How is AI re­vo­lu­tion­iz­ing traffic? A new series of events shows prac­tical im­pacts of AI in our lives

AIX Forum, a new series of events, brings AI developers and users together. The aim of the AIX Forum is to find new ways to make use of AI in different areas of society.


This autumn, FCAI will launch new AIX Forum events that seek new ways to apply AI in practice. The first event of the series on traffic will take place on September 4 in Helsinki.

The mission of FCAI researchers is to develop AI applications that answer real-life needs in different areas of life. The new train of events wants to find new practical solutions for those needs.

“AI applications challenge common practices in many fields, and the pace of change is fast. At AIX Forum events, researchers who focus on AI or other topics, companies and public sector representatives can find new ways to make use of AI,” says Petri Myllymäki, Vice Director of FCAI and Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the University of Helsinki.

Most AIX Forum events consist of three parts and will be held in English. The events typically start with a few, brief speeches in which experts from different fields present a problem that could be solved by using AI. The speeches are followed by panel discussions during which AI researchers and developers, together with the speakers, seek solutions for the presented problems. At the end of each event, there will be time for networking.

Traffic as the first X

The abbreviation AIX is derived from the term artificial intelligence and the letter X, which represents an application area of AI. FCAI organizes the first event, AI and Traffic, together with the Traffic Research Unit of the University of Helsinki.

The first event looks into traffic-related AI applications and relevant research from different perspectives. The goal is to find interesting research questions within the smart traffic technology discipline and estimate what type of broad, societal impact technology has on traffic development.

“In traffic, automation and algorithms change the traditional driver-vehicle setting in a fundamental way. This doesn’t apply only to the technology behind vehicles, instead also traffic planning, driver training, and traffic education will change,” says Otto Lappi, the Group Leader of the Traffic Research Unit and Discipline Coordinator of Cognitive Science.

“Human intelligence and AI will, for the first time, share a common, physical environment, and from the cognitive science perspective, this change comes with fundamental, complex, and still mainly unknown questions regarding how the informational workload will be divided between humans and computers,” adds Lappi.

The event is aimed at researchers focusing on traffic, transportation planning, traffic safety, automated vehicles, traffic infrastructure, or traffic education, and for anyone interested in these research topics. In the future, FCAI plans to organize AIX events around Finland. The future events will focus on AI in civil service and AI in medicine, among other topics.

Read more about AI Forum: AI and Traffic seminar here.

Further information

Petri Myllymäki
Vice Director of FCAI
Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, University of Helsinki
+358 40 553 1162
petri.myllymaki at

Otto Lappi
Discipline Coordinator, Cognitive Science
Traffic Research Unit of the University of Helsinki
+358 29 412 9674
otto.lappi at

Deep learning model developed by Finnish AI researchers detects diabetic eye diseases accurately

Professor Kimmo Kaski. Photo Aalto University

Professor Kimmo Kaski. Photo Aalto University

Finnish AI researchers have developed a deep learning system that shows great potential in detecting diabetic eye diseases, which could facilitate doctors’ work and decrease healthcare expenses.

According to the research findings published in Nature Scientific Reports, the deep learning model detects the severity grade of diabetic retinopathy and macular edema accurately. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common comorbidities of diabetes that, if untreated, may lead to severe vision loss. Macular edema refers to swelling under a specific part of the retina caused by diabetic retinopathy.

The deep learning model identified referable diabetic retinopathy comparably or better than presented in previous studies, although only a very small data set was used for its training. The model turned out to be more accurate in identifying diseases when the training images of patients’ fundus were of high quality and resolution.

Results suggest that such deep learning system could increase the cost-effectiveness of screening and diagnosis and that the system could be applied to clinical examinations requiring finer grading.

Currently, retinal imaging is the most widely used method for screening and detecting retinopathy, and medical experts evaluate the severity and the degree of retinopathy in people with diabetes based on the fundus or retinal images of the patient’s eyes.

As diabetes is a globally prevalent disease and the number of patients with diabetes is rapidly increasing, also the number of retinal images will increase, which in turn introduces a large labor-intensive burden on the medical experts as well as cost to the healthcare. An automated system that would either assist medical experts or work as a full diagnostic tool could alleviate the situation.

The research group consisted of researchers from Aalto University Department of Computer Science, Digifundus Ltd – a Finnish provider of diabetic retinopathy screening and monitoring services –, and Central Finland Central Hospital.

Link to the research article:

Further information
Kimmo Kaski
Professor, Computational Science
Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI)
Aalto University Department of Computer Science

FCAI supports Finland’s EU presidency aims for AI

The Finnish Centre for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI) supports Finland’s plans to focus on digital development and challenges of AI during the country’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. Finland is bringing these topics up in its programme for the presidency period, and Samuel Kaski, the director of FCAI and professor at Aalto University Department of Computer Science, sees that as an excellent thing.

“The EU needs to launch new big things in addition to the recently decided super computers, one of which will be placed in Finland. During its presidency, Finland of course needs to work for the whole EU, but at the same time, it is necessary that it doesn’t forget to continue working on its own AI programme at full speed,” says Kaski.

AI, and data and platform economies are key factors contributing to Europe’s growing productivity, prosperity, and wellbeing.  According to Finland’s programme for the presidency, maintaining economic growth and employment will depend on the ability of business and industry to make full use of the potential offered by digital technologies.

During its presidency, Finland wants to promote discussion on AI and digitalisation with a view to developing tomorrow’s capabilities. The economic potential of digitalisation and AI applications is enormous, and Europeans need to be frontrunners in tapping into these developments, politicians write in the report.

Businesses and academic institutions in China, United States, and the rest of the world compete fiercely for top AI talent. Kaski points out that China and the US are currently investing large sums of money in AI research. Therefore, one of the greatest challenges of European AI research is to be competitive. If Finland and the rest of Europe react to this competition too late, they will end up suffering from a brain drain.

“Fortunately, Europe isn’t helpless at all. At this moment, European top AI research is about to organize into strong networks and the EU is currently working on an investment plan. Finland is a frontrunner with its AI strategy, the latest version of which was just published, and it has been strongly involved in creating networks,” according to Kaski.

Motivated research groups, vibrant startup culture, and cooperation with companies are Finland’s strengths

According to FCAI, Finland needs to invest in its existing top talent and attracting new talent in order to stay in the front line of the global AI competition.

Finland needs to enhance its position by strengthening existing top expertise in small-data research and strong traditions in B2B operations. Finnish business operations rely strongly on B2B businesses. Moreover, remodelling funding and research, and encouraging businesses to invest in AI is crucial. FCAI has sent these key messages also to the new government of Finland.

Similar points were brought up in the final report of Finland’s Artificial Intelligence Programme 2019, written by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland. The report was recently published in English, and FCAI supports its initiatives.

The experts of the ministry write that Finland’s strengths include highly motivated research groups focusing on emerging sectors, a vibrant startup culture, and close cooperation between research institutions and companies. According to the report, FCAI is an excellent example of an institution that develops AI-based solutions for processing small amounts of data and solving problems of B2B companies. It has an important role in boosting Finland’s strengths.

Overall, the establishment of FCAI and the flagship funding granted by the Academy of Finland is one of the main actions Finland has already taken in order to ensure that AI can be adopted more quickly and easily. This is an important step towards training and attracting top talent to Finland. “Through FCAI, the Finnish leading-edge research can form one hub in the international competence network,” experts of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment write.

The complex challenges of AI applications and close cooperation with companies is at the core of FCAI’s operations. In order to having sufficient resources, these types of things are key factors in attracting top talent, experts of the ministry write.

Further information
Samuel Kaski
Director, FCAI
Professor, Aalto University Department of Computer Science
Phone +358 50 305 8694

University of Helsinki announces AI-themed PhD positions – apply in September

University of Helsinki, one of the institutions behind FCAI, announces AI-themed doctoral candidate positions. The application period opens on Tuesday 3 September and ends on Tuesday 17 September.

Find more information about the positions, eligibility criteria and application process on the University of Helsinki website.

Outi Kivekäs appointed as the manager of FCAI: “unique chance to build this type of research community”

Photo Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Photo Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Outi Kivekäs, Doctor of Science, has been appointed as the manager of FCAI. She started in her new role at the beginning of May.

 “People speak about artificial intelligence everywhere,” says Kivekäs. “It is clear that the best AI researchers of Finland work for FCAI. In some areas, our researchers are already among the best ones in the whole world. This is a unique chance to be part of building this type of a research community.”

Kivekäs has her background in electrical engineering. Before starting in her new role, she worked several years at Aalto University Research and Innovation Services. She was leading the pre-award team that helped researchers to apply research funding.

