University of Helsinki

06/07/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/06/2024 23:58

“AI literacy is part of modern education”

"AI literacy is part of modern education"

Associate Professor Linda Mannila holds the first Swedish-language professorship in computer science at the University of Helsinki. The endowed professorship, based on donations from seven Swedish-language foundations, focuses particularly on the societal impact of artificial intelligence.

When music streaming services provide you with recommendations on what to listen to, artificial intelligence is involved. Video-on-demand services suggest what to watch next, again with the help of artificial intelligence.

According to Associate Professor of Computer Science Linda Mannila, such applications based on AI are already so familiar to many that their users may not necessarily give any thought to threats or opportunities associated with AI.

Mannila holds the first Swedish-language professorship in computer science at the University of Helsinki. Established with endowments, the purpose of the position is to focus precisely on the opportunities and consequences of artificial intelligence in societies.

Research is needed, as in recent years AI technology has evolved, and, for example, discussion on the ethics of AI has accelerated.

For example, GhatGPT, a text-generating interactive AI application based on a large language model, was released in autumn 2022.

At the moment, active public discussion revolves around the topic of what kind of decisions can be outsourced to artificial intelligence, for example, in healthcare.

Mannila believes that an important question is how to ensure that AI solutions make their decisions fairly and transparently. She provides an example: If an AI application makes decisions, for example, on housing allowance, are the decisions in fact fair? What are they based on, and who will ultimately bear responsibility for them?

- Technological advancements entering our everyday lives do not necessarily come with manuals. Research and education are needed to enable their utilisation as broadly as possible at various levels of society while avoiding challenges.

To increase knowledge of the ethical use of artificial intelligence on various levels of society, Mannila's professorship also includes collaboration with Swedish-language teacher training at the University of Helsinki.

In a way, the question of whether people use such technical solutions fairly is part of the ethics of artificial intelligence. Mannila points out that artificial intelligence cannot be excluded from the school and the world of students. As it is already an integral part of, for example, professional life, it is better to provide pupils and students with the best possible skills for its smart use.

- It's important to learn to ride a bike on small roads before taking it on larger routes. Similarly, it's good to learn to take advantage of the opportunities of AI sensibly already at school. Sensible use means using AI to add value to your own actions. It's not about taking the easy way out.

AI literacy for everyone

As a child, Mannila had the iconic Commodore 64 computer. She loved technology and solving problems.

Today, there is a lot of talk about bubbles in which people live. But there have been bubbles before, and no one in Mannila's bubble questioned whether technology was for girls. Her friends liked it too. After general upper secondary school, Mannila went on to study computer science in Turku.

- At the time, there wasn't much talk about digitalisation, but it was said that computer science will inevitably change the world. I was starting to wonder why not teach the discipline to everyone already at school alongside, for example, mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Or literacy. Now, literacy associated with artificial intelligence has come to the fore, not least because digitalisation has made disinformation increasingly common. Mannila points out that this is one reason why a general understanding of technology is part of today's skills and learning.

This does not mean that everyone should become a coder, but it would be good to understand at least a little bit, for example, about the building blocks of the digital world, the functioning of artificial intelligence, and why things online that appear to be real are not necessarily so.

Research projects on AI literacy are ongoing at the University of Helsinki. As Mannila points out, the new professorship will make it possible to conduct more research and provide more teaching, and now also in Swedish.

- Every professorship naturally brings with it more bachelor's thesis groups as well as more master's and doctoral theses. And the more varied the professorships in a specific field, the more varied the research.

The funding for the Swedish-language associate professorship in computer science is based on endowments made by seven different foundations and allocated to the natural sciences at the University as part of the previous governmental matched-funding campaign. A docent and entrepreneur in the field of computer science, Mannila assumed the position in the autumn term of 2023.

Donations were made by the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, the Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation, the Ruth and Nils-Erik Stenbäck Foundation, the Stiftelsen Brita Maria Renlunds minne foundation, the Tre Smeder foundation, the Lisi Wahls stiftelse för studieunderstöd foundation and the Tekniska Föreningen i Finland (TFiF) association.

The professorship is also funded by the Faculty of Science, to which it belongs.

7.6.2024

Raisa Mattila

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