DusseldorfJuha Paananen can turn little arrows into cars, fairies or butterflies. He simply presses a few buttons on his laptop, then Enter – and then a small, yellow car appears on the screen. With big eyes, the children first look at the car, then at Paananen.
Then they want to try it for themselves and bend low over their laptops so that the tips of their noses almost touch the keyboard. A blond boy types: "setshape buterfly". On his screen but no butterfly, but a red error message. Paananen looks over his shoulder and points to the word: Butterfly you have to write with two t, otherwise it will not work. Second attempt, this time with double-t, and the little black arrow has become a butterfly.
Paananen smiles. "The curiosity is usually instantly awakened. Then it's about trying, "he says. This basic principle applies not only to six-to-ten-year-olds who playfully learn programming in their lessons, but to all of Finland.
Everywhere in the country, teachers, children and senior citizens are being trained in dealing with new technologies. The founders of artificial intelligence learn the Finns in a specially developed free online course, which is popular even beyond the borders of Finland.
The small country in the north of Europe shows how the digital transformation becomes a learning experience for the whole of society. And that nobody has to be afraid of new technologies like AI.
The Finnish focus on artificial intelligence is no coincidence. In the spring of 2017, the Accenture consultancy published a study that rates Finland after the US as the country with the highest economic growth potential through AI. In the same year, the country envisaged a clear AI strategy with eight specific goals: for example, the targeted investment in ecosystems from companies and research institutes that develop and apply AI, the establishment of a national center of excellence for AI or the development of a smart digital assistant administrative procedures. Finland is driving this process forward with a determination from which we can look for something in Germany.
Just do it
The Finns' secret of success: they start small, instead of waiting for the big, perfectly prepared plan. Like Juha Paananen. The 42-year-old with the dark blond ponytail works as a software consultant at the strategy consulting reactor in Helsinki. Five years ago, he was frustrated that children were given tablets and used them only to play, not to learn or develop.
So he began to teach programming to his then four-year-old daughter with playful methods. "We learned together how computers work and how we get them to do what we want – it was great fun," he says. He started blogging about it – in a blog with the ironic title "Girls can not code".
Soon he also organized coding sessions for the children of his colleagues – and it soon became an open coding school in the reactor office in Helsinki. "After a single post on Facebook, we had 400 signups," says Paananen. Soon after, similar coding schools sprang up all over the country.
Within walking distance of the reactor office lies the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. The then Minister of Education learned about Paananen's action, visited the Coding School and announced that programming should be a mandatory part of the curriculum of all Finnish schools. Since 2016, all Finnish students have been learning programming from the first grade – not as a single subject, but across all disciplines.
What sounds like the multiplication table of the innovation lexicon – starting small, experimenting and then growing big – was also the approach that Teemu Roos chose. The computer science professor wanted to make his online course "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" accessible to all, not just for his students with programming skills. Because he noticed that the general public knows too little about AI or is afraid of it.
Roos sits in a black hoodie in the Think Corner, a kind of living room of the University of Helsinki, which houses an open café, open-space spaces for learning and separate group rooms. "If you illustrate this story with a picture of the Terminator, I'll never give you an interview again," he says in the middle of a conversation and laughs.
The killer cyborg from the eponymous sci-fi movie is guilty of the scary image of artificial intelligence, Roos believes. He wants people to understand better what AI is and what it can be used for.
"Not everyone has to be able to program and apply AI, but everyone should understand how filter bubbles work on social networks," he says. Only if the basic principles are known to all, could anyone really participate in the public discussion about AI and determine the political regulation of AI. That's why Roos teamed up with Ville Valtonen from Reaktor and wondered how his course for computer science students could be reshaped so that non-techies would understand and enjoy it.
The result is the online course "Elements of AI", which comprises a total of six lessons and is designed for six weeks. With simple texts, illustrative examples and logic exercises, supported by colorful illustrations and graphics, the participants learn the basics of AI, machine learning, robotics and neural networks, their applications and social impact. Participation is free, the course is available in both Finnish and English.
Roos' and Valtonen's modest goal was to get one percent of the Finnish population, or 55,000 people, to attend the course. Meanwhile, 140,000 people from 110 countries have registered. Ville Valtonen, who has come up with the concept of marketing, believes that the success of their participation in the course was a "challenge".
He urged companies to join the AI Challenge and educate their staff through their course. Large Finnish companies such as Nokia, the telecoms provider Elisa and the paper manufacturer Stora Enso entered the competition and 250 other companies followed suit. The target of 55,000 participants was reached only four months after the start.
Special attention was given to the course by the Finnish government's early involvement in the Challenge and the participation of staff in the ministries. For the first graduation ceremony of the course in autumn 2018, at which the first graduates received their certificate of participation, Finland's president came in person.
