Blog / 05.03.2018

Academia and business join forces to develop AI in Finland

Janne Kari, Senior Advisor, Invest in Finland, Business Finland

It’s always fascinating to follow the visibly evolving relationship between research into a hot topic and the associated development of commercial technology – especially if you are also thinking about the business opportunities that are created along the way. When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Finland, I’m pleased to report that this relationship is already going strong, and also opening up interesting possibilities for foreign companies.


Here at Invest in Finland we have the pleasure of regularly talking to people from different industries around the world, all of them weighing up what Finland has to offer from their unique business perspective. Whenever we introduce Finland’s lively high-tech ecosystem to a foreign company, collaboration between academia and industry is usually one of the key topics.

This is to be expected because the companies planning to set up in Finland typically want to expand their technological base or to develop a new competence. Accessing the latest tech know-how and best talent is therefore crucial for them.

For companies interested in Finland and AI, there are exciting developments taking place. The major news is of course the launch of the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), jointly established by University of Helsinki and Aalto University. This is a national flagship project with 29 professors that brings together universities, companies and the public sector with the aim of making Finland a forerunner in AI research and its practical use in society.

Professor Kai Puolamäki describes the FCAI’s role in clear terms: “We have set up the FCAI to connect the excellence in AI research and industrial actors in the field. Our objective is that FCAI will play a key role in Finland’s recently published AI agenda to realize the potential for AI-led economic growth.”

Why is this important? The gap between AI research and products is short compared to most other sciences. Fundamental and applied research often overlap. Students set up companies and move back to university to refresh their knowledge.

FCAI welcomes foreign companies as well.

Are Finnish universities already challenging Stanford?

The global competition for AI leadership is intense and things are moving fast but I’m convinced that Finland has many advantages in the race; the promising signs and ingredients for success are already there for all to see.

For a start, we have a rich tradition of mathematical models built for industrial applications, such as preventive maintenance. Secondly, the world-renowned Finnish gaming industry has been very progressive in deploying AI-based solutions. And thirdly, if you compile the academic contributions on AI produced by Aalto University and University of Helsinki, the figures are impressive, challenging even Stanford.

There is a clearly visible sweet spot in the market. The huge Web players are investing heavily to solve the challenges of large populations with the help of AI. However, there are plenty of applications where the approach needs to be different, for example in identifying rare diseases or defining systems for local IoT sensoring. Privacy must be retained in drug sensitivity analysis already in populations below 1000.

In order to develop a great AI-based solution, one needs great data. This is something that Finland already has in the form of several Open Data initiatives, with the public sector actively supporting the AI/ML drive. The pressure for making the public sector more efficient will always be there.

Join Finland’s vibrant AI scene

In Finland, companies often work together in cooperative mode. Here it makes sense to share industry best practices and experiences, and to develop a supportive ecosystem that benefits everyone. This is exactly what Finland’s gaming ecosystem is famous for and I can already see it happening in the AI industry too.

The future is all about the deepening relationship between AI research and business. So far, I like what I’m seeing in Finland. There are visible signs of a blossoming relationship: the FCAI launch, the lively meetups that are already taking place, attracting not just companies but hundreds of young talents and students. It all bodes well for the future of AI in Finland and beyond. Foreign companies are, of course, welcome to join the action.


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Janne Kari is a Senior Advisor at Invest in Finland for ICT & Digitalization.  He also manages the global KAATO business community, supporting Finland’s ICT industry. He has worked on Lean Product Management consulting for his private company. Previously, he worked in senior management roles for Nokia and Microsoft. He enjoys riding his road bike, reading and following basketball.