Through her earlier experience, Kivekäs is very familiar with one of the organizations behind FCAI, Aalto University, and research conducted at it. Now she is excited about learning more about the two other organizations that initiated FCAI, University of Helsinki and  VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Kivekäs has broad understanding of how universities work and what types of projects they run. She brings structure and experience about project management to FCAI. “Launching a large project is always slow in the beginning. In the coming months, we will organize the initiatives we have already started into a whole and encourage new people interested in applications of AI to join FCAI.”

FCAI and Aalto EE have joined forces for programs around AI


Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE) and the Finnish Center of Artificial Intelligence FCAI are cooperating in AI training programs that are designed for executives, managers, and experts from different organizations. The programs have proven to be an impactful way of learning while working. The first deliveries of the programs have received excellent feedback and the next programs are coming up in the fall. 

Artificial Intelligence in Business

An intensive two-day program “Tekoäly liiketoiminnassa – teknologiasta strategiaan” provides leaders with a practical and comprehensive overview of artificial intelligence, data, and emerging business models and their impact on strategy, operations, and leadership. Taught by leading researchers in the field, the program focuses on issues such as the applications of artificial intelligence, the prerequisites for its implementation, and the strengths of people and AI. The program is held in Finnish.

Diploma in Artificial Intelligence

The Diploma in Artificial Intelligence gives you an in-depth understanding of the latest AI technologies and methods and how to apply them. The program is taught by experts from leading research organizations and includes keynotes from leading companies in industry. It is a joint program from Aalto PRO, University of Helsinki HY+ and the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence FCAI.

According to Suunto’s Program Quality Manager Ville Halkola, the program opened up the huge potential and possibilities of AI in a very concrete way. Read more here.

More information

Jonni Junkkari, Solutions Director,
Aalto University Executive Education
tel. +358 10 837 3860


High-level delegation from the Czech Republic Parlament Visited FCAI – Support for Ethical Application of AI


A high-level delegation from the Czech Republic has visited FCAI. Ethical application of artificial intelligence was the core of the visit, as making use of AI ethically, calls for collaboration with like-minded countries in Europe.

During the visit of Mr Ivan Jukl, the Ambassador of the Czech Republic and his delegation, the need for systematic collaboration with small, European countries having parallel targets was emphasised.

“China and the US are investing massively in the development of AI.  To make the most of the opportunities offered by AI and stand up to competition, European countries need to join their forces. Cooperation rather than competition,” said Professor Petri Myllymäki, vice-director of FCAI in his speech.

The Czech Republic recently published the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Strategy outlines the seven priority areas in the field of artificial intelligence. The list includes for example the promotion of research and development activities by financing research and development and providing investment support. Development of the AI ecosystem in the Czech Republic and boosting international cooperation in the field of AI are among the top priorities as well.

The visit was hosted by Petri Myllymäki and Ilmari Lastikka, Vice Precident, VTT International affairs. Delegation of the Czech Republic consisted of Ivan Bartos, chairman of the Committee on Public Administration, Martin Kupka, vice-chairman of the Committee on Public Administration, Adam Kalous, vice-chairman of the Committee on Public Administration and Jiri Dolejs, member of the Committee on Public Administration.

Finland will host one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world

One of the most competitive supercomputers in the world will be placed in Kajaani, Finland.

According to the CSC Datacenter that will host the new supercomputer, the new machine will be about ten times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer currently in Europe.

Computing power is required in leading research in a wide range of disciplines, including artificial intelligence.

This type of supercomputing and data infrastructure helps position Europe as one of the world leaders in supercomputing. It allows European researchers to access top-level computing resources.

The decision to place the supercomputer in Finland was made by the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, a high performance computing initiative supported by the European countries and the European Union.

More information in the press release by the CSC Datacenter

City of Helsinki becomes a partner of FCAI

The City of Helsinki has announced that it will become a partner of the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI).

By joining FCAI, Helsinki wants to support its goals in terms of collaboration with universities, competitiveness, and digitalization.

In particular, this decision aids collaboration between Helsinki, the University of Helsinki, and Aalto University. It also supports actions that help to attract more innovations and investments to the Finnish capital region.

FCAI is a nation-wide competence center for Artificial Intelligence in Finland, initiated by Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Espoo, the neighboring city of Helsinki, is already one of the partners of FCAI.

