During 2020–2021, Finland will provide European citizens with free access to a successful online course, the Elements of AI. The course will be made available in all the official EU languages. This initiative by the Finnish Presidency aims to respond to the challenges posed by the transformation of work and to reinforce the digital leadership of the EU.

The Elements of AI is a series of free online courses realised by the University of Helsinki and the Finnish tech company Reaktor. It is designed to encourage people to learn the basics of artificial intelligence, whatever their age or education.

The initiative was made public in Brussels on 10 December 2019, in the margins of the meeting of the EU employment ministers.

“Our investment has three goals: we want to equip EU citizens with digital skills for the future; we wish to increase practical understanding of what artificial intelligence is; and by doing so, we want to give a boost to the digital leadership of Europe,” said Minister of Employment Timo Harakka.

“The significance of AI is growing. To make use of it, we need digital skills. Changing labour markets, the transformation of work, digitalisation and intensifying global competition all mean one thing for the EU: we must invest in people. Every EU citizen should have the opportunity to pursue continuous lifelong learning, regardless of age and educational background,” the Minister said.

“As our Presidency ends, we want to offer something concrete. It’s about one of the most pressing challenges facing Europe and Finland today: how to develop our digital literacy,” the Minister said.

Research-based online course contributes to a critical understanding of AI

As generators of new ideas and innovations, universities play a key role in the efforts to build Europe’s future on competences and education. Research and higher education not only produce commercial applications, but also new social innovations ­ – such as this AI course – that have the potential to benefit everyone. The Elements of AI is the result of both sustained research and teaching excellence at the University of Helsinki.

“Our University has a policy of making its research and expertise benefit society at large. As research into artificial intelligence is highly advanced in Finland, it came naturally to us to make AI teaching more widely accessible,” says Teemu Roos, Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Helsinki.

Artificial intelligence, and technology at large, carry an enormous potential for Europe’s future.

“It is therefore vital that more and more individuals can understand how different solutions work and what they can be used for. We are very excited that this course will be widely adopted in Europe, in many language versions,” says Ville Valtonen, Managing Director at Reaktor Education.

First published in 2018, the Elements of AI is already available in English, Finnish, Swedish and Estonian. The original goal was to have one per cent of Finns, equalling some 55,000 people, study the basics of AI. That goal was reached in just a few months, and today the Elements of AI is the most popular course ever offered by University of Helsinki.

The initiative was launched in the context of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Finnish Presidency has been working with the member states to reach a shared understanding of the conditions for sustainable growth. Finland has stressed the importance of future development of the single market; taking full advantage of research, development, innovation and digitalisation; and investing in the competences of European citizens.

The cost of the initiative, a total of €1 679 000, will be funded from the budget of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland