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Danish AI: Denmark’s Digital Dream

Peter, Dario and Henrik at the Web Summit Lisbon
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Table of Contents

As of 2019, Denmark ranked fourth in the Digital Economy and Society Index, enjoying a position at the top of the leader board for digital performance in the EU. Globally, the country is among the elite in digitalisation. Denmark puts research high on the agenda and this is where Danish AI comes in. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Denmark sits amidst other countries with the highest public investment in research and development, this being measured concerning GDP 

In AI territory, Denmark has stellar research space. The country’s public sector is one of the most digitised on the planet, earning it international recognition. 23 billion DKK is the public research budget for 2019; this figure indicates the level of attention the Danish government is placing on becoming a digital front-runner, and the scale of financial backing that will power this ambition. Denmark is set in good stead for acceleration within the AI sphere and integrating new technologies into society, as there is a solid platform to build upon. 

Digital Hub Denmark brought some of Denmark’s strongest tech companies & startups to Web Summit in Lisbon 2019 and BotXO were selected to join the delegation to represent Denmark.

Members of BotXo at TechBBQ
Alongside many other companies, BotXO attended TechBBQ, the biggest startup and innovation summit in Scandinavia, in 2019. Here you see members of BotXO at the conference.

The Promise of Danish AI

‘AN AI NATION?’, a report published in 2019 by a collaboration of authors from The Innovation Fund Denmark, McKinsey & Company and the University of Copenhagen, explores the current situation concerning AI in Denmark and forecasts the future of the technology. Key figures are stated in the report that gives an approximation of the effects it will have on Danish society in years to come. By 2030, AI may boost the economy by 35 billion DKK annually in additional GDP. Furthermore, it shows promise in improving the well-being of Danish citizens by an increase of 0.4 % annually by 2030.  

The report covers Denmark’s present standing regarding research within AI; three Danish universities rank within the top 15 in Europe in AI sub-disciplines, these being natural language processing and algorithms and complexity. The University of Copenhagen, IT University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University boast third, seventh and fifteenth place. Additionally, from 2018 to 2020, Danish universities endeavour to scale-up on the number of courses in AI-related subjects. Denmark is taking long strides in its pursuit of AI superiority and fashioning a digital society. The report, however, is not shy in addressing the hurdles that are to be overcome if the mission is to be a fruitful one. 

Overcoming Obstacles

There is a pressing need for talent in this branch of computer science. Denmark lacks enough individuals equipped with the skills and competencies for working in artificial intelligence. The past decade has seen a 20% annual increase in the need for AI-specific expertise and skillsets. The talent deficit is impeding the implementation of AI, say 51% of Danish enterprises. 35% of Danish AI startups concur that this is restricting movement in the field.  

Anders Søgaardprofessor in natural language processing and machine learning at the University of Copenhagen, states that one of the contributing factors of this is that graduates and academics relocate for work outside of Denmark. None of the big dogs in the industry has headquarters or substantial research labs in the country, much to the detriment of Denmark’s AI scene. Tech giants in the US attract hordes of individuals in the field, who leave their motherlands for the land of opportunity that is Silicon Valley. Jobs with the big dogs in the industry are gold dust for aspiring tech wizards and highly sought after. 

Zendesk, who is one of BotXO’s partners, is a great example of a healthy Danish tech company who made it to Silicon Valley and now has 160 customer countries and territories.

Morten Primdahl meeting with BotXO founders
Morten Primdahl, CTO at Zendesk, stopped by BotXO’s headquarters in Nordhavn, Denmark, to meet with BotXO founders Darío Rodríguez and Henrik Fabrin.

The monopolisation of AI

Camilla Rygaard-Hjalsted, CEO of Digital Hub Denmark addresses the problem head-on:  

“One of the crises Europe currently faces is that the large tech corporations are monopolising AI technology. A way in which Europe can back its corner is by channelling efforts into the green agenda and to also prioritise ethical principles that coincide with the development and application of AI, with specific focus on algorithms and decision-making. Denmark is doing digital differently. We are ambitious and optimistic for what AI has in store for the future of our nation, and we extend a special invitation to women to come and join us in the tech industry in Denmark.” 

