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Finland offers free online Artificial Intelligence course to anyone, anywhere

Helsinki University hopes that one percent of the Finnish population - some 54,000 people - will take the online course this year. So far 24,000 have signed up.

Humanoidirobotti ojentaa käsiään valoa kohti
File photo. Image: Jani Saikko / Yle

Helsinki University and tech strategy firm Reaktor say they want to make Finland the world's most educated country in the field of artificial intelligence.

The academic and business partners say they want Finland to become forerunners in AI, and have developed an online course covering the quickly-growing technology open to anyone, free of charge.

"The Elements of Artificial Intelligence" online course is entirely in English and offered to people who are interested in learning more about AI.

User interface designer at Reaktor Janina Fagerlund says people might not know it, bu their lives are already affected - one way or another - by AI every single day.

As a perhaps unexpected example, Fagerlund says that AI is used in industrial food production to sort produce and other items at food processing facilities. Most people know that self-driving cars use the technology but some may not be aware that AI is used by tech firms such as Facebook and Google to identify faces and other objects in photographs.

Fagerlund says AI will have as big a revolutionary impact on the world as electricity did towards the end of the 19th century.

"It's a new and cool discovery, but no one yet knows what it can be used for, or what impact it will have in practice," she says.

The University of Helsinki has offered a course in AI for the past few years. Due to increased interest in the subject, the institution collaborated with Reaktor to create an online course to meet the growing demand.

Free course, credits count for some in Finland

The course, which went live this week, has no prerequisites, is free of charge and open to anyone around the world.

The coursework takes about 30 hours to complete and students in Finland can even earn two ECTS academic credits through the Open University. Thouse outside Finland who've successfully completed the course are able to receive a certificate to post on their LinkedIn page.

Fagerlund participated in the creation of the course and says it is meant to dispel the mystery surrounding the technology and raise discussion about it, as well.

"We want to show that there's nothing particularly remarkable about AI, it's just about different ways of solving problems," she explains.

She also says there's no uniform definition of what, exactly, artificial intelligence is, apart from the terms "artificial" and "intelligent."

She says the technology is created by programmers and - unlike traditional computer programs - devices are programmed to carry out tasks, but then AI-powered machines are able to teach themselves how to do those tasks better - autonomously.

She says the tens of thousands of people who've already enrolled in the course are from all demographic groups.

"The fact is that we have 24,000 enrolees in the course and when we looked at who was signing up, we saw that they're from every age group, from people below the age of 20 up to 75 year-olds. They are professors, the unemployed, day care workers and dentists - people with very different backgrounds," she says.

But despite their differences, the new students of AI share common motives, she says.

"Everyone wants to learn what AI is because they think it will be a big deal in the future. They want to know how AI will affect their lives and how they can make use of it," Fagerlund says.

For her own part, Fagerlund hopes that major societal problems such as carbon emissions could be addressed with the help of AI.

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