Finland as a role model in digital maturity

People read – This was unimaginable to humans for nearly 200 years. Today, it is recognized that citizens can read and write. Because literacy for the entire society is the cornerstone of participation, equal opportunities and economic growth.

In the digital age, we face the challenge of a new digital literacy. Digital maturity – which is based on a fundamental understanding of digital technologies and principles – will be the cornerstone of the future and the competitive advantage of successful countries.

It all started a year ago with a bold experiment and a clear vision. In May 2018, the University of Helsinki put the Elements of Artificial Intelligence online course. By doing so, it has pursued a goal of one percent of the Finnish population, questioning and helping to shape artificial intelligence (AI) by the end of the year. That was the start of the “1% AI Challenge” package.

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Anyone can take the course It is also available free of charge and in English, try out. Technical knowledge or programming skills are not required for this. This online group course (MOOC) focuses on artificial intelligence without the usual hype.

Participants learn beyond artificial intelligence and why machine learning and neural networks are important. The course also covers possible everyday applications – but also the future. Important questions arise that are not often addressed in buzzword discussions: “What do we really want to use AI for?” What version of the future do we want to build? – and “Who will benefit from it?”

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Excess expectations

Allianz exceeded its 1% target for the ‘1% AI challenge’ deal by twice. Today, more than 175,000 people in Finland are grappling with AI thanks to the ‘AI Elements’ course. The economy is excited. More than 250 Finnish companies have already promised to allow their employees to complete the 30-hour training course and to recognize the attestation.

Finnish politicians are also committed to the agreement. The Minister of Economic Affairs, Mica Lintella, has promised to introduce the “Elements of Artificial Intelligence” course to his employees. In a video message His Swedish counterpart also called for a friendly competition between the two countries.

“Let’s see who has the most AI graduates of all in the population and in government at the end of 2019!” He says in the clip. Then the Swedes translated the course into Swedish.

Focusing on digital broad maturity is also a challenging economic strategy. Because in this way Finland should become the world’s leading business site for the practical application of AI.

Finns have realized that digital maturity reduces fear, creates openness and leads to a faster spread of new innovations. Now, the graduates of the “Elements of Artificial Intelligence” course provide a report on how to experiment with new digital solutions in their workplace and at home. The future will not belong to those who deal with digitization as an elitist project, but to those who make digitization a social project.

We know from the past: widespread literacy was the key to economic success. Studies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries on the relationship between literacy and economic growth between 1960 and 1995 show that investment in literacy and education was three times as important as investment in capital for economic growth.

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Inclusion has played a critical role here: countries that have been able to focus on literacy for the largest possible number of people have significantly increased their economic power and the quality of life of their residents more than countries that have prioritized the scientific elite.

Digitization projects in Germany only for selected regions

Back to Germany: Here, digitization is often an elitist project. Major digitization display projects in this legislative period are made for few people. Germany’s AI strategy focuses on 100 new AI professors instead of enabling many to understand and design AI.

Digital maturity should be the priority. To do this, you have to dare to conduct ambitious experiments in Germany and test new methods yourself. As in Finland, the motivation can come from courageous actors from business, science and civil society. The Germans wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Teemu Roos, one of the initiators of the Finnish “1% AI Challenge”, thinks he’s thinking big. His next goal is not just to reach the entire population of Finland, but one percent of the world’s population. That’s 75 million people. He wants to transfer three lessons from his experiences to other countries:

  • It should start an open national charter in which everyone can participate.
  • Countries must be ambitious and set themselves the goal of reaching one percent of their population. This is the only way to create real momentum on which the country can build.
  • Countries should avoid turning the agreement into a single organization’s declaration or financial instrument.
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There are several potential carriers for a German version. In Germany there are already many organizations that have experience publishing courses online and have an existing network of users. You can help ensure that a one percent agreement is reached in Germany, too. For example, institutions such as the Technical University of Munich and the Hasso Plattner Institute online education platform are already offering MOOCs in various fields.

The digital movement, one of many coalitions from business, science, and civil society could spearhead an ambitious German agreement. If 250 companies campaigned for a deal in tiny Finland, there would almost certainly be at least the same number out of 3.5 million German companies.

The idea that anyone could learn to read and write all at once seemed like an impossible ambition. This claim became a reality when it became his priority.

Today we have to prioritize and enable the digital maturity of more than 82 million people in Germany. Digital maturity means everyone can help shape digitalization rather than being at the mercy of it. This is the key to a strong business website and a future that belongs to everyone, not just a few.

Valerie Muker is a pioneer in digitalization that benefits everyone. An Oxford graduate is a director at Nesta, the Social Innovation Fund.

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