AI graduation ceremony in Helsinki


Sometimes life goes very strange ways. By chance I heard about an online computer science course in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning, registered and passed. Until then everything was quite normal. Then I got a message from the University of Helsinki, which wanted to distinguish me and other abslovents of the course. Since I had no funds available for such a trip, my sister took the reins and organized a trip, published status reports on social channels, set up a donation platform and drummed up people from outside the wild who shared in the costs. My greatest thanks go to her.

Of course, my gratitude also goes to the people who (partly without knowing me) financed this trip. I hadn't expected such feedback, and in some places I was overwhelmed by how much positive energy these people gave back without asking for anything. I knew this from LetsPlayers, who once hit their community to get involved in some kind of project. But to experience that for yourself was both beautiful and strange. Since nobody contacted me by mail to be named, just feel digitally pressed. A donor, who financed almost half of the trip on his own, shall be mentioned here again. Thank you.

My thanks also go to all those who have distributed the information on the net, sent recommendations for hotels, restaurants, places of interest by mail, or in any other way participated in the project. You are really wonderful people and you give me back the hope that humans are not as bad as everyone says. I hope that with this article (and another one) I can give you back at least a part of it.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the President of the Republic of Finland, Mr Sauli Niinistö, the Rector of Helsinki University, Mr Jari Niemelä, the Associate Professor Teemu Roos and the Director of AI, Reaktor Hanna Hagström. Without these initiators, organisers and promoters, I would never have travelled to Helsinki.


To Helsinki

My journey began quite unspectacularly at Düsseldorf Airport. After I had passed the controls and checked in, I had to wait another hour or so on my flight. I spent the rest of the time looking for magazines in a magazine shop, having some breakfast and watching some planes take off and land. After the onboarding we were transported to the plane by shuttle bus, where the really friendly staff of the Finnair airline were already waiting for us. Nothing special happened on the flight and after two hours I arrived at Helsinki Airport. From there I took the train to the city centre and bought the necessary day tickets. At university I looked around a little so that I wouldn't get lost in the morning before the ceremony and would be late.

The booked Forenom Hotel was tidy and only the entrance was a little dirty because of all the old cigarettes. Inside everything was clean, the IKEA furniture (I crawled under the table to check it out) was clean and intact and the shower and bathroom were cleaned every morning. It was simply furnished, had a kettle, coffee machine and communal kitchen (which I never used). A few minutes further on there was a supermarket where I could buy things for dinner and had to find out with horror how cheap food is in Germany. In Finland you can already pay 9-12 Euro for a small cake. Also a bottle of normal sparkling water costs 1,99€ and was, as I learned later, the cheapest brand. Since I could sleep the night before only three hours anyway, I fell into bed already at 19:00 o'clock.

The next morning I was already so nervous that I cancelled breakfast and immediately after showering and my suit drove into town. There I arrived very early and had to wait a little bit in the lobby (with red carpet and a lot of people). Since some of the excellent ones also came from Finland it was fortunately a little more rustic. As I learned later, Finns are incredibly introverted, cool and silent people. That makes them incredibly likeable for me, because Finns (just like me) don't like superfluous small talk.

About half an hour before the arrival of the president, the big doors of the hall were opened and everyone could find a seat in peace. Since I always sit in the loge in the cinema, this time I also oriented myself to it. In front stood the dean of the University of Helsinki, an extraordinary professor and the project manager of Reaktor, and besides a few Selfies (Finns are fond of Selfies), they gave the technical staff some instructions and went through the rules of ceremony with the students and the guests. When the president arrives, nobody is allowed to speak and everyone has to get up slowly. Then one waits until the political guest has shaken the hand of those responsible and sits down. Only then is it allowed to sit down again. I found the atmosphere in the ceremony hall very sublime and impressive.

After the President had arrived, the programme was held quickly. At first, an akapella group from the University of Helsinki gave a piece of the best. Unfortunately, I didn't understand a word because my simple knowledge of Finnish wasn't enough. Then the Dean of the University, the President of Staas and the Associate Professor talked about the project one after the other. They made suggestions on how the Finnish government can use artificial intelligence and machine learning for society and what the online course means for the future of universities and business. On behalf of the winners, four (Finnish) students were called to the front, the brooch was pinned and a rose was presented. I could understand that, because the president had other important dates and could not wait until 100 students had been awarded.

