Nordic Five Tech establishes new network for artificial intelligence

The Nordic AI Network aims to make the Nordic region a global hub in AI research, education and innovation.

The Nordic AI Network will begin activities already this year. Photo: Maria Knutson Wedel/Chalmers University of Technology.

The Nordic AI Network will begin activities already this year. Photo: Maria Knutson Wedel/Chalmers University of Technology.

Today, the Nordic Five Tech alliance of leading technical universities in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden announces the creation of the Nordic Artificial Intelligence Network. With global interest in the many opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI), the network will bring together, and harness, leading expertise in the field with the aim of taking the landmark step to make the region a global hub in AI research, education and innovation. 

The Nordic AI Network will begin activities already in 2019 with selected events. In coming years, it will share educational resources, stimulate research collaborations, as well as study and share best practices and business models for collaboration with industry. Its activities will, overall, set the stage to communicate Nordic excellence in the field of AI and obtain competitive funding at both the national and European levels. 

‘AI is set to change the world and the Nordics must be part of this tremendous shift. Bringing expertise from across our countries under one umbrella through the Nordic AI Network is a crucial step in making the Nordics a global hub in artificial intelligence. We are very pleased to launch the network and build up activities in coming months,’ says Ilkka Niemelä, President of Aalto University. 

‘The Nordic Five Tech alliance has very strong AI research groups. We are uniquely positioned to apply AI for the benefit of society both because it is a part of our mission as technical universities and due to our shared culture of collaborating with both the business community and public institutions. Together our alliance is stronger than the individual universities and we can share our best practices both in relation to research and education to the benefit of all in the Nordic region,’ says Anders O. Bjarklev, President of the Technical University of Denmark in Denmark. 

Made up of Aalto University, Chalmers University of Technology, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the Nordic Five Tech universities are each home to research institutes and centres dedicated to AI, like the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence.

The decision to create the Nordic AI Network was made at the meeting of Nordic Five Tech presidents on 26 April 2019. 

More information:
Ville Kyrki
Associate Professor, Intelligent machines
tel: +358504082035

fcai team’s Award Winning Research At AISTATS 2019

Markus Heinonen receiving the prize

Markus Heinonen receiving the prize

A paper by an FCAI team, “Deep learning with differential Gaussian process flows” was awarded the 2019 Notable paper award at the 2019 AI & Statistics conference, one of only three papers to be awarded the honour out of a field of over one thousand submissions. The international congress, which took place over three days in Okinawa, Japan, was an opportunity for several hundred A.I. researchers from around the globe to get together and discuss their work, and FCAI researchers and students were there presenting talks and posters.

The prize winning paper was written by Pashupati Hegde, Markus Heinonen, Harri Lähdesmäki, and Samuel Kaski and came out of a collaboration between the research groups of Professor Lähdesmäki and Professor Kaski.

New methods for Deep Learning

In deep learning, hundreds of successive computations are combined together to learn very complex tasks. This how computers and phones now recognize faces in images or translate languages. In the new paper by the FCAI team, combining all the computations together is replaced with a continuous transforming flow of inputs, which are used to perform the learning task in way that’s easier to interpret. The work also presents a new connection between deep learning and a group of mathematical models called “stochastic dynamical systems”. This connection means that, compared to common neural networks, the new method can understand how much uncertainty there is in the prediction process. This understanding of uncertainty means the new method excels at learning models where there are smaller amounts of data – potentially useful for future applications like personalized medicine or drug design.

Researchers from FCAI also presented the following talks and posters:


  • Deep learning with differential Gaussian process flows

    • Pashupati Hegde,  Markus Heinonen, Harri Lähdesmäki, Samuel Kaski

  • Nonlinear ICA Using Auxiliary Variables and Generalized Contrastive Learning

    • Aapo Hyvärinen


  • Analysis of Network Lasso for Semi-Supervised Regression

    • Alexander Jung, Natalia Vesselinova,

  • Variable selection for Gaussian processes via sensitivity analysis of the posterior predictive distribution

    • Topi Paananen, Juho Piironen (Curious AI); Michael Andersen, Aki Vehtari  

  • Know Your Boundaries: Constraining Gaussian Processes by Variational Harmonic Features

    • Arno Solin  

  • Harmonizable mixture kernels with variational Fourier features

    • Zheyang Shen, Markus Heinonen, Samuel Kaski  

  • On Structure Priors for Learning Bayesian Networks

    • Jussi Viinikka, Aleksis Vuoksenmaa, Mikko Koivisto

  • Estimation of Non-Normalized Mixture Models

    • Takeru Matsuda, Aapo Hyvärinen

Prestigious board of advisors to support the impact of the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence

The Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence FCAI has named an Impact Advisory Board with a broad spectrum of expertise.

