Finland created its artificial intelligence strategy to make use of the technology boldly and ethically in all fields of society and create a safe and democratic environment. In the wake of Malta consulting the public in preparation for its AI strategy, Business Malta discusses Finland’s AI approach with Maikki Sipinen Artificial Intelligence Specialist of Finland’s AI Strategy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Finland was the first country in the European Union to start working on a national AI strategy back in May 2017, publishing the first report on their progress in October 2017. In June 2018, the second report foresaw that soon one million of the country’s population would need to update their AI skills. This second report also provided 28 policy recommendations related to the effects of AI on economy and employment, the labour market, education and skills management, and ethics. Another report is scheduled to hit the international digital stalls in English in April.

AI is a hot topic nowadays, and professionals expect technology to change our private and business lives significantly. “Artificial intelligence is often acknowledged as one of the key drivers of economic growth and an area of strategic importance. Managing the transformation to the AI era is one of the key success factors as AI holds great potential due to the combination of powerful computing and massive data sets that are increasingly available. Further, AI might hold the keys solving challenges citizens face and improving lives of people,” Ms Sipinen tells BM.

Finland, in preparation for their AI strategy, created a steering group forming a secure network of experts from the public and private sectors to provide input. “We chose to use a model of ‘network of networks’ to keep a wide group of experts from industry, public sector and academia involved in the national AI strategy work from the start. This proved to be a fruitful approach and can be recommended to Malta as well,” the AI specialist says.

The steering group was appointed by economy minister Mika Lintilä in May 2017 and falls under the scope of Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. It is led by Pekka Ala-Pietilä, CEO and co-founder of Blyk and former President of Nokia.

When approaching the matter of artificial intelligence, the steering group made sure to keep the people of Finland at the scope of their efforts and be courageous while also staying ethical. “Keeping citizens in the centre of our thinking [was the most important building block]. Our vision for AI-era Finland is to utilise artificial intelligence boldly and ethically in all fields of society and create a safe and democratic society offering the world’s best services. Artificial intelligence will help the public sector become an efficient and personalised service provider, and new technologies create significant growth for companies and through that a healthy growing economy,” Ms Sipinen says.

AI effects to show up in the long run

Finland has found the magnitude of shifting toward the AI era to be the most challenging part of their work, as the programme is primarily a preparation for the future. As such, for the time being, it is difficult to assess the result of the AI strategy as many actions having been taken by Finland mark the beginning of long-term changes.

However, having one and a half year of experience working on a national AI strategy, Business Malta asked the Finnish steering group to help Maltese stakeholders and legislators with their AI strategy efforts by sharing experience and offering recommendations.

“My advice would be to keep in mind the need to balance between kick-starting longer term, complex transformations (such as changes to the educational system to fulfil the promise of life-long learning) but at the same time also deliver on actions and projects that can be implemented right away. Also, it is vital to keep the citizens informed and engaged in the work as we can successfully apply new technologies only when there is public trust to them,” Ms Sipinen say.

“Good luck with the Maltese AI strategy work, we look forward to learning more about it!” the AI specialist concludes.