How to seize the future? Train 1% of the population in A.I. skills and concepts. Like Finland does.


We are always on the lookout for practices and initiatives that pull down the scary, implacable narratives of tech disruption, and place these technologies in citizens’ hands as much as possible.

Finland’s 5 million citizens - only a little more than Yorkshire and the Humber region’s in the UK - are reputed around the world for being able to turn the priorities of their nation around on a dime. They did it in the early 80s, pivoting from producing wood to mobile phones (Nokia’s own redefinition), and becoming a world leader in that field.

Now they’re looking at the artificial intelligence revolution, and the existing prevalence of Chinese and American power, and they’re responding in a typically Scandinavian way: free education. In short, their aim is to have 1% of the population trained in the basic concepts of artificial intelligence by the end of 2019. And they’re nearly there.

From this Politico article:

There is no point trying to compete with Beijing or Washington in terms of developing the basic technology of AI. So Finland aspires to occupy a niche, as world leader in practical applications of AI, according to Economy Minister Mika Lintilä.

“We’ll never have so much money that we will be the leader of artificial intelligence,” Lintilä said. “But how we use it — that’s something different."

…Without requiring any coding skills, the class introduces the basics of artificial intelligence, but does not intend to train a new generation of cutting-edge developers. Instead, it wants to raise awareness about the opportunities and risks of AI among people who are strangers to computer science, so they can decide for themselves what's beneficial and where they want their government to invest.

"That’s how society works — if enough people say they don’t like it, then we regulate it,” he said.

“The old churches used to have a person who’s waking up everybody who is falling asleep while listening to the preacher," said Ilona Lundström, a director general at Finland’s economy ministry and the key architect behind Helsinki’s national plan for AI.s. “Our role is to have the stick and kind of poke people and tell them 'Stay alert, stay awake, be focused and get forward.'”

Helsinki's plan includes pushing for “sandbox environments” to test AI technology across borders. The country is looking at experiments with neighbors to the west and the south, such as cross-border trials in autonomous shipping on the Baltic sea between Finnish or Swedish ports or an experiment to merge some of Finland’s and Estonia’s digital infrastructure.

More here. We are enjoying the continuity of this scheme with long-standing Nordic and Scandinavian traditions of “folk education” - a collective decision to support the development and talents of the population. We’re written about that “Bildung” tradition before - could a nation of A.I. literate Finns be a component of Bildung 2.0?