Knowledge is power - Speech by Elements of AI Lead Instructor Teemu Roos at the course graduation ceremony

Your Excellency, Dear Rector, Ladies and Gentlemen: Congratulations, Students!

It is absolutely thrilling to finally get to meet you. As the Lead Instructor of the Elements of AI, the past year has been an incredible journey: creating the content, shaping it to be accessible to everyone together with Reaktor, launching the course in May, and interacting with thousands and thousands of students, has been harder than I could expect, but also more rewarding than any other project ever before.

My thanks go to all those who I have had the pleasure of working together with: the digital education team led by Arto Hellas at the University of Helsinki, Henrik Nygren and Mikko Pyykkö; the data scientists at Reaktor as well as their design and marketing teams, Hanna Hagström, Ville Valtonen, Janina Fagerlund, Travis Larson, Jani Hellström, and Kristiina Ranki; the Open University, Jaakko Kurhila; our advisor, the Chairman of the Board of Nokia, Risto Siilasmaa; all those who have endorsed the course and expressed their support; and many many others.

Last but not least, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the beta testers and students who have given us feedback and helped us improve the course.

Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power.

Technology gives us powerful tools. Humans have used these tools throughout the history to change the world and to make it a better place for us. Occasionally such power can also be used to harm.

Artificial intelligence, AI, is no different in this respect.

AI is not a matter of the future. It is really not a matter of robot uprisings or transcending humanity. AI is a matter of the present day, every day. AI and algorithms have been woven into the digital fabric that connects us to each other and to the world at large. Communication and access to information have been greatly enhanced by technology.

But there are also risks that we have encountered when information has been given into the wrong hands, and people have been manipulated by distorting information. Again, AI can be used either to harm, to mislead and manipulate, or to do good, to expose and fight manipulation.

Because of the great power in AI, we must make sure that the rules that determine how and for what purpose AI can be used are up to date and in line with what we think is right and just. In a democratic society, the power is with the people. This can only be true if the people have access to knowledge so that they can take part in forming the rules through legislation.

Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power.

You have acquired knowledge through educating yourselves. You now possess more power. We, together, in this room, have a lot of power. We have power through knowledge. We can now take part in the public discussion concerning AI and its regulation. We can also spread our knowledge and challenge statements that aren’t justified by solid evidence. We can better avoid misinformation and manipulation. Therefrom comes our power.

In the Spring, together with Reaktor, the University of Helsinki challenged companies in Finland to take the AI pledge. Our goal was to educate one per cent of the Finnish population on the basics of AI by the end of the year.

Today, I am very happy and proud to announce that we have now reached our goal – months ahead of the schedule. This includes tens of thousands of people who have learned AI from the Elements of AI, but also thousands more in hundreds of different organisations who have used other sources. Thank you all!

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki has chosen to take an active role in the society. Our research areas, including digitalisation and automation, are constantly shaping the society, and being shaped by it, which puts us right in the eye of the storm when new winds blow.

AI will continue to be an area where we want to maintain a leading position also in terms of research. Together with Aalto University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, as of this year, we have founded the Finnish Center for AI to make sure we punch far above our weight in AI research.

Next year, the University of Helsinki will continue to lead the way in open education. The first year studies at the Department of Computer Science will be opened to everyone. We are also building up our online course portfolio.

The follow-up course to the Elements of AI will be launched in Spring 2019. There, we will take a deeper dive into the technologies underlying AI with exercises involving programming. If you want to start preparing, we recommend that you learn the basics of the Python programming language.

Today is a time to celebrate. You have deserved it. But tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, we will continue to challenge each other to learn. We hope that our example will inspire others to join us in our mission to share knowledge and make the world a safer, a better functioning, and a more beautiful place. 

Thank You!

 Teemu Roos. Photo: Tuomas Sauliala