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Why is Technology Industries of Finland making a big investment in artificial intelligence, Matti Mannonen?

Technology Industries of Finland recently announced that it will invest ten million euros to accelerate the utilisation of AI in Finland. This investment aims to increase the uptake and development of AI at Finnish technology companies, bolster applied research in AI and attract AI experts to Finland. In addition, the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation donated EUR 3.2 million for the founding of an AI research centre.

We asked Matti Mannonen, Executive Director, Innovation and Economic Policy at Technology Industries of Finland, why the organisation is making such a large investment specifically in AI.

“AI is now the fastest-evolving general-purpose technology that can be harnessed in all businesses and sectors. Fast adopters will enhance their competitiveness. We want to point out this fact to everyone – and seek to take care of the competitiveness of Finland and our companies.”

What is this money intended to accomplish?

“We want to accelerate both the utilisation of AI at companies and joint development efforts, increase students’ interest in AI and state-of-the-art AI expertise in Finland, and build momentum in applied AI research cooperation between companies and universities.

“We hope that our investment will serve as an impetus for much greater investments in AI research and utilisation by both public and private sector actors. We invite all of Finland to pull together and make the most of AI!”

Who are the partners in cooperation?

“Companies are partnering up with other companies and universities. We hope to see funding cooperation with Business Finland and the Academy of Finland. In addition, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment as well as the Ministry of Education and Culture will hopefully support this effort.  We’ll establish a national AI network that will cooperate at the Nordic, European and global levels.”

Are Finnish companies lagging behind other countries in AI utilisation?

“The industry uses a variety of indicators – but in terms of AI development investments, the Americans and Chinese are far ahead of the pack. Finland was the first country to publish an AI strategy and the first to provide online AI courses to its citizens. We’re no longer leading the way. Companies should accelerate the adoption of AI in their operations or we’ll fall badly behind.”

What kinds of challenges are companies facing in the adoption and development of AI?

“Companies lack ideas, examples, expertise and doers. The pace of development is so rapid, especially in generative AI, that it’s hard to keep up.

“SMEs in particular have scant resources to develop new things – they would benefit from external support, peer sparring and guidance to make the right choices.”

Recently, there has been much discussion about the rise of language models like ChatGPT. How are technology companies utilising AI?

“Collecting corporate data and utilising it with AI boosts operational efficiency and productivity – and ensures future competitiveness. Language models can be harnessed in all sectors, such as marketing, sales analysis and the customer interface. The potential applications of machine learning include the development of new materials, autonomous systems, industrial processes and predictive maintenance.”

The largest share of Technology Industries of Finland’s investment is earmarked for recruiting international top experts and joint research projects carried out by companies and universities. What is the current situation in Finnish AI research?

“Finnish AI research represents the European state of the art in selected fields of research such as machine learning. FCAI, the flagship research centre of the Academy of Finland, is doing good work, but there’s a need to step up interaction and joint research with companies.” 

How can we attract international AI experts to Finland?

“We have to be able to offer extremely interesting tasks and a long-term view of the work. It’s essential to take care of their integration, the wellbeing of their families and employment for their spouses. Finland is a safe country. We have an excellent education system, a high level of expertise, and clean nature. Our operating environment largely runs smoothly. These are all attractive factors.

“Increasing AI research will attract top researchers and help Finland to achieve so-called institute status in the international network for AI research, ELLIS.”

A large share of Technology Industries of Finland’s investments will be grants for higher-education students working on theses. How can students contribute to the development of AI at companies?

“Students are writing theses on AI – thanks to their research, they will provide companies with new ideas and expertise. Their theses will be public and will help many companies to make the most of AI in their own operations.”

Technology Industries of Finland funds a maximum of 15 per cent of companies’ AI projects. Is this high enough to encourage experimentation

“The idea is that companies must be prepared to make a significant investment of their own – this ensures their full commitment to the development work. In addition, companies can make use of VAT tax reductions for R&D, which reduces the company’s own costs. Companies and groups of companies can also apply for co-funding from Business Finland for their development projects.”

Technology Industries of Finland is also establishing a national AI network. What is its objective?

“We hope that this network will bring together those who provide and need AI services, large and small companies, startups and established enterprises, companies and research organisations, and both private and public sector actors. In building this network, we’re looking at AI Sweden as a peer example – this comparable network has successfully assembled all those actors in Sweden.”

What kinds of political decisions would promote AI expertise and adoption at companies?

“This investment by Technology Industries of Finland and its Centennial Foundation will hopefully serve as a rapid impetus for much greater investments in AI research and utilisation by both public and private sector actors. Naturally, we hope that the state will set strong strategic policies for AI, such as in the upcoming industrial strategy. We must also ensure that the EU won’t shoot itself in the foot by over-regulating data utilisation and AI development.”

What will happen next?

“We’ve launched preparatory work on all the project components in association with our partners. Instructions on how to apply for thesis grants and seed funding will be published in the months ahead. The recruitment of companies to the AI network is ongoing. Discussions on recruiting shared AI experts for companies and universities have been initiated. The recruitment of an executive director for the AI network is also under way.”

Further information:

Matti Mannonen, Executive Director, tel. +358 (0)40 544 7047, matti.mannonen@techind.fi

See also:

Press release: Technology Industries of Finland invests more than EUR 13 million in AI: “Utilising AI is crucial for the sustainable growth of the Finnish economy”