Major investment in research on impact of artificial intelligence on people and society

23 September 2019

The new programme will focus on analysing how ethical, economic, social, legal and labour market conditions are impacted by the ongoing technological shift in society.

A major national research programme aims to study the impact of artificial intelligence on society at large and on individual behaviour. The Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation has granted SEK 96 million to be shared by 16 research projects studying the impact of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems on our society and our behaviour. Four of the project grants were awarded to Uppsala University.

How does the labour market change when robots take over certain jobs? How will artificial intelligence affect democracy, human dignity and human rights? How does the introduction of artificial intelligence alter research in biomedicine? What do emerging facial and voice recognition technologies entail for privacy and security? These are some of the questions that researchers in the 16 projects will try to answer.

The projects are part of the national research programme WASP-HS, where the abbreviation HS stands for the humanities and society. The Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Memorial Fund initiated the research programme, which totals SEK 660 million over 10 years.

“It is incredibly important for Sweden to keep up with the technology shift that is happening right now. On the one hand, we want to participate in developing and implementing the technology but also users need to accept and feel comfortable using it. By looking at the benefits and the risks, we can adopt a safer approach to these innovations,” says Peter Wallenberg Jr, chair of the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation.

The programme will primarily analyse the ethical, economic, social, legal and labour market aspects of the ongoing technological shift in society.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) has a major impact on both society and the individual. We need more research in the humanities and social sciences to ensure that AI and autonomous systems will benefit people. It is important that we understand the technological development so that its consequences are in line with human values and ethical principles,” says Kerstin Sahlin, chair of the WASP-HS programme and professor of business administration at Uppsala University. WASP-HS is a uniquely large and long-term national investment in the humanities and social sciences. Projects within the programme will recruit doctoral students, who will participate in a national graduate school. Later, higher education institutions will recruit young researchers. The initiative will develop important research and also a new generation of researchers with broad expertise in both technology, the humanities and the social sciences.

The 16 projects are distributed across nine universities and institutions around Sweden. Four of the projects will be run out of Uppsala University.

Uppsala University’s WASP-HS projects:

Amanda Lagerkvist

The “BioMe: Existential Challenges and Ethical Imperatives of Biometric AI in Everyday Lifeworlds” project will receive a grant of SEK 6 million over five years. The main applicant is Associate Professor Amanda Lagerkvist at the Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University.
About the project:
Being able to easily and quickly identify yourself – for example by using your fingerprint, face or eye – is an increasingly common technology. It makes everyday life easier in many ways, but we are also faced with new issues of privacy and security. The technology that involves using our body to log in is called biometrics. This research project is intended to create a better understanding of how this technology is altering people’s lives and the human condition. The research project will study how people experience a number of technologies, such as facial and voice recognition within police activities, health apps, biometric passports, smart home devices and technology that recognises hand movements on touchscreens on mobile phones, for example.

Anna-Sara Lind

The “Artificial Intelligence, Democracy and Human Dignity” project will receive a grant of SEK 6 million over five years. The main applicant is Professor Anna-Sara Lind at the Department of Law, Uppsala University
About the project:
As artificial intelligence grows in scope and sophistication, the question arises of whether it could become independent of humans. The research project at Uppsala University will monitor this development and how it impacts our entire society. One of the fundamental issues researchers will explore is whether strong AI is even possible and, if so, how it would affect democracy, human dignity, human rights and other ethical questions. In the historical paradigm shift resulting from today’s technological developments, there is a risk that humans will have less influence in the world, instead of more. This gives rise to a need for a deeper understanding of the values created and transferred as technology based on artificial intelligence becomes increasingly common. The research project is intended to create a clearer idea of how artificial intelligence may affect rights, ethics, world views and social institutions at a global level.

Oskar Nordström Skans

The project “The Labour-Market Impact of Firm-Level Adoption of AI and Autonomous Systems” has been awarded a grant of SEK 6 million over five years. The main applicant is Professor Oskar Nordström Skans at the Department of Economics, Uppsala University
About the project:
One of the major issues facing society in the future is what impact robots and artificial intelligence will have on the labour market. This research project will investigate what this transition will involve.  The project is based on corporate use of technological innovations and the issues that this entails. What happens with the number of jobs? How does this affect the demand for talent and educational content? How does it affect the respective labour markets of women and men, and what are the consequences for the families of those concerned? What demands are made on transitions within and among companies? How should education, remuneration and collective agreements be designed in response to this? The project’s general aim is to highlight how demand for different types of labour changes in conjunction with the introduction of technology based on artificial intelligence.

Francis Lee

The project “The New Scientific Revolution? AI and Big Data in Biomedicine” will receives a grant of SEK 6 million over five years. The main applicant is Associate Professor Francis Lee at the Department of Sociology, Uppsala University
About the project:
New digital tools, methods and infrastructures are currently creating a flood of data that researchers want to utilise and analyse. To manage this growing flood, many biosciences research projects have high hopes for new methods utilising artificial intelligence. Massive investments are being made in AI technology such as machine learning and deep learning within the biosciences. With these developments, established scientific truths about how the world works could be challenged or even overturned by AI-based analyses. As a result, AI and machine learning appear to promise a whole new way to gain knowledge about the world. The research project will monitor this development with particular focus on the consequences of introducing artificial intelligence in biomedicine. What happens when human assessments and traditional scientific methods are supplemented with, and sometimes replaced by, AI technologies?

WASP-HS will also run a comprehensive graduate school with up to 70 students, at least 10 new research teams, 12 visiting professors and a number of research projects.

Through the research programme Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP), the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has already invested SEK 3 billion in basic research on software, autonomous systems and AI. The two programmes are independent of each other but collaborate within doctoral education, among other things.

More information about WASP-HS is available at