Finally the Akapella group gave a performance and it must have been funny, because I understood Mikrokontrolli and some guests laughed at some places. Afterwards there was a presentation of the reactor project manager which showed some results of the course. In the future the course will be published in Finnish (until now only in English) and Dutch. There was also a lecture on how to reconcile health data and artificial intelligence. That was a little creepy, because I am rather unwilling to make my data available to companies. But this is my private view, and I have to admit that machine learning and artificial intelligence are quite exciting topics because of their controversial discussion basis.

After about three hours the Dean handed over the brooches and roses to everyone leaving the hall. Now it went across the Senate Square to take a group photo on the stairs in front of the cathedral. Altogether it was a quite heterogeneous group. Women and men were almost equally represented, there were people from different countries in very many languages. Even though Finns only took part with 2% in the course, there were a lot of people there (it was cheaper if you already live in Finland). The atmosphere was very positive and relaxed and even if people from Finland are considered to be emotionally cold, they can still have a lot of fun. I was able to have some short conversations, but I had to admit that for my taste there were a lot of people in one day. After the photo we split up into small groups and were once again reminded by the extraordinary professor of the party in the evening.

In order to relax, I quickly went for a little walk and had a look at the city of Helsinki again in peace. Since I didn't want to walk around with a rose in my hand all the time, I put it down at a monument (by Zacharias Topelius). Helsinki is a really beautiful city that you can also visit completely on a weekend. If you don't behave like a typical Ballermanntourist, the townspeople will also be courteous and polite. Personally, there are too many cars on the way for me and stink up the air with their exhaust fumes, as I found the sea air very pleasant. I didn't have any allergic reactions or other breathing problems (the car exhaust fumes in the Ruhr area unfortunately exceed the values in Helsinki by far).

What I would like to recommend to visitors who are interested in this city is to spend a day at the harbour. On the photo you can see the backside with a lot of restaurants and cafés, which are all (expensive), but also incredibly tasty. There are round trips with boats, a fish and tourist market and the market hall is indeed small but the offer there is outstanding. There you can also buy canned elk meat and other gifts for your relatives. There is also a Ferris wheel (not visited because of too much fear of heights) and a huge promenade. From the harbour one gets well on foot into the city centre and can look at the countless Jugendstil monuments and fountains or go shopping in the passages. I only strolled because the prices are almost as high as in Berlin or Munich, for example. Except T-shirts. They are almost available at the retail price. Nobody needs T-shirts in Finland.

What I noticed during some conversations is how high the general education of the city population of Helsinki is. In Finland people are also used to learning as a worker on the side. I talked to a fisherman about computer science, with a kiosk owner (who spoke fluent German because her daughters studied in Germany) and was surprised that in a shop (see photo below) microscopes were offered for children aged 4-12. When I asked the owner if they were selling well, I was amazed: Of course! How else should children learn how to work scientifically?. Finns take it for granted to learn independently and to educate themselves further. One recognizes there already serious differences to the education politics opposite other countries in Europe.

What I also noticed about Helsinki. This city is really very clean. You almost don't see any graffiti, street art, garbage or other damage. To the chagrin of my sensitive hearing, summer seems to be the time for renovations. Everywhere people are screwing, hammering, tearing down walls and plastering facades. In some districts it is a very noisy city. Since I like to explore cities on my own, I walked around most of the time without a real destination. I looked at old brick churches (or made of wood), strolled through the artist and design quarter, looked at the architecture in the government quarter. I showed up at 18:00 o'clock again in front of the pub where the aftershow party took place, but there were far too many people present. Since I don't drink alcohol anyway, don't smoke and also rather reluctant social cover-up (small talk), I went out for something to eat and then drove back to the hotel to just lie on my bed and let the day pass in review.

Friday I spent like a real tourist (there is another article, where I will describe some sights in more detail) and looked at a lot of museums exaggeratedly. In between I went for a coffee, bought some postcards for the family and some small things and packed my bag for the return flight in the evening.

All in all those were three wonderful days in Helsinki and I have to thank all the supporters once again. Without you all this would never have been possible. But for me it is also certain that this was not my last visit to Helsinki and that I would like to have a closer look at Finland.