How Switzerland is becoming a hub for artificial intelligence

Switzerland. Thinking of this beautiful country, usually the same things come to mind: mountains, chocolate, banks. But what about artificial intelligence (AI)? No? Maybe not yet, but the alpine nation is slowly transforming into one of the most important centers for advancements in AI technology.

PAC defines AI as the combined use of algorithms, knowledge bases, neural networks/deep learning techniques to mimic and complement human abilities in a variety of different domains.

Ranked for seven consecutive years as the most innovative country in the world by Cornell University, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and INSEAD, it does not come as much of a surprise that Switzerland would be one of the first movers when it comes to AI adoption and research. An interesting side note is the fact that Switzerland already boasts the highest number of AI companies per citizen (source: ASGARD).

Google invests in Switzerland

Even Google, one of the forerunners in AI technology, has been strongly investing in its Zurich location (the company’s largest campus outside California) by increasing its now 2,500 workforce by another 250 AI specialists, and with plans to increase its total workforce in the country to 5,000.

AI-related research

Also, the country’s various research institutes, such as ETH Zurich, EPF Lausanne or Lugano IDSIA Lab, continuously rank as some of the finest technical institutes in Europe and have been among the major attractions for some of the brightest heads involved in AI. As a result, Switzerland has emerged as a serious competitor to California for the technologies, human resources and funding that will power the world’s fourth socio-economic revolution.

AI in insurance, manufacturing, banking and telecom

Swiss insurer Bâloise, for example, has partnered up with ETH spin-off Veezoo in developing an AI-supported virtual assistant. The insurer is hoping to increase efficiency related to decision-making processes, improve marketing campaigns and its sales structure and also improve its customer relationship management by offering better customer service.

Manufacturing company ABB has partnered up with the likes of IBM in order to apply an AI-based system which would allow real-time analysis in production processes thus highlighting possible assembly defects.

And one of the country’s largest banks, UBS, has announced its plans to open up an AI competence center in Manno. Located close to the University of Lausanne’s world-renowned AI lab, the bank will be focusing on how AI and big data can be used to improve existing applications and create new applications for the bank’s extensive IT infrastructure.

In addition, Swiss telecommunication provider Swisscom, is regularly publishing a map of the country’s emerging and most relevant AI start-ups, with the latest map including 101 companies from 13 different categories. This is just another indicator of how, particularly in the greater Zurich area, new, exciting ideas are being developed.

But AI does not only mean drones, robotics or autonomous driving. Most companies, particularly the SMB sector, which is strongly represented in Switzerland, are investing in AI technology to augment their business applications and are planning on having an AI-related strategy in place within the next two years (based on PAC study “What AI can bring to business applications”).

Recommendations for IT service providers

With AI slowly moving from hype to mainstream, IT service providers will need to have the right skills and resources at hand to cope with their clients’ upcoming inquiries. Most importantly, however, as many companies are faced by uncertainty as to how AI can best support their business or have concerns towards legal and compliance issues, consulting will become increasingly important.

It can be expected that due to Switzerland’s beneficial taxation system, friendliness to research and development and sizeable pools of expert technologists, many more projects and partnerships will be announced in the next few months and thus strengthen Switzerland’s position as one of the top-notch locations for AI-related technological advancements.