Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark

Should Asian cities take a Danish approach to AI?

  • Denmark has come far on the digital journey, but Asia which set to emerge as ‘epicenter’ for AI growth has room to grow
  • Should cities in Asia take not of Copenhagen, focusing on human-centric AI products with a deep understanding of citizens? 

In a list of 102 world cities, Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is the fifth ‘smartest’ city in the world.

That’s according to the Smart Cities Index by the IMD World Competitiveness Center and Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD). Denmark’s Ambassador to Singapore Sandra Jensen Landi recently shared that digitalization in Denmark is not about technology, it is about empowering citizens, it is about meeting human needs. 

“Denmark is focusing on Human-Centric artificial intelligence (AI) to build trust, transference, and the greater good,” said Jensen Landi. “Our policies are aimed at putting citizens in control of his or her data and to make free and accessible data available to improve everyday living and to drive corporate innovation as well.”

What can Asia learn from Denmark?

When the government of Denmark launched its National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) in 2019, it aimed to capitalize on the investment in AI technologies to enhance societal advancement and deliver a competitive edge to business and industry. 

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. It is important to note that Denmark is the most digitized country in Europe.

Experts reckon Asia, which is home to 61% of the world’s population, stands to gain the most from deploying AI given its still early stages of development but huge potential to scale returns. 

From Japan to Singapore, AI startup and research clusters are emerging rapidly, a harbinger of the technological leapfrog that is to come. China currently leads the world in annual research and development (R&D) spending with nearly US$275 billion, but other Asian nations are also above the 2% mark, including Japan (roughly US$176 billion), South Korea (US$70 billion), and Singapore (US$13 billion). 

Spending on AI systems in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, excluding Japan, is expected to reach $4.6bn in 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 72.9% between 2016 and 2021, according to analyst firm IDC. However, AI adoption in Southeast Asia lags behind that of APAC, with lower budgets allocated to AI.

Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore has been quick off the blocks in the AI race, where the government has set up a national AI program to spur innovation, and formed a data science consortium to build talent in AI and data science through university programs.

The city-state is also taking a global lead in AI governance. At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, the Minister for Communications and Information presented the country’s guidelines for responsibly implementing AI, managing its risks, and building consumer trust.

In general, even with pockets of successful AI projects across the region, most businesses are still in the nascent stages of AI adoption, marked by gaps in the understanding and approach to AI technology, data, and skills – as well as the lingering fear that AI will take away jobs.

When it comes to smart cities, Singapore and Denmark have very different strengths and approaches, although they also have a strong common denominator: Liveability. Singapore’s approach to the development of smart city solutions is very much top-down, often with the point of departure on the technical side of things, then moving to policy and to increasingly focus on the population. 

Meanwhile, the Danish approach, on the other hand, is more bottom-up, as it first and foremost focuses on the citizens and their needs, while addressing climate changes and drawing upon the innovative use of technology and data to increase the quality of life in the cities.