The Impact Advisory Board (IAB) for the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence, had its kick-off meeting on April 15, 2019. Antti Vasara (CEO, VTT Oy) was selected to chair the board. The other members include Risto Siilasmaa (Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nokia and F-Secure), Academician Ilkka NiiniluotoIlona Lundström (Director General at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment), Henry Tirri (CTO, InterDigital Inc.), and Ilkka Kivimäki (Venture capitalist, 

FCAI is a competence center for Artificial Intelligence in Finland, initiated by Aalto University, University of Helsinki, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in 2018. It gathers top researchers from different disciplines around a joint artificial intelligence agenda. FCAI aims to ensure that the innovations generated by excellent research will be taken in use and applied in business life and society. In addition, FCAI has a central role in carrying out the national artificial intelligence strategy.  

IAB supports FCAI to create impact by giving new viewpoints on the research agenda and by advising on impact creation on business and society. 

”FCAI is totally unique in connecting research excellence in artificial intelligence to applying the results in renewing the society and industries”, says Antti Vasara. “Artificial intelligence offers unlimited opportunities, and the versatile experience of the IAB members helps FCAI to direct these opportunities to build a better future.”

The Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence has been granted over €8.3 million in funding from the Flagship Programme of the Academy of Finland. The first four-year funding period started in January 2019. Flagship status is granted to very few selected centers of excellence with high societal impact. The flagship status also strengthens the social standing of artificial intelligence research in Finland. The Flagship Programme includes six competence clusters in total.

FCAI Impact Advisory Board members Ilona Lundrsröm, Risto Siilasmaa, and Ilkka Kivimäki together with the chairman of the board, Antti Vasara (second from the left). Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University.

FCAI Impact Advisory Board members Ilona Lundrsröm, Risto Siilasmaa, and Ilkka Kivimäki together with the chairman of the board, Antti Vasara (second from the left). Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University.

Changing how a country types

France adopts new keyboard standard created with state-of-the-art algorithm

Keyboards touch our everyday lives yet, despite the well-known drawbacks of current layouts used across the globe, the position of characters has largely remained the same. Researchers at Aalto University, as part of an international collaboration, have now used computational methods to place keyboard characters for easier, more comfortable typing. The result is a new keyboard standard created with an advanced algorithm, introduced by France on 2 April 2019.  

‘Algorithms, like the ones we have developed for the French keyboard, can help us make better decisions. They can quickly evaluate the problems and benefits of different designs and achieve fair compromises. But they also need the guidance from humans who know about the problem,’ explains Dr Anna Maria Feit, the lead researcher of the project.

With concern voiced by the French government in 2015 on the existing keyboard—and its inability to support the proper use of French—priority was on creating a new standard that allows easy and quick use of required symbols. The algorithm created by the Aalto University-led team automatically arranged the characters in an optimal way.

The new AZERTY standard includes commonly used characters in the French language, such as œ, « », or É, as well as 60 other new characters, which are arranged in groups predicted by the algorithm, making the layout more intuitive to use. Characters like @ and / have been moved to more accessible locations, as have ligatures and accents.

‘When rearranging the symbols on the keyboard, there are conflicting things to consider,’ says Feit, who completed her doctoral studies at Aalto and now works at ETH Zurich.

‘Characters that get used the most should be moved to a position that is easy to reach. But if you move it a long way from where it was originally, people will take a long time to learn it and be less likely to use your new layout. You might also want to keep symbols that look similar and have similar functions together to make them easier to find and use, like the colon and the semi-colon, even though one gets used more than the other,’ she explains.

