The Finnish know-how gap is worsening – the ability to compete is disintegrating

We Finns have been in the habit of alluding to the technological development of the Japanese and Chinese. “Imitation!”, we cry out, and tell stories of how industrial spies from the Far East have come on business visits with small spy cameras.

Industrial espionage and the theft of ideas is of course not right, but legal imitation and buying ideas and know-how from elsewhere when you don’t have them yourself is a smart tactic.

Finland has arrived at a situation in which technological know-how has fallen so far behind that adopting know-how and worthwhile business activity ideas from elsewhere has become a tpoical issue. One consequence of falling behind has been the severe weakening of the country’s ability to compete (IMD 2013).

The phenomenon, that I call robotisation, is moving forward across the world at an extreme rate. The growth of the field is measured in hundreds and thousands of billions. The issue is not merely one of the robots we know from industry or services, but ever more diverse devices and concepts; innovations that have the hallmarks of a robot. The phenomenon also includes robotised device concepts, such as 3D and 4D printing and scanning, cars and other means of transport and the surgical robots of hospitals, for example. Furthermore, even familiar robots are getting more and more intelligent and diverse.

The Russian robot guru Dimitri Grishin defines a robot as having hardware, software, an Internet protocol and sensor. So a robot is a device that entails very diverse know-how – or rather, a learning and intelligent concept.

It has been thought in Finland that digitalisation and ICT are the keys to success. ICT was the cornerstone of success in the 2000s, and is naturally still necessary as an information channel. Digitalisation is, to put it simply, a material that should be made use of so that innovative products, that make the real economy grow, are created. Robotisation has been left out of the equation and that’s why Finland’s success situation is badly awry.

”A technnology switch is a smart strategic move when you have fallen behind in global technological development”, says Professor Jari Kaivo-oja and goes on: ”In Finland the moment is approaching at which a switch in technology should be started.” The ideal would naturally be to rise to the top through one’s own innovations. However, in the case of robotisation, the know-how network is too shallow and dispersed to facilitate making globally successful products quickly from our own innovations. In addition, this technology bottleneck is now too narrow to allow us through it under our own steam. This is now a hard fact which has to be looked at boldly, positively and with decisiveness, so that action can be taken rapidly. ”Agile adoption of technology from elsewhere could be a strong solution for Finland in this situation”, concludes Professor Kaivo-oja.

Robotisation has other effects as well, discussion about which should be started up at once. One of these is taxation. Where does the state gets its revenue from when robots take over a larger and larger proportion of the work, including IT work? And what about legislation? Nursing robots, medical robots and the like come more and more intimately close to people (remember sensors and IP!). What about military robots? Cars that drive themselves? There should be an immediate start to considering these things. And then there’s the economic system. It should encourage people more and more towards individual solutions and free, ethical commerce.

This year, the first national robot week will be arranged as part of a wider European event. The purpose of the week is to increase awareness about the things mentioned above and act as a forum for a wide discussion amongst citizens. I urge all the readers of this blog to join in building humane robotisation in Finland. If we work this out and carry it out correctly, then we will have a society in which robots create wealth and people add value – and together we’ll build a new type of welfare society of freedom and responsibility!