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Why do the Danes like tech?

Inquiry Director, Productivity Commission
31 July 2019

Denmark is a lot like us. A small country and with an open economy and lots of fiords and sounds. (Dave tells me fiords and sounds are different – a sound is formed by the sea flooding a river valley whereas a fiord is where a valley has been carved out by a glacier – so Milford Sound is actually a fiord.)1

Denmark does have around a million more people than us: 5.8 million compared to our 4.8 million. But one thing that I find striking about the Danes is their positive views about automation technology. I don’t have comparative figures for New Zealand but in Europe they really stand out. Here’s a graph that draws from a 2017 Eurobarometer survey of European’s attitudes towards the impact of digitisation and automation on daily life.

Attitudes towards robots and AI across EU

Attitudes towards robots and AI across EU countries

Not only is Denmark positive about tech, they seem to do very well out of tech. That’s according to the EU Digital Economy and Society Index that measures different aspects of a countries’ digital performance.2 Doing very well out of tech doesn’t have to mean being a world leader in developing tech (in fact, I’m hard pressed to name a Danish tech company other than Bang & Olufsen). It can mean being very good at adopting and applying tech to things your country has a competitive advantage in for other reasons. 

EU Digital Economy and Society Index

EU Digital Economy and Society Index

Could there be some link between positive attitudes to technology and how well a country adopts technology? A quick scatter plot based on the two graphs above suggests that the answer might be yes! The digital ‘frontrunner’ countries seem to be the ones that are more positive about automation. For example, the three most positive countries (Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden) are among the four best performing on the digital index. Though, based on this graph alone, it is not clear the extent to which this relationship is causal, or, if so, which way the causality runs.

Attitudes about robots and AI vs the EU digital index

Attitudes about robots and AI vs the EU digital index

I’ve been reading the Danish government’s follow up on their Disruption Council (thank you Andrew Sweet for alerting me to it). The report Prepared for the future of work acknowledges that Denmark is one of the richest countries in the world, built in part on their success at adopting and embracing the first wave of digitalisation.

According to the report, the Danish government wants to make sure labour markets are flexible, that employees can develop new skills, and that firms can access venture capital. The Danish government wants Denmark to continue to be a front runner in a world where many countries are catching up. Importantly, the report acknowledges that technological change and globalisation can benefit some more than others. The Danes value having an equal society “that does not divide into those who benefit and those who are left behind”. It is a balance that they aim to maintain through their social policies.

It’s a hunch, but the scatter plot suggests to me that there might be a ‘virtuous cycle’ between positive attitudes towards technology, rates of technological adoption and the resulting benefits of adoption.

In contrast to Denmark, New Zealand is much less generous when it comes to providing financial (and other kinds of) support for workers who lose their jobs. It seems reasonable to expect that more generous support might alleviate fears about potential job displacement, which in turn could make New Zealanders more welcoming of technological change. And it’s clear to me that we need to remove barriers to new technology adoption because if we don’t adopt new tech we will fall behind, and miss opportunities to share the gains and improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. 

Notes
1. Denmark’s fiords are safely tucked away in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. New Zealand’s are the in the aptly named Fiordland in the southwestern corner of the South Island. Yet another similarity!
2. Digital Economy and Society Index 2019:
- The Connectivity dimension measures the deployment of broadband infrastructure and its quality.
- The Human Capital dimension measures the skills needed to take advantage of the possibilities offered by digital.
- The Use of Internet Services dimension accounts for a variety of online activities, such as the consumption of online - content (videos, music, games, etc.) video calls as well as online shopping and banking.
- The Integration of Digital Technology dimension measures the digitisation of businesses and e-commerce.
- The Digital Public Services dimension measures the digitisation of public services, focusing on eGovernment and eHealth.

Image    Milford Sound by Dave Heatley

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  • Gravatar for Amy

    Amy 5 Aug 2019, 10:33 (49 days ago)

    Denmark does have a million more people, and also much less land, yielding a population density of about 131 people/km2, compared to only 15 in NZ. I don't know if this affects attitude to tech, but I reckon it probably affects innovation diffusion and productivity (perhaps esp in agriculture) so may be some interactions there with general attitudes to tech? Having said that, the pop density figure for NZ would probably go up a bit if you excluded parts of the country that are basically unpopulated (except occasionally by Dave)....

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    • Gravatar for Judy

      Judy 7 Aug 2019, 10:37 (47 days ago)

      Thanks Amy, as it happens Dave is on holiday this week in a largely unpopulated mountainous region of the country… no doubt he will be taking more stunning photos to illustrate his blog posts! The link between the importance of agriculture to New Zealand and attitudes to tech is an interesting one, which Dave explores a bit in his post on agri-tech: https://www.productivity.govt.nz/blog/blocking-agri-tech-doesn%E2%80%99t-mean-we-can-block-its-undesired-effects.
      Cheers, Judy.

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