Danica Kragic Jensfelt is probably a bit of a rarity at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Raised in Croatia, she came to Sweden in 1997 and won a doctoral fellowship at KTH. Since receiving her PhD, she has been appointed professor of computer science, served as vice dean of the School of Computer Science and Communication and is now one of our most prominent researchers in robotics. Not only that, she is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Board of Directors of the Wallenberg family’s privately owned holding company FAM and has also received an honorary doctorate from Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. Furthermore, she has hosted the well-known Swedish radio show “Sommar i P1”, was named 2016 Future Mother of the Year by the Swedish magazine Mama and was a photo model for the fashion house Rodebjer, although she prefers to sew her own clothes.

In Danica Kragic Jensfelt’s future, dangerous, heavy and boring work will not be done by people but by robots that work alongside us. She sees a future in which we have more time to socialise with family and friends, develop our creativity, a future in which travel will be part of this and the airport will help provide us with inspiration. It’s a future in which traffic modes are electrically powered, quiet and automated, she can walk across the city to work, breathe clean air, hear the birds sing and not be afraid of getting hit by a car. Quite simply, she’s optimistic about the future.

“It’s a future in which we’ll think, work, educate ourselves and travel in a different way, where artificial intelligence (AI) can provide us with support in decision-making and we’ll have more time for reflection. To get there, we have to dare more, embrace new technology and own it.

“In one way, the need for travel will decline since it will be possible to manage so many of our contacts and exchanges with new technology. At the same time, we’ll work across disciplines and together with different people in a way we’ve never seen before. We’ll use data analytics, machine learning and AI in industries we’ve never been in before. E-mail won’t be enough. If you want to integrate things in physical systems, you’ll have to be where the system is. Some things will require meetings.

“We’re building global systems that can be used everywhere and by everyone across the world, no matter whether people work differently, have different cultures, values or customs. It also means that we’ll need to talk more about ethics and morals and other things that we perhaps don’t talk about so openly today. The cloud is out there and can solve problems, but we’re developing systems for people. New industries will require new applications and new ways of thinking, but I wonder whether people can really think disruptively by email.”

“Some aspects of our creative selves can definitely be nourished by solitude, but when we talk with people who do totally different things, new ideas are born. I think that, when everything is more automated, we’ll work even more with development and processing. Creativity will be the added value, and this will be generated mostly in face-to-face encounters. As our jobs become increasingly automated, we’ll have more time for ourselves and for each other, we won’t be stressed but will instead embrace technology and use it in the best way,” says Danica Kragic Jensfelt.

“It’s important that people meet, learn and are inspired by one another. We get something different from being somewhere else for a while, in a given setting and together with other people. Of course, this can be done online, and perhaps we’ll get used to experiencing a different everyday life with virtual reality (VR). Will there still be drive and interest, a desire to meet other people?

“I have a sister who lives Princeton, New Jersey. I miss her – naturally, we Skype – but I’d like to hug her. There may be a smart VR way of doing this. But the feeling of being there with her in Princeton – with a cup of coffee or walking around visiting little second-hand shops –is something different. I need that experience with that person. I know many people who have families spread around the world, and in the past we accepted that we could only meet our family maybe once a year. In the future, if we work less, this will be so much more important. I would really like to believe that. Having time for friends and family, that gives us strength. It gives travel another function.”

“Life today isn’t optimal. First I want to study, develop and do things. Then when I have children, I may want to be home and continue my career later. But that’s not the way the system is today. It would be totally fine to work for ten years and then study to become something else. It would be really fun to take a break when the kids are small and live five years in Croatia. I can study to become something else, while the kids interact with my parents. I’m looking for that flexibility.

“From an academic perspective, today’s study programmes will not be around in the future. Nowadays there are a set number of different degree programmes, and when you’re 18 or 19, you decide what you want to be. Then things get rolling, you’re expected to do things in a certain order and at a certain age. Very few people choose to leave this track. I think that in the future, we’ll have shorter study programmes since it will be possible and necessary to train for different things your entire your life.

“For academics, it’s a challenge when more and more things are becoming interdisciplinary – AI in medicine, 3D printing and VR for architects, art programmes and AI, behaviour analysis so that we can develop robots that work together. Subjects such as mathematics, physics and computer science will be tools when we train to develop social skills such as communicative or strategic competencies. The challenge is that our educational system won’t look the way it does today. We don’t have teachers who are trained to teach these subjects, which is a problem when we need to develop our society. We have to find ways of taking on the new and phasing out the old.”

