Lux Helsinki fends off the winter darkness

Lux Helsinki sheds some light on the Finnish capital in its darkest winter hour with comforting annual regularity (January 5–9 in 2019). Artists from Finland and all over the world create a glowing urban gallery of colour, warming the city’s soul in the void that remains when Christmas and New Year’s Eve have come and gone.

The free festival offers a recommended trail complete with official guide and map, and combines established works and specially commissioned installations. In 2019 LUX extended to include satellite attractions at Helsinki’s Old Student House and Cable Factory Cultural Centre, as well as the Hanasaari Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre in neighbouring Espoo.

Helsinki’s magnificent new central library, Oodi (the name means “ode” in Finnish), took pride of place on a route of 12 lighting features leading past Finlandia Hall and the National Museum and looping through the district of Töölö.

Themes vary from simple visual delight to more challenging ideas. At Finlandia Hall, Immanuel Pax’s installation Trespassing explored the sinister ubiquity of security cameras. Outside the National Museum, Mexican Ghiju Diaz de Leon’s Shelter Seekers addressed issues of migration and climate change.

Exact weather conditions are hard to predict in early January, but they’re always likely to be chilly. Over the years Lux Helsinki visitors have braved everything from sleety blizzards to bone-freezing Arctic blasts.

By Tim Bird, January 2019

6 + 3 New Year’s resolutions from ThisisFINLAND

Are you tired of the same old New Year’s resolutions? Lose weight, get more exercise, save money, take up a new hobby, get a new job, save the world from climate change! We thought up a list of small steps you can take – and get to know Finnish culture and lifestyle while you’re at it.

Learn Finnish

Photo: Peter Marten

They say language is the key to a new culture, and challenging yourself is good for your brain. Why not start by learning some simple phrases in Finnish?

If that’s not challenging enough, we have plenty more material about learning Finnish. How about this, this or this?

Learn about Finnish culture

Photo: Courtesy of WSOY

Want to learn more about Finnish culture? What better way than to read a book? Yes, a book! Here are ten great options to start with – why not read at least one of them this year? They’re ThisisFINLAND’s readers’ favourites, so you should be able to find some of them in your language.

Try hobbyhorsing

Photo © ThisisFINLAND

If you really want to give your brain something new and challenging to work with, try hobbyhorsing for fun and exercise! You can learn the basics with our online tutorial, and proceed to arrange your own hobbyhorsing competitions. You will also find instructions on how to make your own hobbyhorse.

Enjoy winter

Photo: Rodeo.fi/Juha Tuomi

Don’t like cold weather too much? This is something we sure can help you with: Learn how to not only survive winter but even enjoy it! A hint: coffee, warm clothes and snow are the keys.

Consume coffee like a Finnish person

Photo: Rodeo.fi/Juha Tuomi

Since we already mentioned coffee, why not drink coffee the Finnish way? That is, 12 kilograms of coffee per year. We start our day with coffee, drink it at work with colleagues, and every time we visit a friend. Besides, moderate consumption of coffee has been linked with a longer lifespan, and it may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Get some sisu

Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson

Feel like learning Finnish, drinking lots of coffee or mastering the art of hobbyhorsing is too much for you? Don’t give up! Try to be more like the Finns and build some sisu in yourself! Don’t know what sisu is? Well, there’s no simple translation for it, but reading our article will give you some idea.

Come to Finland

Photo: Juho Kuva/Visit Finland

Want to see and experience all this for yourself? Take a trip to Finland! Get inspired and plan your vacation, check out what our colleagues at Visit Finland recommend.

ThisisFINLAND’s bonus resolutions: While in Finland, why not try these?

Take an ice-cold dip

Ice swimming: We mean swimming in freezing water, in a hole cut in the ice. Sounds horrible? Well, it gives you a great feeling afterwards, calms and relaxes, and reduces stress. Some say it also gives you better sleep and keeps colds away.

Glide across the landscape

Cross-country skiing: It’s great exercise and gives you an opportunity to admire the Finnish landscape. And what’s more, you don’t need to go to the countryside to try it (unless you want to): you can go skiing in a city park as well! But just to be sure: bring a map or a smartphone!

Simmer in a sauna

After those truly Finnish winter activities, here’s your reward: Warm up in a Finnish sauna! It’s especially rewarding after ice swimming, but equally relaxing in the summer after a dip in one of the hundreds of thousands of Finnish lakes. By the way, sauna can keep people healthier, and frequent sauna bathing has been proven to reduce risks of cardiac arrest. But remember: drink lots of water!

