EIT Digital Master School #KickOff17 speech

Thank you, Ilkka

Dear EIT master students, partners, organisers and guests,

The EIT Digital Master School kick off festivities were held in Aalto University, Dipoli, Espoo in October 19th 2017. Image from EIT Digital Academy twitter feed https://twitter.com/EITDigitalAcad/status/920980379649134592

Innovation and Technology… two buzzwords that have electrified European discussion for more than a decade.

And for a good reason, too. Never before in human history, has technology evolved as quickly as now. When you browse internet news sites in morning with your breakfast, you never know, what new marvel of technology you’ll learn about.

This is truly a thrilling age to be alive!

And you, students of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, you are at the very heart of it all.

But when it comes to innovation, too often we … especially we politicians … we fail to see the forest for the trees, the true innovations for the technologies.

We go to high-tech companies and laboratories … we sigh the appropriate ooh’s and aah’s … but we fail to see the true innovations, … made possible by the technology innovations.

You see, … the important innovations, the innovations that truly change our lives, they are social and cultural and business … innovations.

These true innovations are much slower than technology innovations. Much harder to spot, or to block. There are neither project plans, nor return-on-investment-calculations. For example, after the invention of steam engine, it took some fifty years – before it started changing our industries and societies … not to mention our lives and cultures.

And honestly, digitalisation has not progressed that much faster… than… steam. Computers have been around for decades, now. And still, most of our business models and social structures, not to mention legislation, stem from the 20th century, from the industrial society.

We still study for a degree;

We still work for some 8 hours 5 days a week;

We still commute … daily;

We still retire … completely;

We still own cars;

We still live in nation states;

We still divide political parties to left and right;

et cetera, and so on.

Even the promised digital productivity leaps with four hour working days are largely absent. Actually, in many cases, introduction of newer and better computers has resulted in reduced productivity… except when the computers have been used to enable new, innovative processes or business models.

Just think about it. For example, if computers were as efficient learning tools as we have been lead to believe, it should not take you longer than … maybe half a year to get your master’s degree, another for a doctorate.

So, my first message to you is, while new and future technologies are … thrilling … the put it mildly … do not forget why they are so exiting … they are promises of new ways of life for us all. And in order to achieve that, your research teams and startup companies must involve sociologists, artists, anthropologists, … just to mention a few.

Just as industrialisation brought us urbanisation, popular culture and labour movement, digitalisation is going to reorganise our work, our life and our human relationships beyond recognition.

And it is up to you, and other European technology innovators to make that happen, and fast… please.

We have a head start here in good old Europe, but there are no guarantees that the successful industrial societies of the 20th century are going to be the successful digital societies of the 21st century.

The world of technology innovation is rife with global competition.

Our past success may even hinder our digital transformation, as so many of us have so much to lose. Many so called developing countries are already challenging us with their cashless economies and drone deliveries.

If we are not ready to lose something, we risk stagnation.

Maybe, maybe we should replace us politicians… and corporate CEOs… with bolder AIs.

Ladies and gentlemen

Finland… is a good example of how quickly a nation can rise from the bottom to fame. When we gained our independence 100 years ago, we were a poor developing nation in the far end of nowhere. We had no industries, no natural resources to speak of, and only a few people. Timber was practically our only export. And I am not talking about Tinder.

… Our last major famine had been only 50 years earlier, killing about 10 percent of our population.

And now, only a century later, we are one of the most prosperous nations in the world. How is that possible? Because we have always believed in education and invested in technology development.

You know, most Finns have known how to read since the late 18th century. Why? Because you were not able to get legally married if you were not able to read. … Some incentive.

That tradition later encouraged us to develop a public education system that allows anyone to study as far as they like… for free, without tuition fees. As a result, we have been able to utilise the full intellectual potential of our small population, regardless of wealth or social status.

So my second message for you to take home is. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. If we want Europe to continue as the leading economic power in the world, we have to educate, research and innovate like there is no tomorrow… Because there won’t be one, if we fail.

Dear EIT students

That is why, on behalf of the Espoo city, and the Finnish Parliament, I am proud and delighted to welcome you to Finland, to Espoo, and … of course to Otaniemi, my dear alma mater.

I wish you a fruitful conference, with loads of new ideas and stimulating networking, day and night.

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