EAI Visit to Finland Highlights the Importance of Global AI Partnerships

By: Tyler Wells Lynch

Developing human-centric AI requires a global mindset. Recently, two members of the Institute for Experiential AI (EAI) traveled to Finland to forge partnerships with some of the leading companies and universities in the country. They found a sophisticated network of thinkers and technologists dedicated to responsible, human-centric AI with real-world applications.

Michael Bennett, EAI’s director of education curriculum and business lead for Responsible AI, and Miklos Mattyasovszky, associate director of business development, visited top Finnish data science labs and research institutes, participated in the largest AI conference in Finland, and attended a global startup festival. Drawing a blueprint for collaboration between EAI and other organizations, they demonstrated how innovation in AI increasingly depends on partnerships that cross disciplines, industries, and borders.

The trip began with a visit to Tampere University and a tour of its expansive, multidisciplinary research on human-data interaction, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and virtual reality. Michael and Miklos then traveled to Aalto University for AI Day, a gathering hosted by the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), and finally to Slush, a massive tech conference in Helsinki. At each destination, the tiny EAI delegation noticed a few themes. One was a desire among Finnish researchers to update Finland’s patent infrastructure—an area where Michael Bennett has unique expertise. Another was an interest in finding new, international funding resources.

AI and IP

Speaking at AI Day, Bennett explained how AI is complicating the application of existing copyright laws, the most obvious example being the controversy around AI-generated art, which is trained on work by artists who have not consented to the use of their creations. Recent headlines about the chatbot ChatGPT raise similar concerns over human authorship and plagiarism. The question is raised: How can organizations protect their IP while keeping pace with AI’s many legal and ethical ramifications?

For years, Finland’s largest company and employer was Nokia, whose presence in the country helped establish a highly advanced and far-reaching IT and cybersecurity infrastructure. “The issue with these Nokia vets,” Bennett explained, “is that they're used to working at corporate speed when it comes to patentable subject matter.”

Such an innovative atmosphere helped foster a patent filing framework that’s largely absent from university settings. The contrast became even more stark as researchers moved from corporate settings into academia. But, Bennett added, “There may be a way for Northeastern's legal and technology transfer experts to partner with Finnish research groups who are trying to fast track their applications and offer their inventions on a global scale.”

Such cross-border collaboration is essential in the age of AI, whose pace of development and adoption only seems to be accelerating. Heikki Ailisto, research professor at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, shared this view:

“Since the fundamental AI methods are universal, and the field is advancing rapidly, collaboration across the borders is obviously beneficial,” Ailisto said. “Personal or research group level contacts help in sharing of ideas and dissemination of novel methods faster and deeper than publications or sharing code. Furthermore, it can spark new innovations when researchers from different countries and institutions meet, discuss, and work together.”

Transatlantic Funding

Another theme among Finnish AI researchers was an interest in leveraging existing partnerships, such as the joint funding agreement between the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Academy of Finland. Thanks to a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU), researchers in Finland can seek funding from public sources in the United States and vice versa. This opens new paths for innovation, but it can also come with administrative hurdles that EAI and Northeastern, being based in the U.S., are equipped to handle.

“It's a salient matter as well, because for some years now NSF has been intensifying its focus on translation and commercialization,” Bennett explained. “The agency wants to see basic research converted into practical benefits for society at an accelerated rate. And it's also a part of a required section in every NSF proposal to describe societal benefits.”

Participants further discussed partnership opportunities between Finland and the state of Maine, where EAI has a significant footprint in the form of its sister institute, the Roux Institute. A separate MoU between Maine and Finland seeks opportunities to advance their respective forest services industries, of which AI increasingly has a role to play in mill operations and forest management. Such partnerships are not only necessary to keep pace with AI’s development, but also to exploit its fullest potential.

“AI is needed for solving the main global challenges we are currently facing regarding our well-being in a world with serious environmental concerns and rapidly changing societal structures,” said Petri Myllymäki, vice director of FCAI and full professor at the University of Helsinki. “As the challenges are global, it makes more sense to try to solve them together as a collaborative effort, across all geographical, political, topical or conceptual borders.”

Crossing Borders in the Age of AI

Researchers may be separated by borders but they face many of the same obstacles. Mattyasovszky explained how one of the triumphs of the Finland trip was that it provided a model for how partnerships can form between universities, governments, and private companies. Developing IP workflows for patent application processes is one example; facilitating bilateral funding sources is another.

“We believe that the road to successful, responsible, impactful AI is through applied work in partnership with industry,” Mattyasovszky said. “And the way that Finnish research is set up and the type of organizations that they have—the attitude there is very similar.”

AI may move faster than diplomacy, but the former emphasizes the need for the latter. As Michael Bennett put it, “We have to imagine that once Finland is a NATO member, there will probably be an acceleration of collaboration between our two countries on multiple fronts. We want to be well positioned to take advantage of those opportunities.”

The stakes are clear. Drawing headlines left and right in recent months, AI has shown that the promises and perils are serious enough to warrant constant reevaluation of both its scope and its potential. That includes rethinking old borders and obstacles to collaboration.

Click here to learn about collaboration opportunities and how EAI can help your organization.

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