By Anna Ruohonen, January 2019

 

Finland’s heavy-metal stars reveal their lighter side at Christmas

In fact, Finnish heavy metal music has found inspiration in Christmas festivities for many years and in multiple ways.

When you peek behind the doom-laden metal-head personas and ask musicians to reflect on the season of goodwill, they happily admit to how much they enjoy it.

Tarja Turunen: Metallic moods with softer hues

When you’re on the road as often as Tarja Turunen is, the best possible Christmas present is to spend time at home.Photo: Eugenio Mazzinghi

“For me the real Christmas feeling comes from the snow, quietness and peaceful environment that you get in Finland,” says Tarja Turunen, singer, songwriter and former lead vocalist of symphonic metal band Nightwish. “Fireworks and such don’t really suit my Christmas mood.”

Nevertheless, Turunen’s Christmas also has a metallic hue, because she is part of the band Raskasta Joulua (Heavy Christmas). It is a supergroup collective with regular and occasional members who create heavified versions of well-known Finnish Christmas carols.

However, when it comes to Christmas music at home Turunen prefers the traditional carols. “I like classical Christmas songs, also orchestral works, because you can truly relax as they play in the background. My favourite Finnish Christmas song is ‘Varpunen Jouluaamuna’ (Sparrow on Christmas Morning) and ‘I Love Walking in the Air’ from the Snowman cartoon [a British creation that also became popular in Finland].”

When you’re on tour almost until Santa’s big day, as Turunen is with Raskasta Joulua, the best possible Christmas present is to spend time at home. She says she loves to bake and prepare holiday food together with her daughter.

Noora Louhimo: Snowflakes soothe the pain

Noora Louhimo (front) sings about pain, death and hell with Battle Beast, but appreciates the peaceful Christmas season so much that she starts decorating in November, to make it last longer.Photo: Battle Beast

For Noora Louhimo, lead singer of the heavy metal band Battle Beast, the earlier the festive season starts, the better. “I start decorating in November, because that way I can make Christmas last longer,” she says.

The antithesis of what Santa symbolises, Battle Beast has released four albums since 2005. But the global touring and heavy workload have turned the imposing frontwoman into one big Christmas softie: “Now more than ever before, I just want to be with my loved ones during Christmas. My work is so hectic that I like to keep it very simple and minimalistic during the Christmas season. I just like to stay at home.”

Singing about pain, death and hell for most of the year would take a toll on anyone, so it’s no surprise that Louhimo uses the festive season to destress and recharge her batteries. “I also like walking in nature, but it’s not the same if there’s no snow at Christmas.”

Let’s hope that snowflakes drift down to deliver the soothing visuals that this metal singer longs for.

Timo Kotipelto: Gingerbread memories

Timo Kotipelto (centre), shown here with the other members of power metal band Stratovarius, visits with family and friends during the Christmas season for traditional food, quality time and board games.Photo: Stratovarius

Traditional food, quality time and board games sum up Timo Kotipelto’s Christmas. The lead vocalist of the power metal band Stratovarius usually visits his parents for Christmas, along with the other family members. “We don’t really buy gifts for each other, except for the children,” says Kotipelto. “I try to help out with the preparations or make people smile with my stupid sense of humour.”

Stratovarius is one of Finland’s oldest metal bands and among the most influential in the power metal genre, with 15 studio albums and 5 live albums. Kotipelto wrote several of Stratovarius’s songs in his hometown, Lappajärvi, in western central Finland. The place brings back fond memories. “When I was younger, I made a gingerbread house with my brother,” he says. “As far as I remember, it wasn’t the most beautiful of houses, but it tasted good!”

Jyrki Linnankivi: Haunting Christmas

Jyrki Linnankivi, better known as Jyrki69, is lead singer of gothic rock band The 69 Eyes. We think he’s the one dressed in red in this band photo.Photo: Ville Juurikkala

Better known as Jyrki69, Jyrki Linnankivi is the lead singer of Finnish gothic rock band The 69 Eyes. He has gingerbread memories of his own.

“Once our band took part in a celebrity gingerbread house competition,” says Linnankivi. “We made a haunted house with bats in it.” He says he loves to listen to Christmas carols in the sauna. The 69 Eyes have been playing together since the summer of 1989, and at the time of writing are working on their 12th album.