More information on the City of Helsinki website (in Finnish)

Finland Offers AI Training to Inmates

Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Finland has taken an important step in supporting artificial intelligence education of inmates. All inmates in Finnish prisons have now access to the Elements of AI online course, a widely popular introductory course on artificial intelligence.

The inmates can access the course by using prison workstations or test devices of the Smart Prison Project.

The Smart Prison Project is currently one of the most central projects of the Criminal Sanctions Agency. It aims to facilitate access to online services for inmates. The goal is that each inmate in Hämeenlinna women’s prison would get their own device to their prison cell.

The devices used for the project are currently tested at two prisons in cities of Hämeenlinna and Turku. Project manager Pia Puolakka recently visited Turku prison and met inmates testing the devices.

“The test group has around 10 people who have all received an individual device. A number of them displayed their interest in taking this course,” says Puolakka.


Free courses on timely topics help to tackle social problems

Earlier this year, the Criminal Sanctions Agency started collaboration with the technology company Vainu. In the project, Vainu offers inmates a chance to work by classifying data to train artificial intelligence algorithms.

“After we launched the Vainu project, we were thinking, how we can also support education and reskilling of the inmates concerning this timely topic. Then it crossed my mind that we could try this course out,” says Puolakka.

The Criminal Sanctions Agency believes that offering artificial intelligence training to inmates is important. Understanding artificial intelligence and how it can be applied becomes increasingly important in the future.

“This is an easy way to get familiar with the topic. I’ve even started doing the course myself. It provides a lot of useful information.”

Puolakka points out that, in terms of digitalization, people from different social backgrounds are often in unequal positions. She believes that courses like Elements of AI are one way of tackling these types of problems.

“The fact that universities offer free online courses that are easy to access and focus on timely topics, is excellent.”

The lead instructor of the Elements of AI, Associate Professor Teemu Roos from the University of Helsinki agrees. He finds it very important that the course is also available in prisons.

“Access to education is a human right and people in exceptional life situations need special attention. We have been working hard to reach out beyond the highly educated and tech-savvy audiences of typical online courses.”


Facilitating non-experts’ understanding of AI

The Elements of AI course has been designed to be easy to understand by non-experts. It requires no programming or complex mathematical skills. In addition to the basic principles of AI, the course focuses on societal implications, including threats to privacy and the changing work life.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re behind the bars, AI is affecting everyone’s life. There are also important ethical and political questions concerning the use of AI. What we are trying to do is support the public discourse by making the topic easier to understand by non-experts,” says Roos.

The free online course, Elements of AI, is organized by the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence FCAI and IT consultancy company Reaktor. FCAI is a nation-wide competence center for Artificial Intelligence in Finland, initiated by Aalto University, University of Helsinki, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Launched in May 2018, Elements of AI soon became the most popular course ever offered by the University of Helsinki. Currently, the course that attendees can take in three languages – English, Finnish and Swedish – has 170,000 registered users. People from 110 countries have already completed the course.

FCAI brings its expertise to the development project of Finnish language resources

FCAI partner Vake Oy – a state-owned investment and development company in Finland –  launches its development program for Finnish artificial intelligence in May 2019. The first project aims to create Finnish language resources (application libraries, language models, and training materials) needed by developers of artificial intelligence devices and software requiring man-machine interaction in Finnish. The final goal is to develop components enabling the use of Finnish in artificial intelligence alongside the major languages of the world. The work begins with a preliminary study conducted by Vake Oy, the Department of Digital Humanities at the University of Helsinki, the FIN-CLARIN consortium, the Aalto University, Business Finland, and the Technology Industries of Finland to establish development priorities. FCAI contributes by bringing strong research expertise on new machine learning methods for language technologies.

Sound is a significant future interface. More than half of Google searches are estimated to be voice-controlled in 2020. The market research agency Canalys has estimated that there will be nearly 100 million smart speakers in households this year. International giants like Amazon, Apple and Google are selling millions of smart speakers a year, and the Russian Yandex and the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba have developed smart speakers for their own language areas.

“In the market for voice-controlled devices and applications, developers naturally focus on the major languages to maximize the market potential of services. The ambitions of the current Finnish players are not limited to product development for our own small linguistic area, but companies need initial testing and references from the domestic market to succeed. Consumers will be excluded from these fast-growing services, unless we invest in Finnish resources,” says Development Director Tuomas Teuri from Vake.

Reference (only in Finnish):

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 professor 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.