International Women's Day alumni seminar stirs up discussion of neural networks and peace

The topics covered in the alumni seminar also included new business models and the societal impact of AI and digitalisation.

The keynote speaker at the International Women's Day alumni seminar was Annu Nieminen, CEO of The Upright Project and the Aalto University School of Science’s Alumni of the Year. MIT Tech Review recently added Nieminen to its Innovators Under 35 list.

According to Nieminen, business activities are currently measured using outdated indicators. They measure performance instead of impact or they consider these two areas as separate from each other.

‘Earlier, businesses made profit and then used some of it for charitable purposes. Now, businesses have products and services which in their very nature have a positive net impact on society’, Nieminen emphasises.

Nieminen decided to work together with her team to build a model that uses neural networks to measure companies’ net impact. The model utilises 130 million scientific articles that contain, among other things, information on companies’ emissions and health impacts. The machine is able to calculate the net impact automatically.

‘The goal is to generate better information about how companies impact the world. In addition to its business applications, the same model can also be applied to industrial sectors and to cities’, Nieminen adds.

Sustainable development of the neural networks

In addition to Nieminen, the alumni seminar panel included Operative Director Marcus Korhonen from Aalto Studios, Director Tuula Ruokonen from Valmet Technologies and Professor of Practice Timo Seppälä from Aalto University.

The reliability of neural networks outside of the science sphere was one of the hot topics for the panel. Seppälä recommends that the companies would rather test than operatively use the neural networks. He believes that there are currently too many challenges concerning the transparency of data and reproducibility of results. Ruokonen, on the other hand, believes it is possible to utilise neural networks by combining them with other available information.

Nieminen is also among those that believe that there is a lot of hype around neural networks. Nevertheless, she believes that neural networks too can be developed in a sustainable way.

Commenting on the panel discussion was Aalto School of Business Doctoral Candidate Tilman Bauer, who is studying the promotion of peace in society through business. In his opinion, the expanded concept of peace can be seen as the substance of any positive impact because peace is often defined as the presence of positive values, such as justice, health, happiness, education, wealth, and wellbeing. Therefore, adding to Nieminen’s work, Bauer argued that companies should foster peace through core business activities. In his response to Bauer, Seppälä claimed that businesses also need to be able to make rapid decisions. According to Seppälä, peace would mean a too static situation where nothing is going to happen.

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