“I think that the airport will be connected to the rest of the world in a completely different way, with self-driving cars that can be booked. Check-in will be done in the car on the way in and you’ll be dropped off at a hub on the other side of check-in. Better procedures and simpler travel will eliminate the stress that many people feel about things happening or that are supposed to happen. Soon we’ll be able to fly in a different way, where there’s more room for everyone and the journey goes faster.

“The airport is a place you travel to in order to catch a plane that takes you somewhere. It’s there for safety and security reasons and for practical reasons. Certainly, there has to be room for planes and runways. They’ll also be needed in the future, but how I get there and back home can be made much more pleasant. A lot of things will be different if you know that the car or bus is waiting outside and you don’t need to worry about your bags because they’ll be transported automatically. Buses and cars are necessary, but related services will be more accessible. The entire process will be seamless. There won’t be any major difference between going to work and flying to Frankfurt.

“Today a lot of us go to airports to have meetings. Instead of meeting at the university, we see each other at the airport in Frankfurt or Munich. That’s our hub. We get the maximum amount of time together there. I would like to see even more opportunities to do something active, but also while I’m waiting or on a flight. Imagine having a conference about digitisation on a flight to Pittsburgh, simply because we know there are ten people from different companies who are interested and on that flight. Perhaps we’ll demand a wider offering on flights.”

Danica Kragic Jensfelt would like to see a more entertaining and creative environment at the airport. It should be a fun place where something has happened since you were there last, a place where people can be both surprised and inspired.

“At the airport, you often walk long stretches, and more could be happening along the way. New creative offices will have active walls, you’ll hear birds and streaming water – experiences that reduce stress. Places for inspiration can also be created. I was once at an airport where people got to test different chairs. Imagine if Arlanda could offer a venue for exhibitors, who could have something new on display for a short time. Chairs, art or something else that’s replaced after a few months – pop-up, created for the moment.”

“In France, they’re going to launch a drone route for parcel deliveries. We’ll see more of that. Technology will develop, and we’ll have larger vehicles like that. There are challenges that must be overcome, such as integrity issues, but technology creates opportunities for safer transport of medicines, patients and regular passengers.

“Passports now have chips, and some people undergo operations to have a chip implanted so that they always have it with them. Automation provides better flows and less stress. At the same time, enormous quantities of information are gathered. It can be frightening for many people that there’s someone who knows everything about what they buy and spend, where they travel and what shoe size they have.

“It’s totally human that we make decisions on a daily basis that aren’t optimal for the environment, our neighbours or ourselves. Today we have systems where you can measure how much you’ve flown and see your environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions – in the future, we’ll have AI systems with us that may not forbid us from doing things but will suggest alternative solutions.”

“Today there are many services that we can think of but which haven’t been realised since no one wants to perform them. There are also jobs that are dirty, dangerous and wear down a person’s body. Every time I see a plane being loaded and people who work with that crawling into the hold, I think about how I packed 23 kilos in my bag, which has to be moved around. Why don’t we have robots that do this?

“Then we have jobs that aren’t as visible – who cleans the lavatories at Arlanda, and who prepares the food for flights? I’m not finicky, but I think about whether everyone’s hands have been washed or whether the lettuce was rinsed off. If I know that robots prepared the food in a guaranteed clean space, maybe I’ll be less worried. Everything that has to do with boring and dangerous jobs can and should disappear. That means many jobs will disappear, but not from a set date – it will happen gradually. Many people are worried about what will happen to taxi drivers when self-driving cars are here, but cars will still have drivers. Instead of driving, they’ll take care of the customer, help with passengers’ bags, their walker or something else. We’ll find new services, jobs and ways of working where we can use our creative side even more and instead create products and services that make life easier for ourselves and others. In some countries, such services are already available, and they’re the kinds of services that people want, or could choose not to have.”

“In Sweden, to some extent we have a hard time embracing technology early on. We’re good at introducing something and are then satisfied with it for a really long time. Sometimes, we’re satisfied for far too long a time.

