There's a new online resource for gaining a basic understanding of AI. It comes from Helsinki University and tech strategy firm Reaktor, who say they want to make Finland the world's most educated country in the field of artificial intelligence.
Elements of AI is based on a course that the University of Helsinki has offered for the past few years. Due to increased interest in the subject, the institution collaborated with Reaktor to create an online course. The course is a part of the AI Education programme of the Finnish Center for AI, and offered in cooperation with Finland's Open University, and Mooc.fi. While it has academic origins it is suitable for anyone with an interest in the topic and is presented entirely in English. Students in Finland can earn two ECTS academic credits through the Open University. Those outside Finland who've successfully completed the course are able to receive a certificate to post on their LinkedIn page.
Helsinki University had hoped that one percent of the Finnish population (54,000 people) would take the online course. Within a few days there were almost 27,000 enrollees, i.e. half way to the target number, but, as the tweet from lead instructor of the course, Associate Professor Teemu Roos indicates, they had signed up from all around the world - apart from near neighbour Greenland.
According to Reaktor's Janina Fagerlund who designed the user interface for Elements of AI:
when we looked at who was signing up, we saw that they're from every age group, from people below the age of 20 up to 75 year-olds. They are professors, the unemployed, day care workers and dentists - people with very different backgrounds,"
She goes on to explain that the participants share common motives:
"Everyone wants to learn what AI is because they think it will be a big deal in the future. They want to know how AI will affect their lives and how they can make use of it."
While this course is made for non-technical people with says the aims of dispelling the mystery surrounding the technology and raising discussion about it, the Elements of AI team say it is planning to do a followup course later on with programming skills required.
This course has six chapters each with three sections and there are exercises to complete to check your comprehension of each section. When you embark on the course the choices are to complete it within 6 weeks or self paced.
There's about 30 hours of effort required to complete the course, much of it needed for the exercises. The first module sets the scene by discussing what AI is, how it can be defined, and what other fields or technologies are closely related. Three applications of AI that illustrate different aspects of AI are used as examples - Self-driving cars; Content recommendation; Image and video processing - and these are re-visited throughout the course.
The course is supported by a community discussion forum, hosted on Spectrum.chat, where you can get feedback and help from fellow students and even join a virtual study group. Issues raised here are quickly responded to by the course team. Some concern was raised about ambiguity of questions in early exercises which led to modifications and queries about definitions and misspellings were quickly corrected.
Feedback from participants, including those who have already successfully completed the course - which requires completion of at least 90% of the exercises and gaining a score of at least 50% has on the whole been very positive.
While the course won't equip you to embark on an AI related career it will give you an understanding of its jargon and lay the foundations for moving on from its introductory level to more advanced treatments of the topics it covers. For a free course it is a very attractive one.