A new professorship in artificial intelligence enabled by substantial donations to the natural sciences

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Vice-Rector Kai Nordlund is extremely pleased that the University succeeded in raising a total of €2 million in donations.

All of the donations were directed to the field of natural sciences under the government’s matched-funding scheme. Now, the University has decided to establish a new Swedish-language professorship in artificial intelligence with the donated funds.

“It took almost three years to reach this point. Everything got its start from our survey of the needs and interests of schools, as well as discussions with the leaders of the educational and cultural administration in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area,” Nordlund says.

The largest individual donation came from the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, but the donation of €400,000 by the Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation was important for a particular reason.

“It was one of the last and crucial donations, which makes us especially happy,” Nordlund says.

The Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation is focused on supporting the natural sciences, a particular interest of its founder Magnus Ehrnrooth, PhD.

“We found this purpose a particularly good match for the foundation’s profile. The University’s investment will meet future needs and challenges,” says Mikael Swanljung, chair of the foundation’s board.

Teaching in Swedish

The Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation decides on the annual distribution of income on the basis of the assessment and proposal of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, established in 1838. The society’s mission is to promote boundary-crossing scholarly discourse, for example, by funding high-quality research.

“We took the initiative to support the natural sciences at the University of Helsinki, and we are extremely happy that the Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation took such a positive view to the proposal. A Swedish-language professorship in artificial intelligence is of great importance to the society,” says Professor Mats Gyllenberg, permanent secretary of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters.

The Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation also supports teaching in the natural sciences in upper secondary basic education. In fact, the professorship to be established will have a key role in teacher education.

“That boosted our interest,” Mikael Swanljung says.

In the short term, the professorship will particularly benefit the Swedish-language teaching provided by the Faculty of Science – at the moment, teaching in the language is almost non-existent in data science.

“In the longer term, the entire Swedish-speaking community and school sphere will benefit, especially when artificial intelligence becomes part of teacher training. In the future, schools will have better tools in support of teaching,” Vice-Rector Nordlund says.

Benefits for society as a whole

Investment in artificial intelligence is important, as it has become such an integral part of everyday life, particularly in social media and Google searches.

“It’s important to understand that you can gain a distorted worldview by relying solely on certain types of knowledge. Algorithms affect how you see the world,” Nordlund says.

The new professorship will be established at the Faculty of Science on the University’s Kumpula Campus. The position focuses on artificial intelligence in relation to society.

The job of the future professor will be to teach the basics of data science to students of the University’s teacher training programmes. This will better respond to the new school curriculum, which includes the basics of coding and other IT-related teaching at a higher level.

The Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation hopes that the University’s investment in the professorship will raise the profile of the University of Helsinki in data science and mathematical AI.

“The professorship promotes the production and distribution of knowledge to future teachers. In the long run, Finnish society as a whole will benefit. We believe our founder would have been very happy about this,” Mikael Swanljung says.

Other donors to the professorship include the Swedish Cultural Foundation, the Stiftelsen Brita Maria Renlunds minne foundation, the Ruth and Nils-Erik Stenbäck Foundation, the Tre Smeder foundation and the Lisi Wahl foundation.

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