The state of Swedish AI and data ecosystem 2022

19 Dec 2022
By Lars Linder

Manager, Consulting, EY Sweden

Innovation and digitalization proponent. Supporter of and catalyst for progress in all its forms. Casual golfer and serious runner.

19 Dec 2022

Sweden can be a leader in the application of AI, provided that it heeds growing challenges and builds an environment conducive to innovation.

In brief:

  • Sweden has a long history of developing strong industries that over time grow to become recognized across the world.
  • When it comes to AI, the future is still unwritten regarding how Sweden will make an impact.
  • Pursuing strongholds and tackling challenges in line with the growth recommendations are key for Sweden to lead in AI development.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an important topic for businesses and public organizations alike for the past several years. During this time, the public has grown increasingly accustomed to AI-powered services that are delivered by the world’s largest tech companies. 

However, even though organizations have the potential to deliver new and improved services through AI, there is still work to be done to succeed in this endeavor. This holds true for the Nordics region where many local assets make the region a potential contender in the development and deployment of ethical AI on an international scale. The Nordics represent a region enabled by certain strongholds and slowed down by a few challenges when it comes to innovation in AI.

Recently, Nordic Innovation worked with EY to create a report titled “The Nordic AI and data ecosystem 2022,” intended to help policymakers and organizations strengthen cooperation across the Nordics regarding the responsible use of data and AI, and to formulate new strategies and initiatives that will build on Nordic strengths while counteracting challenges.

  • About the Nordic AI and data ecosystem report

    Nordic Innovation (an organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers) and EY collaborated to undertake an extensive mapping of the AI ecosystem in the Nordics as it stands today. The purpose of this mapping was to identify national actors, initiatives and programs existing in the Nordic AI & data innovation ecosystem and to uncover some of the challenges, best practices and strongholds in each country. This report also delivers an overall view of challenges and strongholds on a regional level as well as recommendations on how to strengthen the capabilities of Nordic businesses within AI and data.

How can Sweden make a greater impact with AI?

Reach out to talk to us

Contact us

This article explores some of the key findings from the report, with a specific focus on Sweden. 

The AI and data ecosystem: a Nordic perspective

The Government AI Readiness Index by Oxford Insights scores how ready a given government is to implement AI in the delivery of public services to its citizens. All Nordic countries rank high in the 2021 Government AI Readiness Index.

Finland ranks first among the Nordic countries, in fourth place, closely followed by Sweden, Denmark and Norway in the sixth, ninth, and thirteenth places respectively. Iceland lags behind compared to the other four Nordic countries and ranks as number 46 out of the 160 countries in the index. The Nordics are highlighted in the introduction of the 2021 report as a leading region due to its governments having high internal capabilities. 

The overarching structure of the Nordic AI and data ecosystem can be broken down into four types of actors that influence or are influenced by relevant factors.

Photo of Nordic AI and data ecosystem

The overarching structure of the Nordic AI and data ecosystem can be broken down into four types of actors.

When it comes to AI and data challenges in the Nordics, the report finds that most challenges are common across the region. These challenges primarily include scenarios such as a shortage of talent, inability to connect academic AI research with business implementation and low adoption rates of AI in businesses. 

The report drills down three areas of particular importance where the Nordic AI ecosystem is facing challenges:

  • Data management: For many organizations, data is still not a priority. The available data is largely siloed in different solutions with no overarching strategy for its use and no IT architecture conducive to rapidly pursuing AI development.
  • Transitioning from pilots to production: Over the years, business leaders have agreed that they struggle to get past the pilot graveyard. While AI pilot projects are continually created, instead of being put into use, they are put aside as little more than a learning experience.
  • Understanding regulations and developing ethical AI solutions: Due to many potential regulatory tripwires, it is no surprise that many organizations are hesitant to take their first steps toward AI development. Coming to ethical AI solutions, it is often unclear for organizations how ethics and fairness can be replicated in AI.

The research also points to a high degree of commonality across the neighboring countries regarding their strongholds. The report delves into three strongholds that emerge as a common denominator across the Nordics:

  • The Nordic focus on ethics, equality and fairness: Over time, the Nordic status as a leading region for equality can become synonymous with the development and deployment of AI solutions that are unbiased, fair and ethical.
  • The availability of valuable national datasets: The Nordic countries are jointly in control of a vast amount of valuable data that can be leveraged by businesses and public organizations alike to create new services and to improve the lives of everyone living in the region.
  • Nordic Capabilities: The Nordic countries are well-versed in digitalization and rank highly in digital competitiveness, both of which are valuable for data and AI.