By Carina Chela, December 2018

Timo Rautiainen sits in with Frigg

Timo Rautiainen of Trio Niskalaukaus heavy-metal fame (right) and Johanna Försti (left) are the guest singers on a Christmas album by the fabulous Finnish fiddle band Frigg.Photo: Antti Vuorenmaa

Strangely enough, one of the newest recordings of a metal star singing Christmas music is found on an album by Frigg, a world-famous Finnish group of folk fiddlers. Named after a Norse goddess, the band is putting out an album of seasonal tunes appropriately entitled Joululaulut (Christmas Songs).

Timo Rautiainen, who first gained fame on the heavy metal scene with the band Trio Niskalaukaus, is one of the guest singers on the recording. “I do some folk music myself, and I’m a big Frigg fan,” says Rautiainen in the Joululaulut press release, “so it’s an honour to participate in this project. The album is an intriguing blend of new and old, performed in an unusual manner.”

– Box text by Peter Marten, December 2018

 

Helsinki invests in its people with a library that reinvents the genre

Everyone knows Finnish people love outdoor sports and hiking in the forest. They also enjoy hard-hitting games such as ice hockey. But do you know how much they like libraries?

Finland takes libraries seriously, as the magnificent new Helsinki Central Library Oodi demonstrates (the name means “ode” in Finnish). It’s a 98-million-euro investment in the people of Helsinki. Organisers strategically picked December 5, 2018 for the grand opening, tying it to December 6, Finland’s Independence Day.

Finnish people love their books. The Finns are ranked as some of the most literate people in the world, as well as some of the most prolific users of libraries. On average, every resident of Finland borrows 16 items from a library each year.

“Libraries have historically been important to Finns,” says Katri Vänttinen, the City of Helsinki’s director of library services. “Beginning in the 1800s, every village had a school and a library, and that created equal access to literacy and basic education.”

A platform for the future

Katri Vänttinen, the City of Helsinki’s director of library services, sits with a book at one end of Oodi’s third floor.Photo: Hernan Patiño

“It used to be the library was about equal access to knowledge, but now most of that knowledge is accessible via your smartphone,” Vänttinen says. “Libraries today need to be thought of as a physical space, a platform for activities such as reading, learning and public discussion. They also provide access to equipment, data networks or expertise. We even have reading coaches who act like personal trainers, but for your reading.”

Oodi’s layout reflects the new roles of the library. The third floor can be considered the traditional library, with reading areas called “oases” and 100,000 books. The second floor is about creativity, and includes studios, music rooms, media rooms and a makerspace with 3D printers, sewing machines and other equipment. The first floor is for interactions. It has a café, restaurant, cinema, information points and a space curated by the EU.

“The biggest technical innovation by far is the ‘Cube,’ a room with smart walls,” says Vänttinen. “A person can use huge touch screens to transform the room into almost anything through 3D virtual reality. Artists are already planning to use the Cube for digital immersive art exhibitions, and medical students would like to study surgery there, using it as a virtual operating room.”

Even the book logistics are highly innovative. When a borrower returns a book, the system scans it, then a self-guided vehicle transports it through the library, placing it by the correct bookcase for the librarians to reshelve.

A unique part of the system

On one side of Oodi, the curved perimeter of the windows frames the nearby buildings of Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (left), Parliament (centre) and the Music Centre (right).Photo: Hernan Patiño

Oodi is part of HelMet (short for Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries), a library platform covering the capital-region cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kaunianen. Each one owns its own assets and data, but they are shared in HelMet. A resident of one city can request a book from a library in one of the other municipalities and receive delivery at her nearest branch.

In a way, Oodi is simply one of the 37 libraries in Helsinki. Yet it is also unique. Oodi possesses its own branding and website, and is considered a separate administrative division within the system. Its dramatic location also sets it apart: in the heart of Helsinki, it forms part of a constellation that includes Finlandia Hall, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Parliament, the Music Centre, the Central Railway Station and Sanoma House, home of Finland’s largest daily paper.

Vänttinen says Oodi is already receiving enormous international visibility thanks to its location and size. At the time of writing, the Helsinki library system gets 6.3 million visitors annually; for Oodi’s first year the projected total for Helsinki is eight million, with Oodi itself reaching about 2.5 million.

See you there

The third floor of Oodi, here in the process of being stocked with books before the grand opening, is the part that most resembles a traditional library.Photo: Hernan Patiño

“Oodi does have a special role as a flagship library,” says Vänttinen. “It is a huge architectural phenomenon in a symbolic location. It also has a special duty to interact with society – not just residents, but also tourists. People might come from far away to experience this building, and it will be their starting point for getting to know libraries in Finland.”

