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.