RenAIssance – the new Italian strategy for Artificial Intelligence
7 October 2020 | Written by Luna Bianchi
Summer 2020 saw the Italian government engaged on many fronts, including the digital one. The movement is global and the need for political intervention in the transformative process that society is courageously facing is indisputable as well as urgent.
The virtual world today is at least as important as the real one and the interactions with Artificial Intelligences of various levels are continuous, from the songs you “might like” from Spotify to the path recommended by Google Maps. However, Italy remains at the bottom of the European ranking both in terms of digital education and in terms of access to the internet. The consequences not only impact the possibility of industrial development and economic growth, but above all they influence our ability to understand the world around us and face it with the right tools.
The Ministry for Technological Innovation and Digitization intervenes on this second aspect with the “National strategy for digital skills” published at the end of July 2020 and aimed at fighting the cultural gap through plans for digital inclusion and education for the technologies of the future since Primary School.
The recognition of the importance of responsible development of Artificial Intelligence as an engine for industrial transformation is instead the basis of the “Proposals for an Italian Strategy for Artificial Intelligence” formulated by the Group of Experts on Artificial Intelligence (AI) on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Development. In this case, the document is part of the so-called “Coordinated Plan” promoted by the European Commission in 2018 whose objective is the definition of a European strategy that enables the EU to adopt an industrial policy based on AI that is competitive at international, but at the same time make our continent a leader in the elaboration of the underlying ethical principles.
Both documents therefore take part in the digital transformation process of our country, recognizing technology, if human centric, central to Italy’s economic development.
The Italian strategy for AI. The Italian Group of Experts on Artificial Intelligence recognizes how the adoption of a national strategy for the development and implementation of AI, on a public and private level, can play a central role for Italian economic growth.
In line with the European approach, in fact, the enhancement of Artificial Intelligence on a large scale is implemented through a partnership between the public system and the industrial sector. The Italian (and European) choice therefore lies halfway between the strategies adopted by the two current world leaders in terms of AI: China which operates under the public pressure of Beijing, and the USA which is instead largely driven by the sector. private.
The collaboration between the public administration and the private sector is considered successful because it would allow the sharing of both economic resources and technological innovations brought about by research. Italian industry could therefore be the protagonist of a new technological, social and environmental “Renaissance”, and at the same time, a futuristic public system could be created with the role of driving force of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Of course, today the idea seems more science fiction than futuristic, but we have to start somewhere.
This is the vision from which the idea of creating an Italian Institute for Artificial Intelligence (I3A) was born, a real technological hub with a double soul. On the one hand, it will be aimed at research and experimentation primarily to support public activities, and on the other hand it will incorporate a competitive structure capable of attracting Italian and international excellence, dedicated to the development of innovative projects under private management (and financing). .
The will is to create a collaborative environment from which transformations emerge that can be advantageously exploited by both the public administration and the industrial sector, a virtuous circle of continuous growth.
The proposal expressed in the strategic document on AI was quickly accepted by the Government and with a note dated 3 September Turin was appointed as the seat of the future I3A Institute.
Turin, the heart of the technological renaissance. Turin has now detached itself from the “FIAT gray” image that has characterized it for a long time and, as the municipal councilor Chiara Foglietta told us, “in this respect it offers a particularly interesting panorama as it combines the presence of two recognized universities beyond national borders, with the presence of an entrepreneurial fabric that could well respond to the challenges posed by these new technological frontiers “.
“Turin” smart city “- continues Foglietta – was not born with the candidacy to host the hub of artificial intelligence, but from January 2016 when the call was launched that launched the first experience of Torino City Lab”, the first laboratory of Italian open-air innovation aimed at bringing citizens, businesses and public administration to freely test innovative technologies to assess their impact on the quality of life. A sort of “Free Technology Zone” in which various international technology companies test their products or services in cooperation with end users. This year, for example, the Skycopters made by the American company Skypersonic, robots in telepresence to visit exhibitions and museums – from a collaboration of Tim and Fondazione Torino Musei – and Olli, an electric self-driving minibus made by assembling parts printed in 3D.
This mindset allowed Turin to win second place as Smart City in Europe in 2016, but even today it continues to attract innovative projects and international investments, such as the recent partnership between Tim and Google for the construction of the largest and most innovative data center in Europe. Europe.
In addition to a stimulating technical-industrial fabric, however, Turin can also boast a strong legal culture. Great modern thinkers such as Gustavo Zagrebelsky, Francesco Pizzetti, and even Stefano Rodotà have left their mark in this city, instilling a certain habit of anthropocentric ethical reflections aimed at evaluating precisely the impact that changes, social or technological, can have on being human. In fact, it is no coincidence that the main promoter of Turin as a national center for AI was Don Luca Peyron, director of the Digital Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Turin created a year ago with the aim of deepening the role on culture. digital and technological revolution through a continuous dialogue between the ecclesial and the social/academic structure.
