Speeches

Data and AI Ethics Seminar, Mayor Vapaavuori’s opening speech, Sofia Future Farm

Data and AI Ethics Seminar, Mayor Vapaavuori’s opening speech, Sofia Future Farm

My favorite quote comes 2 000 years ago when Aristoteles said that people move to cities to find employment, but they stay in cities to have a good life. Good life means different things to different people, but the building blocks are the same: freedom, justice, equality, right for self-expression and best possible conditions for family and work life.

In pursuit of this dream people have throughout history gravitated towards community living. A critical mass of people has always provided a better basis for healthcare, education, housing, transportation and security.

Cities are the new powerhouses of the world. The most pressing global challenges will be solved on a city level. Our ability to communicate with people and act on an everyday life-level gives us an unprecedented power to act, but also a responsibility to do so.

The world is getting a more complex place by a minute and 2 major transformations have sparked this change: digitalization and – as a consequence – the speed of life as we know it today. I believe that digitalization might have a more profound impact on our lives than industrialization. Digitalization will have an impact in everything we do. Not just how we do it but also why we do it. The increasing speed has pushed us to ever greater achievements, but also to a limit of the human capability. Our own capacity has become a limitation to the development of the world.

On a global level digitalization – together with urbanization and climate change – are the transformations that shape our future on this planet. The change is not only sparked by the limitations of human capacity and the capacity of the planet, but the profound impact these transformations have on the way we interact with each other – in media, in governance, in person. The current generation is the generation to solve these great challenges of the world. And one big part of the solution is data and AI.


The mission of Helsinki is to be the most functional city in the world. We also aim to make the best use of digitalization in the world. In order to achieve both of these goals we put them together – we will develop better services to benefit both residents, visitors and our own employees – with the help of digitalization.

We firmly believe the Helsinki should shift from a reactive to proactive mode of operation, and serve residents in a more personalized way. In order to secure sustainable growth we must take charge of the city’s resources in a more efficient manner.

For example, a recent study revealed that 10% of people in Finland, generate 80% of the health care costs. If we could better identify and proactively provide health care and other necessary services to this group, it would likely save costs and improve quality of life.

This is a major paradigm shift that requires efficient usage of data and AI. It also requires that the society is build in a way that these types of data transactions are possible. The most important building block of a capable society is trust. Trust can only be build on education and transparency. In Helsinki we are in the fortunate position that our people are highly educated and used to transparent and open governance – I believe that this is one of the reasons why our people are curious about technology, not fearful.

Understanding and clarifying data and AI ethics is crucial for a smart city to work. Ethical use of data and AI is a common challenge to all smart cities and we believe that cities need to work together in order to solve the challenges related to these issues. Digitalization is changing the world faster than any other thing in mankind’s history. Pioneer cities must strive to better understand the change and live tomorrow already today.

In Helsinki we still have a lot to learn from the efficient use of data and development of digital services. What we can teach others is how to build a trust-based society and achieve highly functional PPP-models. Helsinki is one of the cities in the world that have opened up the most data. Only New York has managed to open more data than us. The currency exists, but now we will need rapid action to successfully implement the data into products and services that help us to deliver the promise of a good life long into the future.

I hope you enjoy your time in Helsinki and bring us a few steps closer to how cities will be functional communities of people also in the future.