Educating architects of the digital world at the University of Helsinki

Data science and artificial intelligence create new prospects for our society. One example is machine translation: its latest applications are based on modelling our brain functions. In the future, artificial intelligence that understands words and systems of meaning in the same way as humans will break down language barriers to increase mutual understanding. The digital world has brought with it not only opportunities, but also new challenges. As the amount of information increases, our ability to process and use data takes on greater significance. Most fears or unrealistic expectations regarding artificial intelligence and data are due to a lack of information.

Technological development gives rise to moral and legal questions that only we humans can answer. How does a robot make decisions? How can ethical perspectives be taken into account in the construction of data systems? And how do we ensure seamless interaction between people and technology? In the future, data systems will also increasingly interact with each other. It is important for us to understand this cooperation and enhance it.

Although accurate predictions of future technologies are impossible, research can help us understand the challenges ahead and increase our understanding of the basic principles, limitations and opportunities associated with methods of artificial intelligence. Research has also focused on such socially significant issues as the improvement of privacy protection and the development of technologies that prevent discrimination.

Data science research at the University of Helsinki produces new ways to process and use information. We use artificial intelligence to refine data into solutions that enable people to make responsible decisions. We educate architects of the digital world capable of guiding development and resolving ethical issues associated with artificial intelligence.

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The University of Helsinki carries out comprehensive, interdisciplinary research on artificial intelligence. A multidisciplinary research environment, solid methodological skills and cooperative networks make the University of Helsinki a prominent international institution of higher education. The 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings placed the University of Helsinki’s Department of Computer Science at number 93.

Data science research at the University of Helsinki produces new knowledge and methods for use in the applied sciences. Modern methods of computer science and statistics are at the core of data science. We focus particularly on statistical methods and the management of large masses of data. Research helps us respond to the questions posed by technological development. The goal is to make artificial intelligence both user-friendly and safe. We educate architects of the digital world capable of responsibly guiding development and resolving ethical issues associated with artificial intelligence.

Several research centres at the University of Helsinki are developing research in data science. For example, the Helsinki Centre for Data Science (HiDATA), established in 2017, will use Academy of Finland funding to recruit eight new professors in 2018, whereas the number of professors at the Department of Computer Science will go up from 16 to 29 by 2019.

The Department of Computer Science has developed methods of data science and artificial intelligence for wide application in various disciplines from history to biology, with especially long-term cooperation in the area of bioinformatics.

The development of artificial intelligence continues: even when successful, current methods remain limited, which makes it difficult to adopt them more widely. The University of Helsinki is a founding member of the Finnish Center for AI (FCAI), intended to serve as a centre of excellence in artificial intelligence, as called for in the Finnish artificial intelligence programme, and to resolve the most significant challenges associated with methods of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence provides tremendous opportunities: Finland has been assessed as second only to the United States among 11 developed countries in terms of the potential for economic growth provided by artificial intelligence.

Computer scientific expertise, modern network technologies, air quality sensors, artificial intelligence and high-precision air quality studies conducted by SMEAR stations are effectively combined in the international MegaSense project led by Academician Markku Kulmala and Professor Sasu Tarkoma. An application developed in the project provides users with current information on air quality wherever they are. The application can also assist cities and industry in making more detailed plans for a greener future, while also developing sensor calibration and data collection to function in any IoT environment. 

Self-organising systems enabled by artificial intelligence and digitalisation are becoming increasingly integrated into our society, which raises questions about the moral implications of the agency of these technologies as well as the social consequences of their application. The consideration of these questions requires the kind of diverse expertise in philosophy, cognitive science and the social sciences possessed by the University of Helsinki as a multidisciplinary institution.

What kind of intelligence do AI systems have, and what kind of agency do they represent? On what terms do human and artificial intelligence interact? How do AI systems operate in groups or organisations?

These questions provide the basis for an examination of artificial intelligence from the perspective of moral philosophy. The University of Helsinki Centre for Philosophy of Social Science (TINT), led by Professor Uskali Mäki, has emerged in the 2010s as one of the world’s leading research institutions in its field. One topic of discussion in social and moral philosophy is who is ultimately responsible for the consequences of a machine’s actions. Or can the machine itself be responsible for its actions? What principles should the machine apply when making moral decisions? Can an AI system have rights?

It is also important to consider AI applications from the perspective of social sciences and social philosophy by focusing on the unintended social consequences of technologies. One of the themes investigated by Petri Ylikoski, professor of science and technology studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, relates to the ways in which artificial intelligence changes the operations of organisations, how the market and politics are affected, and what the consequences are for social and global inequality.

In recent years, the Department of Computer Science has experimented with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). In the future, prospective students of computer science may gain admission after working hard and successfully completing online courses over a year.

Some 100,000 students took the MOOC entitled Elements oh AI, provided together with Reaktori in 2018, making it the single biggest course in the history of the University of Helsinki. The next goal is to reach one million students throughout the world.

Digital learning platforms and online courses streamline instruction in the basics and help teachers reallocate their working time from mass lectures to more personal contact teaching and the supervision of small groups.

Artificial intelligence can be used to comprehensively analyse the University’s teaching or to monitor an individual student’s learning and adjust the complexity level of learning material to be just difficult enough to meet each student’s needs. In an innovative digital learning environment based on research in the educational sciences, artificial intelligence can creatively produce teaching material for each student’s needs.

Digital online courses make the University’s latest learning content available to all, regardless of time and place, and create an equitable admission route. Our most popular international online courses have reached up to 100,000 students throughout the world.

The University of Helsinki also uses the opportunities provided by digitalisation in its own operations, including administration and new facilities: Ubicampus, a smart work facility, is currently being constructed in the premises vacated by a library on the Kumpula Campus.

Digitalisation and artificial intelligence are changing the world, opening up an array of opportunities. We need architects of the digital world capable of guiding development and resolving ethical issues associated with artificial intelligence.

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