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Sweden to take up Finnish AI challenge

Following Finland’s example, Swedish companies are starting to use a training programme to bring staff up to speed with artificial intelligence

Sweden and Finland have set out on a mission not only to use artificial intelligence (AI), but to raise awareness to a level where most workers in each country know what the technology is about.

In fact, Finland has challenged Sweden to compete with it in this goal – to encourage its citizens to take part in an AI training programme that was developed in Finland.

In the sporting world, Sweden and Finland are keen competitiors. Ice hockey is one sport where both countries take pride in their national teams, but can Sweden and Finland compete in other things too? The Swedish government seems to think so.

Swedish participation in an AI training programme that originated in Finland was announced in Gothenburg recently at the inauguration of a new national centre for AI in the city.

The Finnish-developed programme is called Elements of AI, and more than 1% of Finland’s population have completed the course. It is a free online training package that is now being translated into Swedish.

Sweden hopes its citizens will sign up for the programme in similar or higher numbers than in Finland. As in sports, outdoing its Nordic neighbour would be considered a good thing.

Sweden has a tradition of getting its population to learn about new technology, such as how to use computers. It introduced a so-called “driver’s licence” for personal computers that citizens were encouraged to take and list among their skills on their CV when applying for jobs.

The licence showed that the holder had enough skills to perform regular work tasks on a desktop computer.

In Sweden, personal development and improvement are considered important at any age – not just for the young.

Finland has a similar approach to IT skills development and has high hopes in this field. Not only did the country want its population to be skilled in AI, but hopes that the challenge it set – soon in competition with Sweden – will also spread to other countries.

In fact, Finland hopes that 1% of the world’s population will take part in the AI training programme that it developed. Elements of AI is available in English for free online at elementsofai.com.

Read more about AI in the Nordic region

The programme can be used by companies, academia and the public sector, which can offer the course to workers other than technical staff, to give them a general understanding of the technology. Among the Swedish companies that have already declared interest in using it are SKL, Capgemini, Acando, CGI and Zenuity.

Conny Svensson, head of AI and digital transformation at CGI, works with emerging technologies and had tried Elements of AI before Sweden’s participation in the challenge was announced.

Svensson said anyone who is interested in AI should try it: CGI’s management have already decided to offer it to their workers. “Not only to the technical staff, but to everybody,” he said. “AI is such a powerful technology that can be used to improve work processes in the organisation that regular employees must have a chance to find out what they can use it for.

“For example, someone who performs administrative tasks, having to solve similar work-related problems again and again, can consider automating that task to become more efficient. Why not also add AI, then? They will get even more productive.”

Svensson added: “But you need to understand the power of AI first – it’s the most transformative technology I’ve seen.”

Employees could also generate interesting ideas for clients they work with by using AI, he said.

CGI does work for some large organisations in Sweden, such as the Transportation Administration, the Tax Agency and the Central Bank, said Svensson. The company plays a big role in the infrastructure of Swedish society, and many local municipalities also use its services.

Hot topic

AI is a hot topic at CGI, said Svensson, and the company is trying to better understand how to use it ethically. “It would be a good thing if more people know what the AI debate is about,” he said. “You need to have more people understand the possibilities as well as the risks.”

A study has shown that 71% of Sweden’s population knows very little or nothing about AI. Despite this, many people say they don’t like AI and don’t want to use it. “This ignorance has to change,” said Svensson.

Svensson sits on several committees at national level in Sweden where such matters are being debated, and he worked in the US for many years.

“This training programme is for everybody, not just IT workers,” he said. “I am not sure exactly how we at CGI will organise the training, whether we should make it mandatory for certain roles or use some incentive model.

“One idea is for individuals to sit with other people in groups to discuss AI together, like a study circle. It would be great if everyone could do this, but it might not be practical. CGI has about 5,000 employees in Sweden – that’s a lot of AI brain power.”

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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