And in the spring, Finnish Minister of the Economy Mika Lintilä called Sweden's neighbor Sweden by video message to join the course. "Which of us will have more Elements of AI graduates by the end of 2019? May the better country win! "
AI for the whole country
The playful competition is not just a clever marketing strategy for the course. The Finnish government recognized early on that AI is important for Finland. In 2017 she adopted an AI strategy, the first European country ever.
It says, for example: "Artificial intelligence affects every single person in Finland. The Finns must be guaranteed education to artificial intelligence. "The text uses in this context the English word" literacy ": The population should be digitally literatized so to speak, even the elderly. This is to be achieved through new forms of lifelong learning.
Ilona Lundström heads the Innovation Department of the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs. She speaks clearly, loud and clear – and not around it: "Europe must remain competitive. We do not want to be an outdoor museum that others only visit. We want to be a good location for business and a good place to live. "And if Europe does not care about the digital education of its citizens, it will not be relevant in the future, believes Lindström. After all, most AI start-ups and the largest AI investments are currently being created in the USA and in China.
But Europe has good conditions, believes Lindström, and Finland anyway. After all, the small Baltic Sea state was long ahead of the pack as far as technological innovation was concerned: with Nokia, it is home to the former world market leader in mobile telephony. Nokia's heritage is a tech-savvy population with a high level of digital literacy that is open to new technologies. Added to this is an economic system with many small and medium-sized enterprises, flat hierarchies and flexible structures.
"Here in Finland, we can be a kind of test laboratory for Europe, to show what is possible with new technologies such as artificial intelligence," says Lundström. That's why Business Finland, a public funding agency run by the Ministry of Economy, has identified areas of economic activity that it wants to promote: from health and energy to industrial manufacturing or shipping. With a total of 200 million euros, projects are supported by research institutions and companies that develop AI and platform solutions and apply them in experiments.
If you want to examine one of these state-subsidized laboratory experiments, in which AI is not only discussed but used, you have to drive 170 kilometers from Turku to Turku. Last winter, the world's first autonomous vessel set sail here. The car ferry Falco of the state-owned ship operator Finferries and the British engineering group Rolls-Royce navigated without human intervention through the archipelago south of Turku.
With networked sensors, high-resolution cameras, and AI-based object recognition, the ship can detect and avoid obstacles within a kilometer. The test drive was successful.
Falco's only mistake (according to Rolls-Royce): Although he could recognize a floating moose in the water as an object, but not clearly identify. Since then, KI developer Jussi Poikonen has been training his neural network – the self-learning system for image and pattern recognition – also with pictures of elks.
In cases where the AI system can not detect an obstacle, the master or captain will be notified. This is not on the bridge, but sits in a "Star Trek" -like command center on the mainland, in front of a wall with man-sized screens. At the Rolls Royce Research Center in Turku, a replica of this virtual control center can be visited.
Developer Poikonen takes place on the black leather chair in front of the screens. In front of him, he sees the virtual 3-D view of a ship, which he navigates through the water using a joystick. The distance to the shore, the current speed and the distance to other vessels in the area are displayed in real time.
Even if the ship drives autonomously, it is never without human control, emphasizes Oskar Levander, who heads the areas of innovation and design at Rolls-Royce. Man could always take over the remote control. On one screen he shows how he imagines the command bridge of the future: an open-plan office where people monitor their ships in front of large screens – and return home to their families in the evening instead of spending days at sea.
But there are still some obstacles to be overcome by that time – in particular, networked ships must be adequately protected against cyber-attacks and given permission to navigate international waters. Rolls-Royce wants to launch the first smart ships in Finland in 2020.
However, despite their openness to new technologies, there are already voices saying that Finland is sometimes exaggerating the AI euphoria. The Helsinki start-up Vainu in Helsinki recently used prison inmates for the tedious task of training their self-learning algorithms – for example, by teaching them the system when in a text the word "apple" refers to a fruit or to the company of the same name refers. Vainu and the prison authorities praise the action as a training and rehabilitation measure. Others see it as exploitation of cheap labor for stupid activities.
"Are computers smart?", Juha Paananen and his colleague Ian Tuomi ask children at the beginning of the coding lesson. "Yes!" The children shout. Then Ian plays a robot and moves to the left and right, as the children command him. The message: Computers only do smart things when we tell them. And so we humans have to think carefully about what we teach them – and how.
The text has been published in the current issue of the new magazine "ada" of the Handelsblatt Media Group.
. (tagsToTranslate) Finland (t) Artificial Intelligence (t) KI (t) Digitization (t) Ada (t) Magazine (t) Rolls-Royce (t) Nokia (t) Ministry of Economic Affairs (t) Handelsblatt (t) Accenture (t ) Facebook (t) Stora Enso (t) Juha Paananen (t) Teemu Roos