In the media

The usefulness of new technology in welfare services must be the subject of public debate

Peter Daniel

By Peter Daniel

Dagens Samhälle

27 June 2023

According to people behind the #bättredelat initiative, the question we should be asking ourselves is whether it is ethical not to use new technology, that we now know can save lives.

Read the Dagens Samhälle article in Swedish

Right now, technological development is moving forward rapidly in terms of artificial intelligence, AI. The debates at Almedalen week are coming and AI is on the agenda. Even the conversations that aren't about AI are likely to touch on the subject in some way.

We fear, we rejoice and we think about the consequences that AI technology will have for society. The possibilities are enormous. It is likely that the social contract as we know it today will look completely different in 10 years' time.

But the opportunities will remain unrealised unless we start creating, and responsibly implementing, new technology in welfare services. To benefit from and lead the development in the desired direction, a number of conditions for shared and open data need to be put in place first. Digitalisation, which means business development with the support of new technology, will need to be prioritised, with time, resources, skills, decision-making power, mandates and leadership, so that AI can be applied to make an impact on the Swedish welfare system.

It will also require cooperation in completely different ways than those our society has been able to summon up to now. A lot of "that's how we've always done it" needs to be replaced with "we've never done that".

Therefore, it is time for digital transformation to become one of the central pillars of Swedish politics. Until now, digitalisation policy has been seen as a distinctly white-collar issue, often reduced to IT and security. Few politicians have bothered to delve into this critical issue and it does not appear in the political parties’ programmes. The usefulness of new technology in welfare is given worryingly little space in the debate. The question we should ask ourselves is, of course, whether it is ethical not to use new technology, which we know can save lives.

Despite the European Commission's clear priorities, Swedish involvement has been limited there too. At the same time, Sweden continues to decline in international rankings. Not because we are bad, but because other countries are making it a political priority to change their ways of delivering welfare services and doing more.

One reason for this is that digitalisation is abstract and difficult to understand. Since 2021, the #bättredelat initiative has been working to make it easier to understand what new technologies, shared data and digital services can do for people. Based on a number of use cases, which show both the benefits of technology in people's lives and facts about the digital position the country is in, conversations have been held between leaders, researchers and practitioners.

The talks have shown what Sweden needs in terms of policy, attitude and culture within decision-making assemblies to realise the Riksdag’s vision for Sweden's digitalisation. We must be the best in the world at taking advantage of the opportunities of digitalisation.

We are excited about the opportunities available and want to see an interaction between business, civil society, academia, state, regions and municipalities, which enable us to meet the future with strength and determination.

In bättredelat’s two latest position papers, seven actions are proposed that we hope more leaders and decision-makers will support:

  1.  Human benefit and quality of life should be the starting point for any digital transformation.
  2.  Sweden needs an enabling law that removes obstacles and supports development.
  3.  Stop using the law as an obstacle to development and become an active part of Europe's digital transformation.
  4.  Equality of welfare provision throughout the country requires collaboration, common standards and open application programming interfaces, APIs.
  5.  Work together in value chains across borders – locally, regionally and nationally and between business, civil society and the public sector.
  6.  Swap the prevailing fear of technology for robust risk management.
  7.  Manage risks skillfully and learn to achieve a resilient society and reduce vulnerability.

We live in an exciting time. AI is on the threshold of creating value. Never before has computer technology been so accessible to facilitate welfare services and contribute to a more equal society. , Through joint efforts in all sectors, we can create a Sweden that provides a good quality of life to everyone regardless of when, where or from whom they were born.

Peter Daniel, public sector digitalization expert at PA Consulting, together with members of the bättredelat coalition

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