A patron can borrow books, movies, audio files, musical instruments or specialised machinery at Oodi. However, it can also play an important role in modern society by bringing people together, creating interactions and making things happen.

“I’m confident that Oodi will be the most popular meeting place because of its nature as a free space, open seven days a week, centrally located and convenient in all kinds of Finnish weather conditions,” Vänttinen says. “It is simply easiest to say ‘Let’s meet at Oodi.’”

By David J. Cord, December 2018

The Finland emojis take off on Christmas adventures

They show the adventures of the Finland emojis, especially Baby in a Box and the legendary phone called Unbreakable.

And while these films are for kids, we bet grown-ups will enjoy them, too!

About our heroes

Baby in a Box” refers to the maternity package, a box of baby clothes, care items and accessories sent to every new family in Finland to give the child a good start and help parents grow into their role. The box itself is designed to serve as a crib during the early months.

Unbreakable” is an old-school Nokia 3310 phone, famously sturdy and now surrounded by an aura of nostalgia. You don’t have to be very old to remember playing games such as Snake on that tiny green screen.

A swan is dazzled by the Northern Lights

Baby in a Box and Unbreakable help a swan who gets distracted by the Northern Lights and crashes into the bell tower of Helsinki Cathedral.

Who’s in this video: The swan is Finland’s national bird, so of course it has its own emoji (and swans just might be cuter than cats). And Finland is *the* place to experience the spectacular dance of Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. You usually get the best views up north, but you can sometimes catch them in southern Finland, too.

A long winter’s nap

Hey, bear! You can’t take your long winter’s nap in the middle of the road! That could be dangerous!

Who’s in this video: Bears hibernate, sleeping the winter away – sometimes when it’s cold and dark outside, you feel they might be right!

Playing pond hockey: Who’s got the puck?

What happens when two Finnish horses are playing ice hockey on a frozen lake and lose the puck? How will they get it back? And how does an ermine become involved?

Who’s in this video: Strong and stubborn, the Finnish horse is a trusted friend that has been a reliable companion in work and play for centuries. Of course Finnish horses know how to play ice hockey!

Helping Santa deliver the presents

How can Santa Claus take off from northern Finland to deliver presents to everyone, if Rudolph’s bright red nose has a short-circuit?

Who’s in this video: The original Santa Claus, the one and only, comes from Finland, and makes his home in Korvatunturi, up north in Finnish Lapland, where there are lots of reindeer.

By ThisisFINLAND staff, November 2018

Finnish events put sustainability at the forefront

Have you ever attended an event with great speakers, workshops or musicians, but felt dismayed at the mountain of plastic waste overflowing the trash cans at the end of the day?

Several of Finland’s largest annual events make a point of devoting their energy to ensuring that they don’t burden the environment. We talk with the organisers of Slush, Flow Festival and Nordic Business Forum.

Compensating for carbon

Flow Festival visitors Ronja (left) and Aino say they don’t prioritise vegetarian food, but were just looking for a little snack – which turned out to be sweet potato fries from Soisoi.Photo: Tim Bird

“Flow Festival is a carbon-neutral festival,” says Suvi Kallio, the managing director of the urban music festival that takes place every August in Helsinki (84,000 attendees in 2018). The festival considers sustainability in energy production, catering and transportation. It reuses and recycles materials, and encourages festival-goers to do the same.

“It’s obvious that this kind of an event causes emissions, especially the flights of the international artists,” says Kallio. “We compensate for the emissions by donating to renewable energy initiatives.”

In 2018 Flow’s emissions were offset by supporting Zimbabwe’s Kariba REDD initiative, which works to reduce emissions from deforestation and drought.

Nordic Business Forum (NBForum, 7,500 attendees in 2018), staged at the Helsinki Fair Centre in the Pasila district, has hosted speakers including Richard Branson and Barack Obama. The organisers believe that the most effective way to influence society as a whole is to inspire and equip business leaders who want to make the world a better place.

Setting a good example

Empirical evidence shows that if you offer people a convenient option for sorting their garbage, they’re happy to have the opportunity; Flow Festival puts up stations with bins for metal and glass recycling; biodegradable waste; and mixed garbage bound for incineration.Photo: Tim Bird

“It is important that we make business leaders understand the importance of leading with sustainable values,” says NBForum CEO Aslak de Silva.

