Finland wants to democratize the “Wild West” of artificial intelligence


Finland has distinguished itself globally when it comes to understanding and applying artificial intelligence (AI). At the heart of this sustained and determined effort is the technological facilitator and the partner Reaktor, whose Elements of AI continues to prove that AI isn’t just for industry.

In fact, what AI turns out to be in Finland is the perfect weapon to exploit a ‘wild west’ of opportunity. And in doing so, the country – and in particular its capital, Helsinki – makes the use of AI safer and more ethical.

AI is not just a tool for high-level cryptocurrency, banking, marketing and forecasting – artificial intelligence and machine learning are instead sold in Finland as a universal model – a tool that can facilitate hobbies, professions and fields of study in society.

The only difference between the application of AI in this broadest sense, and its current cliché perception, is education. And this is where Finland, more precisely Helsinki, Reaktor and Elements of AI concentrate their efforts.

Teemu Roos, professor of computer science at the University of Helsinki, who is the main instructor for the Elements of AI course, said, “To use an example, I ran into a student in the course whose hobby was sewing. She taught me the art of drawing designs on paper and needing that vision ahead of time of what you’re looking to produce. She wanted to see if she could apply AI to this process, and I – knowing nothing at all about sewing – just said “go for it”.

“I would say the same to someone in any of the arts, or manual labor, or bus driving, or whatever application you could think of. The real big opportunity with AI isn’t what we see in thought leadership articles or industry magazines, it’s this wild west of everyday use. And that’s why it’s so important that everyone has at least a basic understanding of it. “

Roos is also the leader of the AI ​​education program at the Finnish Center for AI. And his defense of this notion of “AI for all” has already led more than 750,000 people to choose to learn – at least – the basics of artificial intelligence.

The overall program includes an Introduction to AI segment and a Building AI part, where students of all ages and from all backgrounds are first introduced to the basics of how artificial intelligence works, before delving into its application attributes. .

But perhaps the course’s most important contribution to the development of AI in society is its emphasis on ethics.

Stories about bias against facial recognition or racial profiling are not uncommon in the industry, but too few readers recognize that computers are not biased. People are biased and the data fed into these machines should initially be skewed to give such unfavorable results.

“I would say there are equal amounts of information and misinformation out there,” said Megan schaible, an American who left the UK for Finland after meeting entrepreneurs in Helsinki and learning about the technology development approach that existed there. Today, as Reaktor’s COO, she is a pioneer in the democratization of technology and related applications.

“Democratization is about creating something with every type of end user in mind – something that AI users don’t always do and a lot of people don’t know enough about,” Schaible said. “For example, among all the people who took a massive open online course with Harvard and MIT, it was found that 85% of them already had a bachelor’s degree.

“Very often technology courses are marketed as something that democratizes education, when in reality they only exacerbate the gap – something that makes no sense when the tools in question apply. to everyone and have an impact on them. “

Of the 750,000 Elements of AI students, 40% are female, almost double the average for other online IT sources. And, as Roos noted, much of it comes from backgrounds outside of academia, data science, or high-profile business. They are simply members of the population who either want to know more about the wave of artificial intelligence that is impacting the way they make choices in their daily lives; or to find ways to apply it to their own situations and activities.

“Or both, hopefully,” Schaible said.

Commercial behaviors

This emphasis on ethics and democratization is not only significant from the point of view of the everyday user. Evolving in tandem with trends such as sustainability (in all its forms), data privacy, cybersecurity and ethical sourcing, as more and more people become aware of the pitfalls or abuses associated with AI, this will force the organizations that currently dominate the AI ​​conversation to behave more. responsibly.

“This aspect of consumer power and pressure is particularly important because it can only come from education and knowledge,” Schaible said. “But creating a more general understanding of ethics in AI also helps protect companies that may have fallen into traps when developing their infrastructure or strategies.

“Here in Europe, the EU in particular is likely to hit hard on companies that fail to meet certain standards in the democratization of AI, as this trend evolves. So, in this vein, EU countries and companies have the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and be a little more proactive about how to tailor these solutions for the benefit of all, not just people. some demographic data. “

From Finland to the world

But why is Finland leading the way?

Schaible chose to make Helsinki his home knowing that inclusiveness in technology would be a viable model there. This is not the case everywhere, and Roos even said that the adoption of Elements of AI could only be as high as in Finland.

He added: “We have global adoption of the course, but I have noticed that people in English speaking countries have a harder time reading a block of information, thinking critically about it, and then forming their own opinion. , than Finnish. speaking students.

“In Finland, I think our school system prepares people well to be able to read information packets critically and not just take things at face value. And once you get past the basics of what AI is, it really gives people an edge to dissect, whether it’s ethical or reliable to use or not.

Essentially, Helsinki has become a non-hierarchical, tech-savvy, and socially inclined hub, promoting what the future of AI should look like. The fact that Reaktor’s and Elements of AI influence is already international (and growing) is extremely promising, but it continues to be supported by the Finnish national population, more than 4% of whom have now taken the course, Schaible said. .

“When you build something that appeals to everyone, you see much more impactful results on the other side,” she added. “In a way, it’s a great reflection of why AI needs to be democratized in the first place.

“We missed the boat with the Internet and it kind of took over with no regulation or oversight required. With AI, we know both the positive and negative implications that these technologies can have, so working with people from all walks of life to take control of this situation can only be a good thing. “

Essentially, Finland is leading the charge in both defending and taming this AI Wild West.


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