Blog / 15.06.2018

Beer, pizza and artificial intelligence

Antti Merilehto, Country Manager, Finch Finland

Is your company or organisation still wondering what to do about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning? If the answer is in the affirmative, then you have definitely landed at the right blog. I’m no AI guru but having previously worked at Google, I’ve witnessed at close-hand the power of automation to analyse large volumes of data and its ability to improve the efficiency and profitability of different types of businesses.

Anyone collecting data on my consumption habits can testify that my latest journey into the world of AI has a positive correlation with spending on pizza and beer. These life ingredients kept me going during the stressful time when I was writing my first book as well as working on my day job. As a result, I put on about 8kg in weight, but the book was duly published in February 2018. It’s an AI guidebook aimed at top management – for people who understand business but don’t necessarily have any programming background or knowledge about AI.

Wake-up call to company bosses

The initial spark to start writing the book came from a realisation that the level of understanding regarding AI varies greatly among the ordinary, non-data-intensive companies in Finland. The situation seems to be much the same in many other European countries. Observing how some businesses are clearly still in denial about the urgency of utilising AI and machine learning only increased my appetite for the project.

The harsh reality is that to survive and flourish, companies need to engage with AI right here, right now. This is not an issue to ponder in the future and definitely not a passing phase. Also, it’s not enough for the company boss to tell the data manager “to do something with this AI thing.” Unless the boss has a real understanding of what AI and machine learning can be used for, and mandates action from the top, things will never move forward fast enough. AI utilisation must be up there spearheading the company’s strategy or it just isn’t going to happen.

The time to experiment is now

Here’s one of my favourite executive excuses: “We will start utilising machine learning as soon as our data is good enough.” Now this is about as sensible as me saying that I will stop drinking beer and eating pizza as soon as my weight has fallen by 6kg. In other words, let’s hope that something will mystically happen first and then take action.

The problem with this approach is that your data will never be “good enough”. And by the time you realise this, you will have missed the boat. To get started with AI and machine learning, you just need some data from incomplete reality, not perfection. If your company has many different systems producing data, then decide which one to use and make that system the single source of truth inside the company. Start experimenting, testing and trialling. At this stage, it’s the doing that counts; taking the first step to understand what AI really is, immediately followed by a practical experiment, even with closed data, even if it is a small sample.

Finland can lead in AI adoption

In a small country like Finland, where the net birth rate is negative and the economy’s dependency ratio is increasingly challenging, we really need AI to boost efficiency and productivity. Finland already has some bright stars and pioneering companies that are at the forefront of developing AI.



Finland: bright stars and pioneering companies at the forefront of developing AI

For me, however, the crucial question for Finland is how well its medium-sized companies, let’s say with a turnover in the tens of millions of euros and 10-250 employees, are able to harness the potential of AI and machine learning.

My mission is to get people and companies enthused, put some money into experimenting and bring AI and machine learning into the everyday workings of their businesses. The same goes for the public sector. It’s extremely important that government ministries and local municipalities share their AI trials and practices. There’s no point in inventing the wheel many times over.

Unlike China’s Alibaba, Finland probably can’t afford to invest EUR 15 billion in AI over the next three years. Nevertheless, I believe that Finland has the potential to be a leading country in the application of AI in business and other fields. We have lots of know-how and, for example, completely unique health data reserves.

If it’s any indication about growing AI awareness, my guidebook has so far been this year’s best-selling business title in Finland. It seems that there was a real need for it. An English version is coming out later this year, to be followed by Chinese, Japanese and Korean editions.

AI is much more than a marketing tool or a technology issue. It is about making the most out of data and data-driven management. As with energy production, ultimately everything depends on what we choose to do with AI. Two things are certain. AI is fundamentally shaping our societies and will increasingly continue doing so in the future. And secondly, it has already been good news for my local pizzeria.


About the Author
Antti Merilehto has spent more than 10 years working in the digital business field. He is currently Country Manager at Finch Finland and has previously worked, for example, at Google’s European Headquarters. Antti spars companies and management teams to utilise artificial intelligence and the transformation brought about by digitalization in organisations. He approaches the subject in a practical way, providing concrete examples and tools for using artificial intelligence.