The event, held every autumn, uses catering and waste disposal practices that reflect a desire to set an example. Print materials and stage setups are designed to be reused from one year to another. In 2018 NBForum committed to planting 7,500 trees – one for each attendee – to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

“We take sustainability into account in all decisions related to event production, programming and operations,” says Anna Pakkala, head of sustainability at annual startup conference Slush, the largest event of its kind in northern Europe (20,000 attendees including 2,600 startups and 1,600 investors).

In 2018 Slush is offsetting 10,000 tonnes of CO2 with the help of a Finnish energy company that has set up a solar-power project in India. This covers the whole event and related emissions such as the flights of the participants.

Like NBForum, Slush has grown from humble local beginnings to international status, and is also staged at the Helsinki Fair Centre. Slush gets its name from the prevalent weather in early December, when it takes place (December 4–5 in 2018).

Slush and Flow report to EcoCompass [a Finnish environmental management certification for small and medium-size enterprises] to track sustainability. “I also work with our teams to further integrate sustainability into the marketing, programming and offerings of our organisation on a year-round basis,” says Pakkala.

Food is more than fuel

“It really bugs me when there’s plastic everywhere, so I’m glad all the plates and cutlery here are biodegradable,” says Riku while munching on a stir-fry at Flow Festival using wooden chopsticks.Photo: Tim Bird

These events also rely on education and on making sustainable choices more attractive to their audiences.

“If we have the possibility to influence people, we want to use that in any way we can,” says Suvi Kallio. All Flow food venders offer vegan and sustainable meal options and participate in the Sustainable Meal initiative, a set of guidelines that direct attention to the ethicality and origin of the ingredients; energy efficiency in food production; logistics; and packaging material. The festival favours organic and locally produced food.

Catering entrepreneur Minna Väisälä has worked at Flow Festival for seven years. Her food stand, The Tasty Dogs, serves pork, lamb and seitan hotdogs, and French fries.

“We’ve developed our menu over the years together with the festival,” Väisälä says. Her festival sales are divided fairly evenly between the three varieties of hotdogs. In 2018, 46 percent of Flow visitors’ meal purchases were vegetarian or vegan.

Sustainability stems from the organisers

Simple but effective: Each Flow Festival visitor may bring one empty bottle and refill it at the water stations, a practice that beats the Finnish summer heat and significantly cuts the amount of plastic waste the festival-goers generate.Photo: Tim Bird

“Responsibility and friendliness to the environment have always been important values of the festival,” says Kallio, “but as the festival expanded we felt it would be good to start promoting and tracking environmental liability more systematically. Our audience is very aware, so our actions must be transparent.”

Of course, there’s still room for improvement. For Flow this means, most of all, increasing the recycling of compostable waste and reducing the amount of mixed waste, which a power plant incinerates to produce energy.

Sustainability is one of Slush’s core values, as well. “For several years it has been our key goal to set an example when it comes to sustainable event production,” says Pakkala, “even when it means that something might be a bit more difficult or costly to implement. We’ve also noticed that this is very much appreciated by people attending the event.”

By Anna Ruohonen and Tim Bird, November 2018

Zero isn’t nothing: Two Helsinki restaurants cut waste out of the picture

“Food is political,” says Ossi Paloneva, head chef at Helsinki’s Loop Restaurant, where the surprisingly appetising menu is comprised of waste food – ingredients that stores would normally discard.

“I always thought it would be silly to work as a chef and not think of the bigger picture at all,” he says.

Estimates vary about how much food is wasted in Finland annually, but the Wastestimator project, carried out by National Resources Institute Finland from January 2016 to February 2017, puts the amount between 335 million and 460 million kilos. On average, restaurants account for as much as 70,000 kilos each year. Apart from any issues of morality or environmental sustainability, these levels of waste make no sense from a business point of view.

In Finland, the challenge of food waste persists in spite of relatively advanced awareness of the need to recycle and an infrastructure that supports recycling. Efforts on the Helsinki restaurant scene could set trends for the industry to erode the mountains of food waste.

What to do with half a van of cornflakes?

Staff members at Loop Restaurant unload a van of ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste.Photo: Niclas Mäkelä/Otavamedia/Lehtikuva

Loop is tucked away in a former hospital in Lapinlahti, a relatively undiscovered leafy backwater just a five-minute stroll from the metro station in the Ruoholahti neighbourhood. On a Monday at lunchtime, the restaurant is bustling, and satisfied diners are tucking in to a varied veggie buffet.

In spite of its slightly off-loop location, the restaurant has established a reputation with locals and more adventurous tourists. Even so, catering for events and functions is Loop’s mainstay.