The importance of ethics. These days we are talking about nothing but the documentary “The Social Dilemma” by Netflix and this probably also thanks to the unique choice of combining the usual short film with a mass discussion on the social issues addressed. The focus in fact, as for Black Mirror and Electric Dreams or going further back Matrix, Io, Robot or Ex Machina, is precisely to lead the viewer to ask questions about the present and to imagine the future to come.
Films and TV series today play exactly the same role as myths in ancient Greece: they tell us about some of the possible evolutions of society through what are the nodes of greatest tension. Two thousand years ago we were looking for answers to the man-god relationship and the struggle between human and natural laws was represented, today on our screens we investigate the man-machine relationship and reflect on the ethical barriers to be drawn around artificial intelligence to prevent you become uncontrollable. Global questions that are necessarily at the center of debate at all levels.
Perhaps this is where Europe started, just a few years ago, when it considered it central and urgent to ask questions about what it meant to develop an anthropocentric artificial intelligence and what could be the ethical principles to be put at the basis of innovation so that it could be considered real development.
Technique and ethics have always intersected, asking new questions whose answers change over time, adapting to the underlying society. Suffice it to say that in Italy until a few years ago heterologous assisted fertilization was forbidden while even today genetic engineering is the subject of great discussions around the world.
In the same way, the development and application of an ecosystem of artificial intelligence necessarily involves reflections on our society and the roots that have allowed its evolution, and we ask ourselves which path to choose to direct us towards a future, and towards technologies of the future, in which the human being trusts and with which he is willing to collaborate. On the other hand, in the “Recommendations on AI” of the Council of the World Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), we speak of reliable, trustworthy AI.
It is therefore not surprising that the Digital Apostolate, but in general an enlightened part of theologians, sit at the table with jurists, philosophers, economists, designers, industrialists, and scientists to collaborate in the creation of a fair, inclusive, and accessible technological environment. trust.
In fact, the risks related to the biases that the machine can apply in its decision-making processes are now quite well known, and equally (sadly) known are the examples of discrimination that are derived from uncontrolled and unethically directed development.
From the Microsoft chatbot that tweeted about white supremacy, to the Google image recognition system that confused black men with monkeys, it is now clear how the processes being evaluated today, in a global and interconnected world, have complex nuances that can be dealt with only by assembling teams that are diverse both in terms of skills and in terms of gender and ethnicity.
the (possible) role of the National Institute for Artificial Intelligence. With a distinctly practical perspective, the Italian experts of the Strategy for Artificial Intelligence have decided to entrust an intergovernmental “Control Room” with the elaboration of the new legislative instruments that will be necessary to implement to meet the new technological needs and which they will have to guide the creation and exploitation of Artificial Intelligence in the public and private sectors, ensuring the improvement of the human condition as a primary objective.
If we wanted to overcome the role of the Control Room while keeping the ethical analysis applied to the evolution of AI central, we could imagine attributing to the Institute for Artificial Intelligence also the function of ethical observatory that has powers of monitoring, evaluation and legislative proposal. An observatory that constantly measures the social temperature and the impact that this new science fiction world proposed has on citizens, thus introducing a new field of innovation, the legal one, resulting from the collaboration between jurists, industries, scientists and philosophers.
What is certain is that if you really wanted to create a similar structure, the principle of diversity should be respected not only in terms of the skills represented, but also primarily by working for a balanced and inclusive composition in terms of gender and ethnicity. In fact, it seems that this pivotal ethical principle was “forgotten” in the selection process for AI experts who wrote the OECD Recommendations or the Proposals for the Italian Strategy. The first in fact, for example, sees the presence of 16 women on a team of 56 people, while in Italy there are only 5 out of 30 women who have been deemed “sufficiently expert” to be able to take part in the development of a fundamental strategy for the future of our country, and beyond.
One wonders how such disproportion can really lead to the development of guidelines capable of putting the human being at the center as a whole, and not just the usual categories that have always been at the top of decision-making.
Artificial Intelligence is a wonderful invention that is leading the human being to carry out the 4th Industrial Revolution but it remains only a tool and, as Don Luca Peyron, coordinator of the Digital Apostolate of Turin says, “… the theme is always the ‘man (and the woman I add), and where the man (and the woman) wants to go ”. If we want to experience a true economic, social and environmental RenAIssence, it will be fundamental to overcome the previous reference systems and the courage to face the future with a new and revolutionary mindset.