To inform the design, researchers built statistical models of character use in modern French, drawing on newspaper articles, French Wikipedia, legal texts, as well as emails, social media, and programming code. In contrast to previous work that assumes people use their fingers in certain ways, they gathered the key presses of over 900 people in a large-scale crowdsourcing study to see what counted as an ‘easy’ key press. In addition, they included state-of-the-art findings from ergonomics literature.

‘The trick to making the collaboration effective was using our data to build a tool that the French experts in the standardisation committee could put different conditions into, and see what the optimal keyboard that resulted from the data looked like,’ says Aalto University Professor Antti Oulasvirta.

Dr Mathieu Nancel, a former researcher at Aalto now based at Inria Lille – Nord Europe in France, brought the algorithm to the French committee and helped them to work with it. ‘Before we started working together, they tried to place over 100 characters by hand. Our tool allowed them to focus on higher-level goals, such as making typing special characters fast or keeping it similar to the previous layout,’ he says.

‘Together with the committee, we tried different parameters and discussed the layouts suggested by the computer algorithm. We could also change the layout by hand and the tool would tell us how this impacted typing speed or ergonomics. We then adapted the underlying computer model to also take into account, for example, cultural aspects and comments from the French public,’ Nancel adds.

The algorithm that Dr Feit and team produced for the French committee can easily be adapted for any language; it simply requires data for modelling. Most countries use the standard QWERTY keyboard—originally designed for the English language—despite frequently used accented characters or different styles of punctuation. Dr Feit hopes that the model produced for France could be used by other groups in the future.

‘Our goal is that in the future people and algorithms design user interfaces together,’ she says.

Related resources

The Alan Turing Institute to work with The Finnish Centre for Artificial Intelligence on data science research

The Alan Turing Institute and The Finnish Centre for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), formally creating an ambitious agreement centred around the Turing’s data-centric engineering programme, a major research programme funded by the Lloyd's Register Foundation.

The MOU will enable both institutions to embark on shared research and translation projects. This will include the development of AI methods to improve the diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy – a project which is establishing one of the largest data collections of retinal images and optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans in the world. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. 

Adrian Smith, Institute Director, The Alan Turing Institute, said: “This is a significant international collaboration and I am delighted the Turing is now formally linked to one of the most dynamic research institutions in Europe. Together, we share a common goal of shaping the world we live in for the better and this collaboration will enable us to combine world-class expertise and apply data science and AI approaches to tackle real world problems.”

Prof M. A. Girolami the Turing’s Director of Data Centric Engineering programme (and Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge and the Lloyds Register Foundation-Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Data Centric Engineering) has been appointed as Adjunct Professor of Machine Learning at Aalto University, which will help develop the partnership.  

In addition, Professor Kimmo Kaski (former Academy Professor and Dean of the School of Science at Aalto University) is a Turing Rutherford Fellow and will continue to work as the Turing-FCAI Liaison Director. Professor Kimmo Kaski said: “I am excited about this strategic partnership between FCAI and The Alan Turing Institute – the world’s foremost data science and AI research set-up, as it gives us the opportunity to jointly further Turing’s unique and world-changing legacy in finding solutions to challenging problems around us by applying data science and AI to the most valuable resource, data, for common good and better services to us all.”

A number of other projects are currently being developed between FCAI and the Turing. Professor Samuel Kaski, director of FCAI said “We are looking forward to continuing the already existing collaboration with a number of Turing partners, and working on the new initiatives we identified based on our complementary strengths.”

Director of The Alan Turing Institute Adrian Smith and Director of Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence Samuel Kaski

Director of The Alan Turing Institute Adrian Smith and Director of Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence Samuel Kaski

New Aalto adjunct professors joins FCAI


Mark Girolami has been appointed adjunct professor in the Computer Science department at Aalto University. Professor Girolami is Programme Director at the Alan Turing Institute, the UK National Institute for Data Science and AI.  

He is the Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge where he also holds the Lloyds Register Foundation-Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Data Centric Engineering. Prior to taking up his role at Cambridge he was Chair of Statistics in the Department of Mathematics of Imperial College. 

‘The partnership being established between FCAI and Turing is enormously exciting as it brings together two international centres of excellence in AI and Machine Learning research and proven track record in translation to economic impact in a number of areas of worldwide importance’ said Girolami.