Henrik Fabrin, CEO of BotXO at Web Summit i Lisbon.
BotXO was invited by Digital Hub Denmark to promote DK as a pioneer country for digitalization and AI at the Web Summit in Lisbon in 2019. Here you see Henrik Fabrin, CEO and Co-Founder of BotXO, at the conference.
Canada is facing the same problem. In April 2019, Montreal-based software company Element AI published their second annual report on the global talent pool within AI. The report found that despite being one of the highest-ranking countries for employment and training within AI, the number of researchers leaving the country for work elsewhere beats that of those taking up roles in Canada. Camilla’s closing remark sheds light on the issue of underrepresentation of women in the field. Computer science is a male-dominated area. Tackling the gender gap in the industry is imperative as this will help in solving the talent problem

Denmark’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence

In March 2019, the Danish government launched its shiny new National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. The strategy details how the government will invest in the research and development of AI, to aid the progression of the technology in the public and private sectors, business and industry. It stresses that the bedrock for growth of AI within these areas must be a human-centric, ethical approach that upholds the core values of Danish society: equality, security, liberty and freedom.

The government’s vision is that ‘Denmark is to be a front-runner in the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence.’ The strategy sets forth four objectives for how this vision will be fulfilled:

  • Denmark should have a common ethical and humancentred basis for artificial intelligence
  • Danish researchers should research and develop artificial intelligence
  • Danish businesses should achieve growth through developing and using artificial intelligence
  • The public sector should use artificial intelligence to offer world-class services 
Henrik Fabrin, CEO of BotXO, talking disruption for a big crowd at the Web Summit in Lisbon 2019.
Disruption is a big theme on the Danish government’s agenda. Here, Henrik Fabrin, CEO of BotXO, is talking about AI chatbots and disruption at the Web Summit in Lisbon 2019.

Danish AI offering revolutionary solutions

Projects are already underway across Denmark that are contributing significantly to the country’s infrastructure. For example, scientists and researchers at Odense University Hospital in Southern Denmark are channelling their efforts into using AI to detect cancer in its early stages. Through studying images of cancer cells, AI can judge whether a cell is cancerous. The technology has a high success rate within this field. This will allow for early diagnosis and treatment, increasing a patient’s chances of survival. Ultimately, AI will be saving lives.  

Furthermore, researchers at the Carlsberg laboratory in Valby, Copenhagen, are experimenting with AI. The goal is to abolish the gruelling task of screening 1,000 types of beer manually, through measuring taste aromas prior to the beer being brewed. The lab will test thousands of yeast types using chemical sensors. AI will then examine the data from the yeast types. Researchers are then able to conclude whether the yeast is of the right quality. There is a high likelihood of the technology being used in the future to measure other things, such as air pollution. Both projects are exemplary of how AI is pioneering revolutionary approaches to science and technology. AI is conducive to saving time and energy: it improves efficiency of processes and offer solutions to problems that hinder advancement in these areas.

The Bot Operators from Carlsberg came to the BotXO headquarters for an onboarding workshop with Michael Larsen.
Carlsberg representatives from 6 countries visiting the BotXO headquarters to be on-boarded on BotXO’s platform to learn how to use AI for customer service.

Funding for Danish AI

No expense shall be spared on Denmark’s quest to achieve technological excellence. The Danish government has designated 60 million DKK to fund the strategy from 2019 to 2027. This is on top of a hefty sum of 295 million DKK granted from the research reserve in the Finance Act 2019; this will fund research into the latest digital technologies and evolution in the area, and the establishment of a national centre for research into digital technologies.

As the strategy unfolds, emphasis will be placed on four priority areas, these being energy and utilities, healthcare, transport and agriculture. These areas have taken precedence as authorities and businesses have access to quality data, a prerequisite for moving forward with AI. The EU has also identified these areas as having notable potential for partnering with AI and how this would prove lucrative within these industries. Europe should exploit the expanding capabilities of AI and welcome the changes it will bring to socioeconomic landscapes across the continent. 

