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 Artificial intelligence is all around us. Image: Pixabay
ICT/Technology

Finland helping world see possibilities of AI

A Finnish series of free online courses on artificial intelligence (AI) continues to take the world by storm, while Finnish companies and research institutes remain at the vanguard of technological uptake of AI-based applications

Aleksi Teivainen

15.04.2021

Elements of AI, a series of free online courses on AI produced by Reaktor and the University of Helsinki, has continued to take the world by storm, launching in Danish on 9 April.

Danish is already the 25th language option for the globally popular series designed to dispel the mystique surrounding artificial intelligence for people from all walks of life.

The series presently consists of two courses, Introduction to AI and Building AI. The former sheds light on the vast possibilities and limitations of artificial intelligence, while the latter – launched toward the end of last year – delves into the algorithms at the heart of artificial intelligence-based methods and their everyday implications.

Altogether, the courses have drawn over 650 000 registrations from students in over 170 countries.

Elements of AI

Elements of AI has attracted 650 000 registrations from students in over 170 countries since its launch in 2018. Image: Elements of AI

“Artificial intelligence is visible in our lives as the recommendation algorithms of on-demand services and face-recognition techniques, for example,” Teemu Roos, the leader of the AI Education programme in the Finnish Center for AI at the University of Helsinki, pointed out in conjunction with the launch of Building AI in October 2020.

“We want to familiarise people with the tools that are used to create artificial intelligence systems. That way people can be part of this societal change instead of simply having to adapt to what the technology elite are doing.”

Teemu Roos

Teemu Roos is the leader of the FCAI Education programme at the University of Helsinki. Image: Maarit Kytöharju

The popularity of the courses is no surprise, as artificial intelligence is rapidly permeating various sectors of society, enabling better outcomes in education, higher conversion rates in e-commerce and greater productivity in industry.

Finnish companies and research institutes are often at the vanguard of the change, unsurprisingly in light of data from Eurostat. Finland, it shows, has one of the highest shares of companies that use artificial intelligence-based applications, such as machine learning or natural language processing, in their operations – 12 per cent compared to the EU average of seven.

A university recognised, company funded

The University of Turku, for example, was recently recognised for its use of artificial intelligence in ViLLE, a learning platform suitable from basic to higher education, with the 2020 UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize. The 25 000-US dollar prize is awarded annually to two projects that use new technologies creatively to advance learning and teaching.

“This global recognition is a great thing for the mission our team is passionate about,” rejoiced Mikko-Jussi Laakso, director of the Centre for Learning Analytics at the University of Turku.

A teacher and student crouched over a laptop.

ViLLE, a learning platform developed at the University of Turku, has been recognised by UNESCO. Image: University of Turku

Used by roughly half of schools in Finland, the platform provides students and teachers with immediate feedback and analytics and, by assessing most exercises automatically, allows teachers to spend more time teaching and supporting students. The artificial intelligence built into the platform is also capable of recognising and preventing learning difficulties in various subject areas.

“The theme is extremely current as the coronavirus pandemic has caused different types of learning debt,” noted Laakso.

Helsinki-based Klevu, in turn, has been acknowledged for its work in the e-commerce domain with a funding injection of 12 million US dollars. The early-stage funding round, it said, signals the launch of its Discovery Suite, an end-to-end solution delivering higher conversion rates, average order value and customer loyalty.

“With this investment, we are well-positioned toward our mission of democratising discovery in online retail,” Nilay Oza, CEO of Klevu, stated to VentureBeat.

“We will further invest into strengthening our leadership in machine learning- and natural language processing-led innovations for online retail that bring data-driven business success for our customers.”

man making an online purchase with his laptop

Klevu uses natural language processing to increase customer spend. Image: Adobe

Conversion has remained a challenge for online merchants despite the boost provided by the coronavirus pandemic. Data from Statista reveals that merchants managed to convert only about 2.6 per cent of visits to a purchase in the second quarter of 2019. Klevu has tackled the problem by using natural language processing to, essentially, mine otherwise undetected meaningful information from visitor interactions to enable more relevant customer experiences.

“Text mining is all about analysing a piece of text and identifying hidden meaningful information from within it,” said Oza. “At Klevu, several AI technologies are used to make this happen in the e-commerce domain.”

Intelligent industry

While learning, shopping and other aspects of everyday life are being re-defined by artificial intelligence, the uptake is further along in industry.

Valmet in March announced it will deliver the world’s first artificial intelligence-based machine vision system for one of the containerboard machines of Germany’s Progroup, a leading producers of container- and corrugated board in Europe. The system will deliver higher speeds for what is already the world-record setter for containerboard machine speed.

Two people talking at a desk in a monitoring room.

Valmet is one of several Finnish companies delivering efficiency and productivity improvements for industry. Image: Valmet

“We selected Valmet’s machine vision system as it provides the most advanced technical setup on the market,” attested Karl Achleitner, director of paper operations at Progroup.

The system is founded on Valmet Industrial Internet (VII), a series of applications that makes it possible to combine data from not only the machine vision system itself, but also other processes and quality systems in real time for preventing and troubleshooting issues, as well as optimising efficiency and quality.

“This is the most comprehensive machine vision order we have received, with web inspection and web monitoring fully integrated into the Valmet DNA Automation System,” told Marko Toskala, head of quality management systems at Valmet.

“With advanced data processing, defect and anomaly prediction is vastly improved and changes or interruptions to production can be reduced more effectively,” he added.

Awake.AI is making a name for itself with a similar value promise in port logistics. The Turku-based technology consultancy reported this month it has been selected as the primary artificial intelligence partner for the ports of Valencia, Spain, and Livorno, Italy. It will be tasked with developing predictive models and optimisation for lorry turnaround times utilising tracking sensor, community systems and vessel identification data.

ship at dock with truck

Awake.AI is developing predictive models and optimisation for lorry turnaround times utilising tracking sensor, community systems and vessel identification data. Image: Adobe

“These types of predictive models are essential not only to manage congestion in the port area but also to understand the factors contributing to the increase in turnaround time,” said Jussi Poikonen, head of analytics at Awake.AI.

The assignment is part of iNGENIOUS, an EU-funded project that seeks to re-design future supply chain processes.

The announcement came only a few weeks after the consultancy was recognised for its contribution to maritime logistics by Frost & Sullivan with the 2021 European Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award.

Awake.AI will also develop its platform for port authorities, cargo owners and shipping companies by introducing a so-called solution for organising complex shipping and port transactions, with the help of funding from the European Space Agency. “It will be a full-service one-stop-shop for all smart port services, including service purchases raised by ships when making port calls, trucking and even operational services,” envisioned Simo Salminen, head of products at Awake.AI.

Optimising industrial processes has been identified as a business opportunity also by the largest private artificial intelligence lab in the Nordics, Helsinki-based Silo AI.

Jyväskylä skyline

Silo.AI is expanding its reach to the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä with the acquisition of FINNOPT. Image: Adobe

The market leader announced earlier this month it is expanding into the domain by acquiring FINNOPT, a Jyväskylä-based technology consultancy with extensive scientific and business experience in delivering optimisation and machine learning projects for the likes of ABB, KONE and Konecranes.

“We are excited to expand into industrial optimisation by joining forces with FINNOPT,” said Peter Sarlin, CEO of Silo AI.

“Several business-critical aspects, such as production, schedules and supply chains, can be optimised with sophisticated AI-driven methods. We look forward to strengthening […] collaboration in these areas with our industrial clients.”

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