“This is a crazy project, and a totally different kind of cooking,” says Paloneva, adding that profit is not the main motivation for this unusual enterprise, founded by an association called From Waste to Taste. “There are quite different rules at play with waste food. But perhaps the most surprising thing is that there is so much goodwill. It’s a hot topic and companies want to be associated with us.”

For renovations, Loop makes use of surplus construction materials donated by multiple companies. However, the most crucial contribution comes from the dozen or so stores across the Helsinki area that provide the food.

“We have drivers working daily to fill our van with waste food, mainly vegetables and fruit,” says Paloneva. “We adapt our menus to what is provided. For example, we received half a van full of cornflakes, and at first we thought, no, we can’t use this. But then we ground them into flour.”

Aiming for 100% of zero

“We don’t use any single-use plastic or anything that is not reusable,” says Luka Balac, one of three chefs who started Ravintola Nolla (Restaurant Zero).Photo: Tim Bird

Another Helsinki restaurant, Ravintola Nolla (Restaurant Zero), starts from a notion opposite to that of Loop, advocating a quietly effective campaign against waste of any kind in its own operations rather than mitigating the waste of others. At the time of writing, Nolla is completing a move across town to premises in the trendy Punavuori neighbourhood, where it is set to reopen in early 2019.

Three chefs who converged on the Finnish capital’s restaurant scene from abroad form the brains behind Nolla: Carlos Henriques from Portugal; Albert Franch Sunyer from Barcelona; and Luka Balac from Serbia.

“All three of us come from strong roots of producing our own food,” says Balac, “and we all felt very strongly that something was basically wrong with how things have been done with respect to waste of both food and food packaging – especially plastic, which is a huge problem. We arrived at the concept of zero waste. We don’t use any single-use plastic or anything that is not reusable.”

This approach changes how everything is done, from menu planning to storage, but the idea is to make the concept part of the “package,” rather than using it as a sales gimmick or novelty.

Uncharted territory

Chef Luka Balac shows off the on-site superfast composter at Nolla; the compost goes to small-scale local producers who provide seasonal ingredients.Photo: Tim Bird

Walk-in diners will not necessarily know that the water glasses are fashioned from bottles discarded by the Presidential Palace – a small but fine example of the circular-economy approach. They might also be unaware that an on-site superfast composter gobbles up every morsel of food that customers don’t consume. The compost is returned to the small-scale local producers who provide the seasonal ingredients on the menu.

The uncompromising idea is to make zero waste normal and not the exception, ultimately even dissolving the draw of various apps that alert consumers to special offers on food that has passed its best-by date. Restaurants and stores need to change their management systems, says Balac, to make sure that overstocking doesn’t happen in the first place.

“Nobody else is doing anything like this anywhere in the Nordic area,” he says. “It’s unknown territory. In a couple of years, when we have shown that this is a viable business model, I think it’s going to be much more common.”

By Tim Bird, November 2018

Curious Finnish startup researches third wave of AI

A Finnish deep-tech startup, the Curious AI Company is building the autonomous AI of the future.

Founded in 2015 and building on decades of previous research, Curious AI is researching, testing and developing the building blocks of the autonomous AI of the future – the one that will have a rich inner life, learn by trial and error, and behave in a human-like manner, exploring and making intuitive one-shot decisions.

Contributing to creating something that is still far in the future calls for scientific curiosity and a bold explorer spirit. You have to know where you are going. And you have to have enough funding to carry you through the phase when you are not yet offering a concrete product.

Making digital coworkers

“We are the first to bring a key human learning mechanism to computers,” says Harri Valpola of the Curious AI Company.Photo: Ville Rinne

“We are the first to bring a key human-learning mechanism to computers,” says founder and CEO Harri Valpola.

“We humans can solve many problematic tasks once we are given the correct answer a couple of times, for example when a mother tells a child what a dog looks like,” he says. “To learn largely independently, we need plenty of real-life observations (raw data), a handful of correct examples (labelled data) and perhaps some corrections (‘That’s not a dog, that’s a sheep’).”

In machine learning, this is known as semi-supervised learning. In 2015, Curious AI published an AI system that can learn handwritten digits from just ten examples – for example, ten different renditions of the figure six.

“Now we have upgraded the AI system to tackle much more difficult problems,” says Valpola. “When scaled up, such a system may allow the automation of human knowledge work. The final product we are developing is called a digital coworker.”

By Leena Koskenlaakso, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2018