Switzerland as an Ecosystem for Artificial Intelligence

A high level of AI innovation is making Switzerland a global leader in tech, talent, and funding.

The alpine country of Switzerland — famous for its luxury watches, delicious chocolate, and fondue — is also home to a closely knit network of leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) research institutes. Their pragmatic collaboration with industrial players results in the highly efficient transfer of technology to bring innovative products to market quickly.

Governance and Innovation

The Digital Switzerland Strategy provides guidelines for government action and indicates where and how authorities, academia, the private sector, civil society, and politics must work together to shape the transformation process for the benefit of everyone. Moreover, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne (ETH Zurich and EPFL) rank among the world’s best technological universities, while the Lugano IDSIA Lab attracts some of the brightest minds in AI development. These and other institutions are conducting studies to answer questions regarding topics such as ethics as well as risks and opportunities of AI innovations.

The result? A high level of innovation output that makes Switzerland a serious competitor to California’s Silicon Valley for technologies, human resources, and funding.

The main component of the Swiss digitalisation process is AI, with the close support and involvement of the Swiss government. AI innovative digital solutions played an important role in the fight against COVID-19 in the country, including its use and impact in various business sectors. It is no wonder that Switzerland boasts the third highest number of AI patents globally in proportion to its population. The federal government has funded research programmes on the effective and appropriate use of Big Data and has incorporated a federal working group specialised in AI. The Swiss legal system offers significant protection for intellectual property (IP) and a high degree of investment security for R&D activities. Its regulatory framework is innovation-friendly and progressive and its laws are formulated in a technology-neutral way.

Andy Fitze, digital transformation leader and co-founder of SwissCognitive, a world-leading AI network, says, “Switzerland has always been a master in combining its brain power with technology. There is no better time than now to accelerate this further with the power of human and artificial intelligence putting Switzerland on the global AI map and driving both Swiss and global economies forward.”

High AI Adoption

A recent report titled ‘Artificial Intelligence Industry in Switzerland: Landscape Overview 2021 Q4’ found that Switzerland’s stable political and economic environment offers global companies a safe place to host and validate their data. The combination of high data security and data quality, political stability, and legal certainty lead to reduced risks for companies. Similarly, Switzerland offers a safe place for investors’ assets due to its taxation system, geographic and political position, low inflation, and highly skilled workforce.

According to the report, Switzerland is ranked first in the Global Innovation Index (WIPO), the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, the impact of AI publications per country, and has the highest number of AI companies per capita in the European Union (EU). Moreover, with 500 AI companies, it has 2.53 AI companies and 34.6 AI patents per 1 million inhabitants. The country has almost 500 AI companies, nearly 50 R&D centres, hubs and non-profits organisations, and Zurich — its largest city and a global centre for banking and finance — has the highest number of AI companies. Moreover, 37% of all Swiss AI patents filed are ranked world-class.

Alexei Cresniov, director of Deep Knowledge Analytics, comments: “Our team examined 500 AI companies, 220 investors and 50 NGOs, R&D centres, and hubs based in Switzerland. The results highlight a growing Swiss market for AI. We found that Switzerland is home to leading AI research institutes working collaboratively with AI businesses to bring innovative products to the market quickly and efficiently.”

The Global Innovation Index ranks Switzerland as the most effective country in transforming innovation investments into results. Its strong industry clusters in pharma, finance, and healthtech are significantly powering the AI ecosystem. Home to top global pharmaceutical players, the Swiss city of Basel is driving global AI developments in healthcare through its thriving ecosystem of big pharma and life sciences. Finally, Switzerland borders large markets such as France, Germany, and Italy, which gives its companies easy access to a large pool of potential customers.

According to the report, Swiss AI companies are attracting more and more investments today. Switzerland is a country that has all the necessary infrastructure for market players to perform. The most attractive companies by funding are SOPHiA GENETICS, biotechnology company that provides genomic and radiomic analysis for hospitals, and Numbrs, financial services company that enables customers to manage their existing bank accounts and personal finances.

Big number of governmental and non-governmental organisations take bright minds together in Switzerland from all over the world to develop and promote intelligent technologies for innovations. Swiss Group for Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science (SGAICO) provides a platform for exchange on Artificial Intelligence and cognitive science between industry and universities. Switzerland Innovation, the Swiss innovation park, provides a platform for the company’s R&D team to network with leading thinkers from the world of academia, industry partners, and pioneering start-ups. Switzerland Innovation gives access to the expertise of world-leading universities, among them the prestigious Swiss federal institutes of technology ETH Zurich and EPFL. The ETH AI Center is part the ETH efforts in the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent System (ELLIS). ELLIS is a pan- European non-profit organisation for the promotion of artificial intelligence with a focus on machine learning. The organization’s goal is to establish top AI research institutes, strengthen basic research and create a European PhD programme for AI.

The country is confidently transforming into one of the most important centres for advancements in AI technology. A lot of global players extend their presence, invest and create partnerships in Switzerland. As bright examples are ABB that has partnered with IBM to apply an AI-based system which would allow real-time analysis in production processes or Google that has been heavily investing in its Zurich location (the company’s largest campus outside California) and plans to double its 2,500 workforce to 5,000 in 2025.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite the growth in AI, there are still a few challenges in various policy areas. Consumers are concerned not so much about AI eliminating jobs, but more about the personal data being protected. As a result, AI companies are increasingly under pressure to make products as transparent to users as possible. While there is still a great need for clarification and adaptation in many areas, AI innovators in Switzerland — primarily in education, research, and finance — are making an impact.

Dalith Steiger, global AI thought-leader and co-founder of SwissCognitive, sums up Switzerland’s AI capabilities. “Until now Switzerland has been globally known for its financial industry, pharma, watches, and chocolate. With the country recognising AI-propelled digital transformation as a key economy booster, it is additionally gaining recognition as a global AI centre of excellence”, comments Steiger.

The impact of automation on the workforce is already visible in Switzerland. Jobs with a low risk of being replaced by automation have grown significantly over the last 25 years while jobs with a high risk have grown less vigorously or have even decreased. However, more jobs have been created in the past 25 years than have been lost. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that automation will continue to offer more opportunities in the future.

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Alexei C.

Alexei C.

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Background in Political Science and significant expertise in Global Socio-Economic Assessments, DeepTech & Big Data Analytics.