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Huawei’s Atlas AI is a supercharged computing platform that helps startups to unlock their potential in artificial intelligence. We talked to Ari Kärkkäinen, Huawei’s Sales Manager about the state of AI in Finland and Huawei’s role as an enabler for startups in the AI sector. Kärkkäinen believes the next Finnish AI success story is around the corner.

The land of thousand lakes (and quite a few AI startups)

In Finland, the expectations for AI are monumental. Due to its massive economic growth potential, The Finnish Government has appointed a lot of resources in the AI sector. The prospects are looking bright: Finland currently ranks in the top 25 % for AI readiness according to a study by McKinsey. Finland’s Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (FAIA) reports there are already over 400 AI startups in Finland. “Over the past few years, AI has definitely been a buzzword here in Finland. However, the actual practical side of it has been missing a bit. Lately, the real implementation of AI technology has kicked off. It’s exciting to be a part of this phase, where we see AI being deployed in a way it really starts to shape our society” Kärkkäinen says.

Custom made AI platform with superpowers

In 2019 Huawei launched the Atlas AI computing platform. The product portfolio provides an all-scenario AI infrastructure solution for the device-edge cloud. Atlas includes a diverse set of product forms: modules, accelerator cards, edge stations, servers, and clusters. Running on Huawei’s Ascend series AI processors, the platform is designed to help supercharge the industries of tomorrow, such as smart cities, carriers, finance, the Internet, and electric power. Kärkkäinen describes Atlas as an independent entity that has been created from scratch specifically for the AI sector. “We’re able to offer superior computing power and AI processing on a large scale. The data processing can be done directly within the appliance, without the need to send it over to a cloud or processing facility.” The capability to perform efficient and immediate on-site data analysis is a fundamental advantage.

No chatbots here – Support for real

In addition to state-of-the-art computing power, Huawei stands out in customer support. The R&D team is in direct communication with software developers in finding solutions to their problems. Kärkkäinen sees this as a huge asset for Finnish AI startups, who might be struggling with scalability and finding significant business opportunities. “Sometimes the software technology needs tweaking, or the developers are lacking specific expertise. Our R&D team is open to questions and able to adjust the product according to needs. The communication is very efficient and direct, as our aim is to create a truly collaborative setting.”

Computer vision for common safety

Huawei is looking to partner up with Finnish AI startups and find solutions together with the developers. As an example of a fruitful collaboration, Kärkkäinen mentions the computer vision sector and a recent partnership with the Nordic AI service and solution provider Silo AI. Together Huawei and Silo AI created a solution related to social distancing which analyzes camera streams on site. At shopping centers and other public areas, where security cameras are already in use, the application can help in overseeing indoor activities such as the percentage of people wearing masks and the average distance between visitors. “We were also able to analyze in real-time whether there were problem areas within the space, hotspots with too many people gathering together.” Kärkkäinen notes that computer vision, deep learning, and image recognition from video are major sectors for AI in the future, and not just currently due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The data we are able to gather now transfer into future security issues as well. We are able to apply this type of technology to a myriad of security-related concerns.”

AI is inevitable and already here

When was the last time you crossed paths with artificial intelligence? Maybe you asked Siri to complete a small task for you, got assistance from a chatbot or used an AI-fueled copywriting software to generate content for your blog? (It should be mentioned, however, that this article is written by yours truly, a human being.) As most of us know by now, AI is a huge part of our society already and will continue to permeate new industries rapidly. “There are a lot of signs in the air which suggest that the use of AI will soon break through big time. Algorithms are already the driving force behind many daily functions and companies already have massive amounts of data they need to process” Kärkkäinen says. Automatization is a megatrend in many sectors. “When it comes to smart stores that don’t require the intervention of humans, similar to what Amazon has done, it’s a matter of when, not if, it will be implemented on a mass scale” Kärkkäinen mentions as an example. “It’s simply a matter of who gets there first” he concludes. Interesting collaborations with the healthcare and event industries, as well as with smart city endeavors are also on Huawei’s radar, Kärkkäinen says.

Next up: bold openings

According to Kärkkäinen, it seems that the vibrant AI startup sector in Finland is on to its big break. All that is needed is a bit of courage. “The spot for a market leader is still vacant in many business sectors. I think that once there is someone bold enough to lead the way on a large scale, others will follow.” Huawei is looking to collaborate with Finnish startups with a concrete scalable business model. According to Kärkkäinen, working with local partners is a big priority for Huawei. “First and foremost, there needs to be a match with our technology and the software of the startup. We are looking very much forward to enabling software developers with the appropriate maturity level to succeed.” Huawei’s R&D team offers direct communication and support for their startup partners. “Financial support is not out of the question either, if the potential is there” Kärkkäinen mentions. The race to become the next Finnish AI success story is on. What is the message Huawei’s Ari Kärkkäinen wishes to set out to the AI startup community? “Finnish startups have an excellent chance of making a real, global impact. Now is the time for bold openings.”