Sweden is taking part in the automation and AI revolution. Both the private sector and public sector are embracing the new future. Automation is being utilized in the private sector by manufacturing companies to streamline production and Sweden’s government is also investing in AI with the country’s largest ever industrial research program, The Wallenberg AI Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP) obtaining 3 billion Krona (345 million USD) to spend between now and 2026. All of this advancement is supported by a unique societal structure that encourages change in the workplace.
Sweden is investing heavily in automation, specify in manufacturing. With labor at a relatively high cost historically and increasing external competition, companies are turning to automation.
According to a survey produced by the Swedish Trade and Investment Council out of 600 international companies who partially operate in Sweden nearly half have expanded their manufacturing in Sweden in recent years. In fact, many companies report difficulty finding enough qualified employees to harness new technological advancements in the manufacturing industry.
In a recent study conducted by the Stockholm Business Region the Industrial IT and automation industry has annual sales of 70 billion krona in 2017 compared to just 50 billion in 2009. “The survey shows that the automation industry is becoming increasingly important in the Stockholm region. And everything points to continued growth, because all sectors of society are facing increased automation and digitization,” according to Mikael Klintberg a process manager at Automation Region.
A specific example of this expansion is SKF’s 22-million-dollar investment automation on its Gothenburg assembly line. SKF is the world’s largest producer of industrial bearings. The investment will reduce staff slighty but cut costs dramatically.
The company says it plans to make similar invests of the same magnitude at other plants for years to come. The head of operations at SKF, Luc Graux says that manufacturing at SKF will look dramatically different five to ten years from now on account of automation. It is clear that automation is the future of manufacturing and Sweden is no exception to the global trend.
The Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP) is Sweden’s largest ever individual research program. After recent large contributions WASP has sizable funds with access to 3 billion krona (342 million US) between now and 2026 according to their website. This investment allows for addition 250 research students and 45 senior research partners.
The two main components of WASP’s strategy are “eXplainable AI” and mathematical research. “eXplainable AI” refers to programs where researchers ask systems to explain how they derive their answers, so we better understand how AI thinks and how we can improve its process. The second program will be largely quantitative in which researchers seek to improve our understanding of the mathematics that support AI. 70 million Krona will be used to reinforce computing infrastructure.
The chair of the WASP board Mille Millnert comments “This is a unique investment, even in an international perspective. WASP will in this way obtain the resources needed to create the knowledge platform that Sweden requires if it is to continue to hold its position at the forefront of research and remain competitive.”
Some countries fear the AI and automation revolutions, but Sweden has been very receptive to change. 80 percent of Swedes have positive views of robots and artificial intelligence according to the European Commission. This a drastic discrepancy from Americans, 72 percent of whom are “worried” about computer and machine growth in the workplace.
Why such a reverse in employee sentiment? Some think that the social welfare system and employer culture help alleviate fears. “In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” according to the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”
Even if an employee is terminated generous unemployment benefits provide a cushion so the employee can recover and find new work. Regardless of one’s opinion on social welfare, it seems to assist the assimilation of change in the workplace.
Written by John Martin & Edited by Alexander Fleiss