Additional billion Swedish kronor from KAW to extend WASP into artificial intelligence

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The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has granted an additional billion Swedish kronor to extend the Wallenberg Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP), with a broad investment into artificial intelligence.

Autonomous and self-driving cars, the AlphaGo program from Google, which can beat the world champion in Go, Google Translate, and expert systems in medicine are just some examples of breakthroughs based on artificial intelligence. Major advances have been achieved in recent years within fields such as machine learning and deep learning (machine learning with the aid of neural networks). The technology in itself is not new: what is new is that the computer power now available and advances in methods make additional applications feasible.

Lars Nielsen programdirektor Wasp“The grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation gives us untold possibilities not only to conduct fundamental research in these new systems but also to strengthen this research field in Sweden. These are two aspects that are crucial in understanding, developing and using the new technology,” says Lars Nielsen, programme director for WASP and professor at Linköping University, host for WASP.

The initiative in artificial intelligence will follow two pathways. The larger of these involves an investment into machine learning, deep learning and the next generation of AI. This has been termed “eXplainable AI” and involves asking the system how it reached a particular answer, whereby the system can justify its answers and use them in a general situation. The second pathway deals with increasing our understanding of the mathematical principles behind AI.


Professor Danica Kragic from the Royal Institute of Technology will lead the AI Kragic-Jensfelt-Danica-2part of the programme, and Professor Johan Håstad, also from the Royal Institute of Technology, the AI/mathematics part.

“These are important fields for every industry, and the US, Canada and Great Britain have already put a lot of money into them. If we are not to be left behind, we need to be able to attract talented researchers from other parts of the world and to retain the greatest minds educated in Sweden. Folk with the necessary expertise are in high demand out there,” Professor Danica Kragic points out.

“The major advances in artificial intelligence, in which computers learn to drive vehicles, recognise faces and make well-informed decisions, have so far been achieved using engineering-based methods. In order to progress further, we also need to Håstad-Johan-porträttunderstand, in the full meaning of the word, the underlying mathematics,” Professor Johan Håstad states.

Each of the two branches has resources to recruit 14 senior researchers and 40 research students, where the research students will become members of graduate schools and take specialist courses in relevant fields. The two new graduate schools will coordinate with the graduate school that has already been established within the framework of WASP, where just over 100 research students are currently studying. Both the senior researchers and the research students will be recruited at the universities that are participating in WASP, primarily Chalmers University of Technology, the Royal Institute of Technology, Linköping University and Lund University. Further Swedish universities, however, may also benefit from the research grant.

The grant also provides SEK 70 million to reinforce computing infrastructure.

“This is a unique investment, even in an international perspective. WASP will in this way obtain the resources needed to create the knowledge platform that Sweden requires if it is to continue to hold its position at the forefront of research and remain competitive,” says Mille Millnert, chair of the WASP board.

With this extension, WASP will have a budget of SEK 3 billion between now and 2026. At least 250 research students will be educated, at least 75 of them being industry-based research students. This is a powerful investment with connections to many different parts within artificial intelligence, software development and principles of autonomy. The new grant will also enable the recruitment of 46 senior researchers, the construction of demonstrators (arenas in which the research and commercial worlds can meet in concrete projects), investment into computer infrastructure, guest researcher programmes, and international collaboration.

Read an interview with Professor Danica Kragic on the KTH website about the expansion (in Swedish).


Text by: Monica Westman Svenselius

Photo Lars Nielsen by: Göran Billeson

Photo Danica Kragic by: Magnus Bergström/KAW

Photo Johan Håstad by: Håkan Lindgren/KAW