‘We are already defining a number of substantial research programmes between both FCAI and Turing which include fundamental work based on the emerging area of Probabilistic Numerics as well as applications of AI to revolutionise the diagnosis and monitoring of Diabetic Retinopathy’ said Girolami

Working towards more diverse research community—Second annual WiDS conference in Helsinki

The second annual Women in Data Science (WiDS) Helsinki conference was organized in Biomedicum Helsinki on International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8. The conference gathered together around 50 researchers, students and representatives from private and public sector to learn and discuss the latest data science and artificial intelligence and applications in a wide set of domains. The program featured 10 female speakers presenting a variety of intriguing topics from sustainable smart cities to data science used in mental healthcare.

Mehreen Ali, the local WiDS Ambassador in Finland and doctoral student in the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, explains that the three main goals of the event are to inspire, educate, and support the female researchers in the field. The communal spirit of WiDS was also underlined in the opening address by professor Jennifer Widom and was further supported by networking opportunities and panel discussion in afternoon.

WiDS Helsinki conference is part of the Global Women in Data Science conference networkthat aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and support women in the field. The first WiDS conference was organized in Stanford University in 2015, and last year the conference had already spread to over 50 countries as the nearly 200 regional events organized in 2018 reached over 100 000 participants worldwide. 

WiDS events feature exclusively female speakers providing a refreshing example of possibilities to increase visibility of women researchers in the heavily male-dominated field of data science and artificial intelligence. FCAI and HIIT are committed to improving the diversity and gender-balance of the research community in data science and artificial intelligence and are proud to be among the sponsors of WiDS Helsinki 2019.

Computational analysis of large bacterial populations is paving the way for new vaccines


Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus, is estimated to cause annually 700 million human infections worldwide. Most of these are inflammations of the throat, but the bacterium also causes more serious infections with high mortality rates. Despite a century of intensive effort, no effective vaccine has been discovered so far.

An international research team recently conducted the first population-based and genome-wide bacterial transcriptomics study, combined with dense longitudinal genome data and virulome characterization using an animal model. The combination of multiple data modalities with advanced computational methods unraveled changes in the DNA which lead the bacterium to have heightened virulence. The FCAI research group led by professor Jukka Corander had a central role in the computational parts of the project, where sequence mining algorithms and artificial intelligence were used to link complex events in the target pathogen population. The study is expected to aid in the development of novel bacterial vaccines, and provide a model for deciphering the evolution of multiple other human pathogens also.

An article on the study has been published in Nature Genetics.

2nd Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference – Helsinki Chapter


The Global Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference ( aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and support women in the field. This annual one-day technical conference provides an opportunity to hear about the latest data science related research and applications in a broad set of domains.

The regional event will be happening in Meilahti, Helsinki. Those interested in Data Science are invited to participate in the conference, irrespective of the gender, which features exclusively female speakers for inspiring talks on the latest technical advancement and applications in data science. Besides, we will also broadcast the recorded sessions from WiDS Stanford 2019. There will also be an opportunity to network with people working on data science as well.

Follow WiDS on Facebook @ and Twitter #widshelsinki2019.

Finnish political leaders discuss the future of AI on Yle

The Finnish public broadcaster Yle gathered the leaders of the major political parties to discuss the future of AI in early February. FCAI’s professor Jaakko Lehtinen together with philosopher Maija-Riitta Ollila commented on the debate on Yle KIOSKIxAI program.

The panel addressed numerous themes from ethics and economics to the importance of research and education of AI. The politicians shared their views on ways AI will impact societal factors including work and employment, communication, decision-making and social retribution during and after the next parliamentary term. 

You can watch the whole discussion on Yle Areena (in Finnish):

MIT Professor Tommi Jaakkola shared his wisdom on applying AI in other fields

Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

The Helsinki Distinguished Lecture Series on Future Information Technology got an excellent start for 2019, when the large auditorium of the Otaniemi TUAS building was packed full for Tommi Jaakkola‘s talk. He is a world class researcher and an acclaimed teacher whose work focuses on both foundational theory and applications of machine learning. He received his Master’s degree from Helsinki University of Technology, did his PhD at MIT, and joined the MIT faculty in 1998.

