Learn the Basics of AI with this Online Course from Finland

If you think artificial intelligence is still a niche subject, think again. The technology is already part of our everyday lives. Whenever you choose a song recommended by Spotify, or plan a journey on Google maps, AI and machine learning are the technologies driving the service.

As for the workplace, AI is already grabbing headlines although these tend to focus on automation and the spectre of mass unemployment. In fact, AI will probably create more jobs than it will destroy. But to take advantage you’ll need to do two things: Understand how the technology is shaping your profession and learn the skills to adapt and flourish in the workplace of the 2020s.

Step forward the government of Finland, which recently launched a crash-course in AI, developed by the University of Helsinki with the assistance of tech consultancy Reaktor. Originally aimed at Finnish citizens, the Elements of AI course has now been translated into five other languages including English and German.

Dust off your maths textbooks

Elements of AI comprises six modules, and while the page advises that you complete one per week, each module takes about two hours, including the tests at the end of most sections.

What can you learn during what is essentially a two-day intensive course? Quite a lot, if you’re a beginner who recognises artificial intelligence from the headlines but wants to dig deeper into the computer science and mathematics at the core of the subject.

As you’d expect, the course starts by establishing definitions for artificial intelligence. It then traces its history from the end of the second world war, through the golden age of AI of the 1960s and the ensuing ‘AI winter’, before arriving at the present day where the technology is now delivering on its early promise.

The remaining modules lead the participant through important concepts such as search and problem solving, games, probability, machine learning and neural networks. The tests are a mixture of short written essays and multiple-choice tests that require a basic grounding in mathematics.

I’d estimate that you’ll need to have studied maths to Year 11 (UK), Grade 10 (US) to solve the puzzles in the sections on probability, the Bayes Rule and linear regression. My head was aching at the end of couple of these sections and you’re well advised to keep a pen and notebook handy to work through some of the more demanding questions.

Who is the course aimed at?

I’d recommend this course if you’re very new to the field of AI especially:

  • Business leaders who want to understand the basics of artificial intelligence and converse with the specialists in their organisations.

  • Journalists and business writers who want to widen their understanding of the technology before it fully enters the mainstream (imagine learning about the web and e-commerce in the early 1990s).

  • Students and graduates considering machine learning and data science as a career.

  • Sceptics who want to cut through the hype. For example, the authors take a largely dismissive view of the singularity (the point at which artificial and human intelligence become indistinguishable).

The course is completely free and you can download a certificate once you’ve completed all six modules and answered at least 50% of the answers correctly.

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© 2020 Peter Springett.