How technology will strengthen 4 priority areas

Now to discuss how the technology will strengthen each of these areas. Within the energy and utilitsector, use of AI will enable businesses to create new services, products and business models; specifically, businesses in environmental technology and green energy. This, in turn, will help other businesses and consumers lower their carbon footprint and expenditure through energy conservation; AI committed to reducing waste and injecting hope for a greener, more sustainable future. Moving on, the aforementioned use of AI within the Danish healthcare system is a breakthrough for medical science universally, as it plays a role in preserving life. Equally, AI can help medical professionals prioritise patients with severe conditions, who require attention sooner rather than later.

In transport, AI can be used to devise solutions when dealing with the logistics of traffic management. This will convenience road users and create smooth traffic flows. It will improve road safety and play a part in reducing vehicle emissions. It can be used in self-driving cars and to enhance public transport services. Finally, in agriculture, AI will be instrumental in the continuance of sustainable farming in Denmark, through precision agriculture. Compiling and analysing real-time environmental data such as weather patterns, soil conditions, crop maturity, allows farmers to make decisions based on the information collected and act accordingly. This type of agriculture can save time, increase yields and cut costs. It allows farmers to keep records and lessens the negative impact on the environment.  

Framework for the development of AI

Alongside the four priority areas, the government have presented four focus areas in the strategy: responsible foundation for artificial intelligence; more and better data; strong competences and new knowledge; increased investment. These form the practical framework for the development of AI within the priority areas. The nucleus of the strategy in its entirety is the six ethical principles laid out by the government: self-determination, equality and justice, responsibility, explainability, development and dignity. These will inform the practices of researchers, developers and organisations who are setting the strategy in motion.

Henrik Fabrin, CEO of BotXO, were invited to participate in a panel discussion at Nytårskur at Dansk Industri 2020.
Henrik Fabrin, CEO of BotXO, was invited by Dansk Industri to participate in a panel discussion about digital responsibility at Nytårskur 2020.

The principles highlight the importance that the Danish government places on nurturing the trust and confidence of its citizens, especially when navigating the waters of AI and its associated risks. The strategy stipulates that artificial intelligence must be neutral and detached from personal circumstances, to avoid algorithmic bias and produce fair and non-discriminatory outcomes. The data inputted into a computer system to train an algorithm must be correct, impartial and free from prejudice. This will ensure that the four core values that characterise Danish society are served and protected.

24 initiatives

The strategy consists of 24 initiatives that will inevitably undergo changes and alterations as progress is made and obstacles crop up. The demand for new initiatives will arise as developers make headway with new technology. Energy levels must be maintained in all areas of research and implementation if the strategy’s vision is to be accomplished. The government will keep track of the progress by regularly touching base with researchers, decisionmakers, professional networks, political stakeholders and the like. In short, the necessary points of contact who are instrumental in the process. The strategy will be assessed annually, and any revisions made accordingly.

Denmark is gearing up to be a major driving force in the development of AI, in the long run, having devised a comprehensive strategy adaptable to the sands of time. There are five central initiativesspanning across the private and public sector, that are the key ingredients for the strategy’s success:

  • Stronger investment in Danish businesses
  • More open public-sector data for artificial intelligence
  • Common Danish language resource
  • Signature projects in the public sector
  • Principles for responsible development and use of artificial intelligence

Read our article on how BotXO has trained the most advanced Danish language BERT model to date – available on open source.

Solid Foundations

Denmark is primed and ready to embrace a digital future. The field of AI and machine learning is experiencing exponential growth and reshaping modern society. The country has seized the opportunity to build upon this growth, with the view of transforming lives for the better. The prevalence of AI is to increase rapidly in the years to come, therefore it is of the utmost importance that countries welcome a future shared with machines.

More and more widespread adoption of AI and machine learning will also imply that job roles will need to adapt. No, robots will not take over our jobs. The Danish approach to artificial intelligence aims to be a smart and an ethical one at the same time: robots will help automate repetitive tasks, optimise processes, and ultimately redefine what it means to work in customer service and redefine the level and quality of service companies can provide to their customers.

As a society that has always welcomed innovation and is now embracing digital growth, Denmark is likely to be amongst the forerunner countries to redefine the future of work.

Tonny Rønnow presenting at the Customer Experience event at the BotXO Headquarters in Nordhavn.
Tonny Rønnow at the Customer Experience Group event at the BotXO Headquarters in Nordhavn, discussing how AI, herein chatbots, is transforming companies and job roles.

Article written by Elizabeth Garnett

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