The talk, titled “Modeling with Machine Learning: Challenges and Some Solutions”, consisted of two parts. The first part illustrated how AI can be used as a tool to accelerate and transform other areas of science and engineering. By enabling complex inferences to be made from data, machine learning extends the reach of modeling to phenomena that are not well-understood yet. The second part of the talk gave an overview of efforts to make machine learning models more interpretable. While major advances have been made in achieving good performance in complex tasks, understanding how the models work is often difficult even for an expert. These two challenges, construction of sophisticated models and improving interpretability, are typically seen as two different subfields of machine learning research, but one of the main conclusions of the talk was that significant synergy is emerging.

To demonstrate how AI can accelerate progress in other areas, Professor Jaakkola presented some of the work he and his collaborators have done in chemistry. Vast amounts of underused information exist in databases, literature, and researchers’ notebooks. In an attempt to accelerate drug design, they have created models that predict the properties of a molecule on the basis its structure. They have also worked on predicting the major products of chemical reactions, achieving a level of performance on par with human experts.

Their approach to improving interpretability is based on the observation that although a full understanding of a complex model cannot be simple, there are ways to facilitate “local” understanding of how individual inputs are processed. This can be done even with existing models by repeatedly modifying the input and observing the effect on the output. When creating new models, constraints can be applied to internal structures to make them locally interpretable.

One of the key challenges in machine learning is to get beyond the training data with models that capture fundamental aspects of the domain. In drug design, for example, computational exploration of new chemical spaces would be even more valuable than working within the boundaries of the chemical diversity present in the data. Jaakkola proposes incorporating more domain knowledge, such as integrated physics calculations, in machine learning methods to achieve this kind of deep generalizations.

The importance of domain knowledge has implications on how research and education in AI should be organized. Jaakkola stated that taking AI successfully into other fields can only be done by “teams of three”: an AI expert, a domain expert, and a person knowledgeable about both. Here in Finland, the research agenda of FCAI is based on similar ideas of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Applying AI Across Fields also means that a broader variety of people should have access to relevant education. At MIT, Professor Jaakkola is teaching a course titled Introduction to Machine Learning, which has become popular among students in other disciplines besides computer science. Alexander Jung has had a lot of success with a similar course at Aalto University, and Elements of AI, led by Teemu Roos, targets an even broader audience with the objective of educating 1% of the Finnish population in the basics of AI.

video recording of Tommi Jaakola’s talk is available and highly recommended to everyone.

FCAI Research Insight Event

On January 22nd FCAI hosted its Industrial Research Highlight day at Aalto university. The purpose of the day was to bring together FCAI’s academics and industrial partners to discuss shared problems and to workshop future research ideas for the center.

 The event was attended by guests from Cargotec, VTT, Planmeca, Orion Pharma, OP, Huawei, Tieto, Nokia Bell Labs, Elisa, Vake, M-Brain and Wärtsilä, who were joined by academic researchers from University of Helsinki and Aalto university in Otaniemi.

 The day was split into workshops, the delegates discusses how our ongoing research should focus on the problems of

  • Agile probability AI

  • Simulator based inferences

  • Next-generation data-efficient deep learning

  • Interactive AI interfaces

  • Privacy preserving AI

  • Secure AI


The event also served as an opportunity for us to celebrate our recent happy news from the Academy of Finland funding with our industrial partners, whose support in the application process proved invaluable for FCAI in demonstrating the impact of our research to the Academy of Finland.


“The main mode of operation of FCAI is working together in the research programs. That we do with company partners too, identifying fundamental problems with both direct company impact and high research interest. That we did very successfully today - I am looking forward to the next steps!" said center director, professor Samuel Kaksi.


New machine learning method enables deeper understanding of pathogenic bacteria


A research team led by FCAI professor Jukka Corander has created a new machine learning method for the analysis of bacterial genomes. Thanks to its computational efficiency, the new method can handle an order of magnitude larger data sets than the previous methods, and is applicable at the level of pangenomes of most pathogenic bacteria. The current focus of the team is on the pneumococcus and the meningococcus, which are major causes of life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis, and frequently cause also other milder diseases. Their results display important findings on the evolution of both virulence and antibiotic resistance in populations of these bacteria. The research is part of professor Corander’s ERC AdG project which develops scalable inference methods for infectious disease epidemiology.

