'Data is food for Artificial Intelligence'

Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia

Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia


Politicians, companies and ordinary people haven't seen the best of the digital transformation yet, says Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia, in an interview in response to his keynote speech on digital transformation at the EIT Digital Master School Kick-off in Helsinki. Tomorrow's world will be about data. "Data is the food for Artificial Intelligence."

On October 20, the audience for his speech, around 300 international EIT Digital Master School students, is prepared to hear him talk about the digital transformation. The students gather together on October 20-21 to mark the beginning of Europe's premier technical education programme for innovators and entrepreneurial talents. The EIT Digital Master School students study at two different top European universities that are part of the EIT Digital ecosystem, and spend one summer studying in an additional European country.

The Nokia chairman is invited to the kick-off to inspire the students with a keynote on the impact of digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Deep Learning for companies and society. According to Siilasmaa, all organizations need to prepare for the digital transformation that is ahead of us. "Digital transformation is taking place everywhere, in all industries, in governments and in the daily life of ordinary people. But politicians, companies and people haven't even seen the best of it yet."


One area where deep learning will be extremely important is healthcare, one of the focus areas of Nokia's current strategy. According to Siilasmaa, the challenge in the healthcare area is that we tend to only treat illnesses. He thinks this should be reversed. "In the future, we should not be focusing on treating sick people, but instead on improving health, giving people personalised healthcare advice even before they get sick. This means that even when one does get sick, the time spent at the doctor's appointment for treatment should be reduced significantly."

Nokia, one of the EIT Digtal partners, plans to support this development by connecting all possible collected data from outside and inside healthcare facilities. This means both patient health information from the hospital systems and cloud-based data from consumers wearable health devices. "If you let Artificial Intelligence make sense of all this data, it can bring anomalies to the doctor's attention. With the use of connected data and Artificial Intelligence, we could over time develop a cloud-based system that can give smarter and personalised health advice."


Siilasmaa gives several reasons for the rise of Artificial Intelligence. One is the growing amount of the available data and the exponential increase of computing capacity. As an example, Siilasmaa cites the development of a simple system such as recognising handwritten characters - for that the computer could easily do 150 trillion calculations. Even though this may sound like a lot, it is rather trivial for today's processors. "That is just for this one very simple system. In more advanced deep learning systems one might have 100 million parameters on a single level of the application." There is also the development of algorithms in parallel with the increase in data and computing power. When these trends are combined, Siilasmaa explains, the potential of Artificial Intelligence becomes more understandable.

Digital transformation

At this moment, lot of companies are trying to figure out how widely digitalisation will impact them and their industry. According to Siilasmaa, companies are in very different phases of digital transformation. Some are in a more advanced stage, and some haven't even started to think about it strategically. "Therefore, we only have a few global technology companies which have truly succeeded in strategically utilizing deep learning. Europe is, sadly, behind in most areas. China and the United States are currently innovation leaders. These countries create the best possible environments for using Artificial Intelligence-related innovation and developing it further."

Right intuition

Europe can do it too. To become a frontrunner in digital transformation, governments and business leaders play a big role, Siilasmaa says. First, political decision makers should gain a basic understanding of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. "Politicians and decision makers don't have to become engineers, they must only gain the right intuition of Artificial Intelligence. It should not be a black box for people who decide on our futures. But that is the situation today. If politicians and many business leaders read about the new technologies only in the newspaper, they have no ability to analyse what is true or false; they don't understand it."

Centres of competence

Once they've gained at least a basic understanding of Artificial Intelligence, leaders should develop the environment for utilisation of deep learning, fuelling the positives and mitigating the negatives. "In the end, business and public sector leaders could solve problems with deep learning. This does not happen if they don't understand it sufficiently that, given a certain business or societal problem, they can think "Could this problem be solved with deep learning". So, we need centres of competences. In these centres, experts can both help leaders understand what is feasible and implement working solutions."

Data strategy

Both companies and governments need a data strategy, Siilasmaa says. "Organisations need to have a unified view of the data they have access to. They need to be able to combine the different data sets for the purposes of teaching AI-systems. Companies should also know which data they will need in the future. In five years' time, the competitiveness of a company in the business world may well depend on its level of advancement in artificial intelligence."


Hiring the right people to run the organisation is also crucial. Siilasmaa says that organisations need people who can think through scenarios. "Companies should develop a culture where people are not afraid to admit failure or raise negative issues. They should have an aspiration to constantly improve, and the courage to experiment. Nokia aims to hire business people with a technology mindset and vice versa: technology experts with a business mindset - like EIT Digital Master School graduates."

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