Finland offers crash course in artificial intelligence to EU

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HELSINKI (AP) – Finland is offering a techy Christmas gift to all European Union citizens – a free-of-charge online course in artificial intelligence in their own language, officials said Tuesday.

The tech-savvy Nordic nation, headed by the world’s youngest head of government, is marking the end of its rotating presidency of the EU with a highly ambitious goal.

Instead of handing out the usual ties and scarves to EU officials and journalists, the Finnish government – led by the 34-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin – has opted to present a less conventional gift not only to a selected few but all EU citizens.

Finland, a nation of 5.5 million that will hand over the EU presidency to Croatia at the end of the year, is aiming to give practical understanding of AI to 1% of EU citizens – or about 5 million people – through a basic online course by the end of 2021.

It is teaming up with the University of Helsinki, Finland’s largest and oldest academic institution, and the Finland-based tech consultancy Reaktor.

Teemu Roos, a University of Helsinki associate professor in the department of computer science, described the nearly $2 million project as “Finland’s gift to Europe” and “a civics course in AI” for every EU citizen to cope with the society’s ever-increasing digitalization and the possibilities AI offers to the job market and elsewhere.

The course covers elementary AI concepts in a practical way and doesn’t go into deeper concepts like coding, he said.

“We have enormous potential in Europe but what we lack is investments into AI,” Roos said, adding that the continent faces fierce AI competition from digital giants like China and the United States.

Timo Harakka, the Finnish minister for transport and communications, said last week that the country wants “to equip EU citizens with digital skills for the future and …. to give a boost to the digital leadership of Europe” through the project.

The initiative is for paid by the Finnish ministry for economic affairs and employment, and officials said the course is meant for all EU citizens whatever their age, education or profession.

Since its launch in Finland in 2018 “The Elements of AI” has been phenomenally successful – the most popular course ever offered by University of Helsinki, which traces its roots back to 1640 – with more than 220,000 students from over 110 countries having taken it so far online, Roos said.

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