A manuscript describing the method and the first results is available at bioRxiv.

Aurora AI plans to revolutionize public services, and FCAI Society is here to help

As a part of Finland’s venture to become a forerunner in the application of AI technologies, the Ministry of Finance has been spearheading a public network of AI infrastructure called AuroraAI. Kicked off in 2018, the project will enable human centered and proactive public services with the help of modern AI technologies.

FCAI Society is helping the project by providing a critical eye to the ethical dimensions of the venture. In collaboration with the Ethics sub-group of  Finland’s AI Program, the interdisciplinary group of experts at FCAI Society will provide ethical sparring to identify risks and rewards in the project, as well as to operationalize the high level societal values the AuroraAI project is committed to.

The application of AI technologies provides the possibility for individualized and human centered services, which help citizens in the important turning points in their lives. But to reap these benefits, technologies must be implemented in a responsible and value-driven manner. That is why societal impact and ethical concerns must be evaluated at the get-go, not as an afterthought. This perspective is also present in the European High Level Expert group’s draft report on principles for trustworthy AI .

To learn more about AuroraAI and how they are implementing European principles for ethical AI, please see their YouTube channel.

FCAI gets significant boost from the Academy of Finland

The Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI) has been selected as a Flagship of the Academy of Finland, which is a status granted to very few selected centers of excellence with high societal impact.

The Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence has been granted over €8 million in funding from the flagship programme of the Academy of Finland. Flagship status is only granted to competence clusters of high quality and high societal impact. The 4-year funding term begins in January 2019 with a possible extension of 4 years. The total budget of FCAI is 250 M€ in the next 8 years.

FCAI (Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence) is a competence center founded by Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and VTT Technical Research center of Finland. FCAI conducts fundamental research on artificial intelligence in cooperation with businesses and public sector organisations, and develops practical AI applications.

“The flagship status is a signal from society that artificial intelligence research is considered important,” says Samuel Kaski, director of FCAI and professor of computer science at Aalto University.

Increasingly efficient research and business partnerships

With the new funding, artificial intelligence expertise scattered around Finland can now be efficiently brought together. According to Kaski, flagship status also makes it possible to assemble scholars from various disciplines to carry out research based on a shared agenda. This way, FCAI is able to make artificial intelligence benefit other fields of science as well as society, not to mention businesses.

“A competence cluster such as the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence also helps keep the best minds in the field in Finland, while attracting even more top experts and investment to the country,” says Petri Myllymäki, vice-director of FCAI and professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at the University of Helsinki.

“We also wish to promote the establishment of new businesses and engender better products, services and practices in various sectors of industry and society, thus facilitating sustainable growth,” says Tua Huomo, executive vice-president of VTT, who is in charge of FCAI’s industry and society network.

Utilising methods of artificial intelligence

FCAI aims to develop artificial intelligence needed in Finland that is understandable and trustworthy, works well in supporting people and utilises available data efficiently. Ethical and societal aspects of AI will also be an important part of the agenda. Research is being conducted in cooperation with experts from various fields, such as medicine.

“Contributions by a great number of people representing a wide range of fields make our research impactful and provide broad-based expertise for the development of artificial intelligence. We also engage businesses and public sector organisations,” Kaski notes.

FCAI is already collaborating with a number of businesses and governmental organisations and has a long list with which it intends to cooperate in the future.

“We also have room for new partners, particularly if there is a shared opportunity for creating significant commercial, social or scientific breakthroughs. Research programmes coordinated collaboratively by several research groups are also possible. In the spring, we will hold events to engender and tighten collaboration with various active parties,” Huomo explains.

The AI race is only just beginning

Public discourse often gives the impression that Europe has already lost its chance to utilise artificial intelligence, with the United States and China reaping the benefits.

“In fact, the game is only just beginning: current methods of artificial intelligence work well in solving certain problems, but there are many more AI application opportunities without currently functional solutions,” Myllymäki states.