The strongholds and challenges overlap in some areas across the Nordics, but it is interesting to see how each country is uniquely positioned within the Nordic AI and data ecosystem.

The state of AI in Sweden

Sweden has a long history of developing strong industries that grow over time to become recognized across the world. These industries range from pharmaceuticals to forestry, manufacturing and retail. This trend has continued into the era of technology and software, with Swedish brands such as Ericsson and Spotify. However, when it comes to AI, the future is still unwritten about how Sweden will make an impact. 

From the perspective of organizations and networks, Sweden has some strong characteristics that can be leveraged. 

  • In the non-profit and public sectors, various organizations work with AI development either through funding (Vinnova), applied AI (AI Sweden) or research (Research Institutes of Sweden). Across these organizations and extending from them, we also find networks for knowledge sharing that serve as a boost to local AI development. These networks provide additional support to organizations that need help with topics ranging from data strategies to best practices.
  • In the private sector, Sweden has a valuable starting position as Swedish organizations generally can make larger investments in AI development, both internally but also externally through various collaborations. Sweden has a vibrant start-up scene, particularly in Stockholm which has recently been ranked second in the world for start-up unicorns per capita, only behind Silicon Valley. 

But there are also a few areas of concern:

  • When it comes to collaboration with academia, local experts point to the investments as being too low to drive a higher pace of innovation.
  • While Sweden does have a significant amount of investment capital that is raised, it is spread too thin across a multitude of projects rather than being focused on a smaller number of large initiatives. 
  • Market analysis shows that organizations have difficulty in launching AI projects past the initial pilot program stage. This is often due to low leadership involvement resulting from a lack of understanding about how to support AI development and which initiatives are worth the necessary investments. 

Sweden was among the first in the Nordics with launching a national AI strategy as early as 2018. However, while speed is valuable in a market as dynamic as that of AI development, the consensus is that the strategy does not go far enough and needs to be clearer with the direction and actions that public and private organizations should take. Swedish organizations can benefit from additional support, both from a national and Nordic perspective.

Let us take a detailed look at the national strongholds, challenges, actors, strategies, and initiatives specific to Sweden when it comes to AI development.

Augmented reality application using artificial intelligence for recognizing food
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 1

National strongholds

Sweden has many ways in which it can support the Nordic region in pursuing AI development.

As a leading country in the Nordics on data and AI, there is one area—namely the private sector—where Sweden has been performing particularly well for many years.

Private sector innovation 

Stockholm is a leader when it comes to start-up unicorns per capita. In addition to this already significant credential, Stockholm also creates the largest number of AI start-ups among the Nordic capitals according to Global AI Talent Report. These statistics paint a clear picture of Sweden’s thriving ecosystem for innovation in AI. Furthermore, the report also states that Sweden also has the largest talent pool for AI amongst the Nordic countries.

When viewed from the amount of funding that goes into innovation and start-ups, we find that Sweden invests at one of the highest rates in the world from the perspective of R&D as a percentage of GDP.

To make the most of these advantages, stakeholders from across the public and private sectors in Sweden need guidance on how to successfully leverage all the talent and funding that is available. Local experts point out that a prerequisite for more efficient innovation is clarity around how cooperation should function in practice. 

By providing this support from a Nordic perspective, the whole region can experience a boost to AI development as the amplified scale from cross-border cooperation will make the impact of innovation even greater, and thereby spur additional funding in the coming years.

landscape with the image of Old Town street in Stockholm, Sweden
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 2

National AI development challenges

Sweden currently faces one big challenge in AI development that requires immediate attention.

Out of all the challenges that Sweden shares with the other Nordic countries, there is one challenge where the country stands out compared to the rest of the Nordics.

A vague national strategy creates the need for additional guidance

One of the foundations for setting the course for a group of people or organizations is a clear strategy that is easy to understand and put into practice. This holds particularly true when each entity has a significant amount of freedom of choice regarding which path to take, which can lead to:

  • Vastly differing approaches within the group to tackle a challenge
  • A lack of action due to missing instructions

As mentioned earlier, the national AI strategy adopted by Sweden needs better clarity and direction for public and private organizations – especially against the backdrop of public organizations that have a relatively high degree of freedom in comparison to their Nordic counterparts.

While the Swedish AI strategy is too generic compared to what organizations and local experts would like to see, the overall agreement amongst stakeholders regarding the need for improvements showcases the potential for Nordic panning organizations to help guide the way. Stakeholders are hopeful to see a person or entity that can point to a joint scenario along with the path to get there. 

By bringing this type of structure to Sweden, and indeed to the Nordics, the potential to succeed with the Nordic’s great ambitions in AI utilization becomes significantly more attainable.