“I was in San Francisco a while ago. The taxis there don’t work, but Uber’s there. I pressed ‘share’ by mistake so there were four of us in the car unexpectedly, so we got to use the express lane. It took less than an hour to the airport from the university in Berkeley – otherwise it can take three! That’s when you realise sometimes there’s a solution that isn’t compatible with the solution we have and that we can’t embrace that technology because it goes against something else in the system. I think we can be more courageous here in Sweden. We have a hard time making decisions when we don’t know what they’ll lead to. We’re so afraid that someone will say that you made that decision and it was wrong,” says Danica Kragic Jensfelt.

“We’re talking about advanced systems that we don’t know how will affect people in the future. It’s a bit like phones. At first people wondered what they would do with them. Now we can’t live without one. Sometimes we embrace a technology faster than we thought we could, simply because we make it our own, see the function it fulfils. Then it’s easy to accept the technology. It’s the same way with airports and travel. There are always other ways of doing things, but people have to dare to try things.”

“As long as we build bodies like the human body and develop capabilities based on sensor data that function the same way our senses do, then I see no limits. It’s more a matter of what the solutions are, a mobile robot, or a solution with intelligence integrated into different aspects of an airport. They’re available to some extent today. We’ve built digital solutions where we so some things ourselves so it’s not really a robot. But everything else, for instance examining and identifying what’s in our bags, can be done by machines. We’ll also see variants of mobile robots, with some cleaning and others, perhaps robot clowns that play with children.

“I know that many people don’t like surveillance. It may be an ‘occupational injury’, but I don’t see anything wrong with monitoring people, that you look at people who don’t interact with others and read their body language. With that kind of technology, combined with a chip, it will be much easier to maintain a high level of safety and security. This isn’t specific to airports but it’s a question of general safety and security. If my daughter is safer because of surveillance, I’m prepared to take the risks from an integrity perspective.”

There are good examples of collaborations, but not enough, Danica Kragic Jensfelt thinks. It should be possible for young entrepreneurs with all kinds of ideas and solutions to be embraced more by airlines, Swedavia or landlords and especially by political leaders, who have to accept that not all things need to happen in all parts of Sweden at the same time in order for them to work.

“We have to make knowledge and ideas more accessible to everyone. We also need many more venues where we can exhibit solutions that can give other people new ideas. Arlanda can be an important arena like that for young entrepreneurs and to create encounters. Today we have photos of well-known Swedes in the arrival hall – instead we can present new start-ups, companies and solutions. Perhaps people can arrive an hour earlier because they know they can learn something there, get a quick lesson in a new technological application or look at a new product. Arlanda can be a big collaboration area, like those available online, but in reality. It’s possible to build small hubs with up-to-date information, offer films and a lot more. That would be exciting.”


BORN: 1971 in Yugoslavia

OCCUPATION: Professor of computer science

CURRENTLY: One of our most prominent researchers in robotics, vice dean of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s School of Computer Science and Communication, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Board of Directors of the Wallenberg family’s privately owned holding company FAM, and also an honorary doctor at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. Named 2016 Future Mother of the Year and was a photo model for the fashion house Rodebjer.

TRAVELS: to Croatia

When I travel on my own

“I always fly, I almost always fly in Sweden too. It’s a question of time, but I’m also used to flying and have my routines for what I do on the way to Bromma or Arlanda. But we often do things without thinking. It’s a challenge to see how we’re driven by our routines and what we can do to change them.”


“My sister lives in Princeton, not far from Manhattan. It may sound ridiculous, but New York is both small and large. I get a bit lost in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the same goes for Japan and China. New York is just right for getting the sense of something completely different. Otherwise I travel to Croatia, of course, but for a different reason. It’s really valuable getting sun in March, even if it’s a short time, and then flying back. But if I want to gather together family, fellow academics and fabrics – I’m passionate about fabrics and sew my own clothes – then Manhattan’s the place.”

Can robots do everything?

“As long as we build bodies like the human body and develop capabilities based on sensor data that function the same way our senses do, then I see no limits. It’s more a matter of what the solutions are, a mobile robot, or a solution with intelligence integrated into different aspects of an airport.”

AI – Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines. It is also the name of the academic discipline that studies how people create computers and computer programs with intelligent behaviour. Most AI researchers and textbooks define the field as “the study and design of intelligent agents”, with an intelligent agent being a system that is conscious of its environment and takes measures that maximise its chances of success. Typical tasks for artificial intelligence are pattern recognition, image analysis, speech recognition, evidence production and games.

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