According to Myllymäki, Europe’s best prospects lie in the development of understandable and trustworthy artificial intelligence that is able to effectively utilise data.

“Finland and FCAI can lead the way, providing others in Europe with an example of how an increasingly well-functioning and successful society can be brought about by utilising top-level expertise in artificial intelligence,” says Myllymäki.


Further information on the Academy of Finland flagship programme
The Academy of Finland grants flagship funding to high-quality and high-impact competence clusters with the aim of strengthening these clusters and further improving their quality and impact. Flagship funding also emphasises the societal impact of research and business collaboration.

More information on the Academy of Finland website

Teemu Roos emphasises the role of universities in realising the benefits of AI


Artificial Intelligence is expected to provide solutions to a wide variety of problems and needs, but in order to realise the benefits while minimising the damage, long-term research and broad access to education are needed, says Teemu Roos, associate professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki.

Much of artificial intelligence research is multidisciplinary. It is often slow and requires long-term funding.

“It may take years for people from various fields to learn to talk with each other. Projects often last a couple of years, and launching them is risky, if there is no certainty about continuing funding,” says Roos.

He thinks that universities receive too little recognition for the artificial intelligence research they conduct.

“There is a great deal of talk about research conducted by Google, IBM and Facebook. Yet the individuals working in these companies have been educated by universities. Secondly, without the university ecosystem, the majority of companies could not utilise artificial intelligence. Large companies may conduct their own research and product development, but even they don’t have the desire or resources to conduct the critical basic research on which innovations are based.”

AI being a hot topic, decision-makers in politics and the corporate world easily lose sight of the difference between experts and “experts”. Genuine expertise is needed to ensure that the Finnish population can be trained to recognise the possibilities and dangers inherent in artificial intelligence – for example, the potential to shape opinions.

“When it comes to issues related to artificial intelligence, researchers are the experts you should listen to,” says Roos.

These thoughts are well in line with FCAI’s mission to create Real AI for Real People in the Real World. In addition to his distinguished research in machine learning, Roos himself is the lead instructor of the Elements of AI online course that aims to educate 1% of the Finnish population to understand the basics of artificial intelligence.

For the full interview, please see the University of Helsinki website.

AI Day 2018

On 12 December AI 2018 took place at Aalto University Otaniemi campus. The event featured talks, panel discussions and networking events with leading researchers, companies and policy makers across the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Over 500 people registered for the day, which was attended by over 20 companies and public organization, including Supercell, Nokia and OP Bank. The event had representatives from around 150 organizations present.

“This looks very promising for Finland – this time we had much more research content in the talks and the number of people from companies interested is still strong!” said FCAI director, Professor Samuel Kaski. He added “We had 543 registered participants, roughly the same number as last year, even though now we had a small entrance fee to cover the costs. So people seem not to be coming just for the free coffee.”

As well as delicious coffee, visitors the event were treated to opening talks by Ilona Lundström, the Director General of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. This was followed by parallel sessions on Understandability in AI chaired by Professor Antti Oulasvirta from Aalto, and Privacy, Security and Fairness in AI chaired by Professor Antti Honkela from University of Helsinki.

The afternoon featured a panel Chaired by Risto Nieminen, the President of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, made up of Meeri Haataja, CEO and cofounder of; Professor Petri Myllymäki, director of Helsinki Instituted for Information Technology, Professor Aki Vehtari from Aalto University, and Professor Petri Ylikoski from university of Helsinki, who were discussing the Scoeital Impact of AI. Running in parallel was a series of academic talks on Data efficiency in AI, chaired by Professor Alexander Illin from Aalto.

Photos: Matti Ahlgren

Finnish Machine Learning Research Behind Acclaimed Acquisition Deal

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Ekahau, the leading solution provider for enterprise wireless network design and troubleshooting, has been acquired by Ookla. Artturi Tarjanne, a general partner of Nexit Ventures, thanks in his blog the “super talented CoSCo research team behind innovations and magic of Ekahau technology” (see Nexit’s Best Exit Ever). The researchers behind the technology that led to the establishment of Ekahau in 2000 were Henry Tirri, Petri Myllymäki, Teemu Roos, Kimmo Valtonen, Tomi Silander, Petri Kontkanen, Antti Tuominen, Jussi Lahtinen and Hannes Wettig, forming the core of the CoSCo research group of the University of Helsinki and HIIT at the time.