Stockholm, people on the street
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 3

National actors

Many Swedish organizations have started to develop, test and pilot AI solutions.

In Sweden, many organizations have started the process of developing, testing and piloting AI solutions across the public and private sectors as well as within academia.

AI Sweden, Vinnova, the Agency for Digital Government (DIGG), the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and Formas are among the key national actors that support AI on a broader scale. 

Given below is a visual depiction of a small portion of the national AI and data ecosystem in Sweden.

Photo of Nordic AI and data ecosystem visualisations output

A visualization of Sweden’s national AI and data ecosystem across organization types.

These national actors play a significant role in building a thriving AI ecosystem by providing funding, supporting AI research, development, competency building, networking, and market research, and acting as innovation boosters.

Commuters riding electric vehicles on bridge against blue sky
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 4

National strategies and policies

The national data strategy can help Sweden lay the foundation for more concrete AI development.

The Swedish national strategy for AI was published in 2018 by the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation to identify a way forward and set up guidelines for national priorities within the field of AI. 

In 2021, the Ministry of Infrastructure published a strategy to make Sweden the leading country in data sharing, an area in which the Agency for Digital Government (DIGG) plays a significant role. At the core of the strategy are six focus areas that lay the foundation for long-term work that includes both the public and private sectors: 

  1. Increased access to data 
  2. Open and controlled data-sharing 
  3. Cooperation and culture 
  4. Control, regulation, and follow-up 
  5. Research, development, and competency 
  6. EU and international cooperation 

Supported by these focus areas, the data strategy can augment Sweden’s data handling and lay the foundation for more concrete AI development. In addition, the data strategy is also closely aligned with the connected AI strategy, to strengthen Sweden’s welfare and competitiveness, and support a sustainable society.

Moving on to the topic of policies, DIGG has already been established as Sweden’s authority when it comes to digitalization. Tied to this, DIGG has published a list of six different policies surrounding data that are relevant to Sweden’s future AI development and that are to be followed by other public organizations within the country.

Robot hand holding butterfly
(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 5

National initiatives and programs

Sweden boasts many ambitious initiatives and programs related to fostering AI and data innovation.

The Swedish initiatives and programs cover many important topics related to pushing the national AI agenda, forward. Various types of funds and testbeds are available for those who need a boost to get started with AI, or who simply need access to more data and computational power than their organizations can muster.

There are research and collaboration initiatives between public and private organizations together with academia, as well as various initiatives that tackle ethical topics such as gender equality. Together, these initiatives and programs showcase the Swedish ecosystem as a well-rounded environment where most types of organizations of differing AI skill levels can find the tools and resources, they require to take their AI development to the next level. 

Two initiatives can be considered as best practices in Sweden based on market research and expert interviews.

Best practice 1: Vinnova’s Start Your AI Journey

One of the key issues facing many public and private organizations is the inability to take the first crucial step into developing AI solutions. Vinnova used the “Start Your AI Journey” initiative to encourage AI innovation by providing several rounds of funding to public and private organizations that required a boost to get started. All in all, Start Your AI Journey is the type of innovation encouragement that could be leveraged for even greater value by introducing it within other Nordic countries.

Best practice 2: Networks for knowledge sharing and inspiration

Another best practice in Sweden is related to how organizations are building official and unofficial networks to learn more from each other and cooperatively progress faster with AI development. Seen from a Nordic perspective, these types of networking initiatives could create further value by bringing together more organizations, thereby raising the possibility for attendees to find similarities with each other and therefore find opportunities to cooperatively learn about AI development. 

The bottom line

The strongholds and challenges explored in this article against the backdrop of national actors, strategies, policies, initiatives, and programs show that Sweden is on its way to becoming a leading hub for AI innovation. But to get there, Sweden needs to achieve measured progress in the four focus areas aggregated below:

  • Increase the investments put into supporting collaboration with academia, to drive a higher pace of AI innovation.
  • Secure better involvement from the leadership by helping them understand how to support AI development – ultimately helping AI projects move beyond the pilot stage.
  • Ensure that investment capital for AI development is focused on a smaller number of large initiatives rather than spreading it too thin across a multitude of projects.
  • Support organizations in the public sector from a national and Nordic perspective to get them working in the same direction, despite a vague national strategy.


Sweden has many strong characteristics when it comes to AI development. Sweden must seriously consider growth opportunities and focus on alleviating challenges that can hinder its AI innovation journey. Investments, better leadership and a strong national strategy are some immediate gaps to start with.

About this article

By Lars Linder

Manager, Consulting, EY Sweden

Innovation and digitalization proponent. Supporter of and catalyst for progress in all its forms. Casual golfer and serious runner.