The size of the deal is not public information, but Helsingin Sanomat, the main Finnish newspaper, estimates it to be in the range of 100-130 M€. Petri Myllymäki, who is currently the Director of HIIT and vice-director of the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence, comments: “After the 18 long years when Ekahau had to first face the burst of the IT bubble in 2001, and then later struggle with problems in finding the right business model, I was very happy to hear these good news about the company that started on ideas based on our long-term basic research in machine learning. As the story in Helsingin Sanomat says, the journey was unfortunately so long and winding that for the original innovators this is no longer a great personal financial success, but this is still a great a success story for Finnish science and more widely for the Finnish society: according to Tarjanne, the majority of the 75 professionals employed by Ekahau are located in Finland, so the impact on local high-tech employment alone has already been substantial. This is a prime example of what top-level Finnish AI research can lead to. Kudos to the Nexit and Ekahau teams for not losing their faith and for all the hard work they have done during these years!”

Building an AI to predict if you carry a killer on your skin

FCAI researchers have used AI to model the risk of bacterial infections in surgery. Staphylococcus epidermidis is a bacteria found on the skin of virtually all humans where it lives harmlessly and asymptomatically. However s.epidermidis is also the source of serious infection after surgery. A major question facing scientists wishing to prevent these infections is all members of a s.epidermidis colony are capable of causing an infection, or if some have an increased tendency to do so.

FCAI scientists Johan Pensar and Jukka Corander joined a team of microbiologists and geneticists to unravel this mystery. By combining large-scale population genomics and in vitro measurements of the bacteria, they were able to use machine learning to successfully predict the risk of developing a serious infection from Staphylococcus epidermidis depending on its genetics. This research opens the door for future technology where high-risk genotypes are identified proactively before a patient undergoes surgery, which will reduce the burden of hospital infections caused by S. epidermidis.


FCAI Society has kicked off several initiatives for societally and ethically cognizant AI development

Set up in early 2018, FCAI Society has now brought together a multidisciplinary group of researchers and artists working on artificial intelligence and its wide impact in society.  

In its latest meeting on 6 November 2018 FCAI Society discussed with representatives of the Ethics group of the Finnish government’s AI Programme ( The FCAI Society is willing to act as a discussion partner to the Programme in matters of AI ethics. 

FCAI Society will make an inventory of existing ethical guidelines for AI, with the view to produce a set of guidelines to facilitate and promote ethical thinking in AI development. The guidelines will work not only as an internal guideline for FCAI’s operations and research, but also provide researchers and practitioners outside academia an example checklist for adopting and applying artificial intelligence tools and methods. FCAI is keen to take a facilitating role in the public discussion concerning ethics of AI, and in this context, the manifesto would serve as a common reference point to spark future dialogue on the subject.

The FCAI Society will be active in suggesting new research programs for the Academy of Finland and will also initiate joint research project proposals on the subject of AI and Society.

The latest public event with FCAI Society members took place on 7 November in the Think Corner of University of Helsinki. Professor Hannu Toivonen (University of Helsinki), FCAI Society co-leader, Professor Jaakko Lehtinen (Aalto University, NVIDIA) and FCAI Society member, University Lecturer Anna-Mari Rusanen (digital humanities at University of Helsinki) drew a full house. FCAI Society will participate in further events directed towards the general public. You can view the event’s recording here.

The great success of Elements of AI, an open online course co-organized with Reaktor, is now followed-up by a Finnish version of the course and a new MOOC course, continuing on Elements of AI, but requiring programming skills, is in preparation. In addition, there will be a MOOC on Ethics of AI, for which FCAI Society will provide expertise and content. The aim of these courses is to provide AI literacy for all.

FCAI Society also has a series of podcasts planned concerning AI. The podcasts will feature FCAI Society members and other guests who will discuss the meaning, impact, hopes and risks related to artificial intelligence. The motivation behind the series is educational, both for the audience and the participants—a though-provoking chance to learn from different points of view how things like intelligence, privacy, art, work and creativity will be shaped by AI technologies.