Artificial Intelligence: an invisible technology, how to learn to govern it?

Artificial Intelligence, AI, is one of the most promising technologies in contemporary society and its implementations have enabled real revolutions in many sectors: from public administration to healthcare, from manufacturing to agriculture, from telecommunications to space. 

The technological versatility underlying AI, which was initially developed for the needs of the robotics sector, has aroused great interest in heterogeneous realities, and it is not surprising that not only large companies but also small and medium-sized enterprises have decided in recent years to invest increasingly large resources in its development. 

The diverse world of start-ups has also been able to seize the opportunities arising from the application of artificial intelligence systems, giving rise to real ecosystems capable of creating important competitive advantages in the markets.

To understand what prospects AI can offer Italian business, we spoke with William Carbone, director of the Professional Master in Artificial Intelligence at the Rome Business School, who told us:  

In the last decade, the digital transformation has had a major impact on people’s lives and on the world of work: a real challenge that has forced us to review the classic spatio-temporal concepts of work and to think about new business models. 

In all this, AI plays a relevant role. We have to imagine AI as something pervasive in every area of everyday life: in industries, in telecommunications, in social media, in space, and of course also in business.  Algorithms, for example, now also govern marketing strategies: based on the analysis of customer data, they enable new ways of contacting customers for a continuous and lasting relationship. Then there are smaller, less sophisticated algorithms that can provide clues as to which other products might be associated with the identified customer, as is the case with Netflix, the multimedia entertainment content platform that offers personalised recommendations by observing interactions with previous viewing activities.”

The situation in Italy

According to estimates by Assintel Report, the permanent observatory on the digital market created by Confcommercio’s national association of ICT companies, the Artificial Intelligence market is also growing strongly in Italy: from 860 million euros in 2021, it will reach 1.4 billion euros in 2023.

An analysis of the data, however, reveals a substantial difference in terms of approach to the technology by company size. 

Large companies, the protagonists of the so-called Industry 4.0, are more inclined to invest in AI than SMEs, which in any case during the period of the covid 19 pandemic were forced to resort to new technologies to maintain their productivity. 

On closer inspection, however, the main reason for this disadvantage seems to be not just the gap in the amount of investment, but rather the lack of skills, followed by the difficulty of finding professionals with suitable profiles on the labour market.

The world of AI is becoming more and more invisible, and it is important to understand at least its minimal functioning. Since it is a technology that is advancing very fast and serves as an accelerator of new horizons, it is of paramount importance to learn above all how to handle it. One does not have to be a data scientist, but it is important to understand how to programme the machines. 

In Finland, for example, the government has organised a basic course called ‘Elements of AI’ for all citizens, which also issues a certificate, enabling them to acquire the minimum basics of understanding what an algorithm is and what it is used for. This type of initiative can also lead to an improvement in the technology transfer process and help to increase the adoption of interconnection of businesses with the public sector, for example, towards the creation of innovative companies, such as high-tech start-ups. In Italy, too, it would be very useful to teach the basics of Artificial Intelligence and provide adequate funding, at least starting with upper secondary schools. We must also promote ad hoc measures to retain but also to attract new talent from abroad, both Italian and foreign, because the exchange of culture and expertise is very important.”

Responsible AI

Since its inception, artificial intelligence and its uses have been at the centre of ethical and legal debates.

Indeed, there has long been a focus on the impact caused by algorithms in contemporary society and the significant changes they bring to people’s lives. Often under indictment are the systems in which ‘biases’ can creep in and lead algorithms to make distorted decisions.

The attention of developers, who are key figures in artificial intelligence, must therefore be focused on ‘implicit’ biases, which are less obvious and therefore more difficult to detect, such as those that lead to discriminatory decisions with regard to age or gender.

“One aspect that we must not underestimate is the ethical approach to artificial intelligence. Software tools are important, but they are not everything. The algorithms must be ‘trained’ by the developers and must lead to respect for all individuals regardless of ethnicity and gender. It is precisely consciousness that differentiates humans from machines, and it is very important to carry out proper profiling – a kind of abstract characterisation – so that artificial intelligence is fully inclusive to overcome any inequality.

New Trends

The growth and development of AI is also fuelled by the rapid advancement of computational processing power: in parallel, the demands for its new applications and functions have also increased. 

According to Gartner, the multinational strategic consultancy in the field of information technology, the new trends in the field of AI are directed towards an increasingly efficient use of resources, an approach capable of combining small data and wide data, and greater operability and interconnection of platforms.

We are therefore talking about Quantum Computing, a way of reviewing computation that exploits the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers, and Metaverse, interconnected digital environments in which users can perform their activities by impersonating the identity of an avatar. Also very active is the manufacturing sector, where activities are governed by sensors. 

In this scenario, where business models inevitably become more complex and interdependent, the use of artificial intelligence for everything related to intangible products such as patents, which protect the business idea, which stems precisely from know-how, is gaining ground.

“Personally, I am experimenting with an interconnected-ecosystem concept ‘on my skin’, being an entrepreneur, a ‘startuppist’ who lives between 3 relevant ecosystems, Finland, Israel and Italy. Businesses are increasingly ‘virtual’ as software and computers live in several different dimensions, and that is where Italy needs to focus as well. There are so many opportunities that our country could seize if the mindset went in that direction. Not only create young teams, but teams that are already born with the idea of being virtual and leveraging the creativity of our country.In the north as in the south there would be so many opportunities. I am experimenting with all this with my company that produces ‘material and intangible products’, products that exist like patents with a business value, but without material, because they only have one business value: the idea. Intangible products are the basis of the new virtual companies and AI can help in this and Italy should seize this opportunity.”

The Skills

“As the director of the master’s programme in artificial intelligence, I would say that understanding the intersection of business and technology in AI is a very important skill. In order to overcome critical issues and analyse emerging problems, it is important to know the vendor system that allows you to know how AI is marketed, which companies use this technology and in which sectors. One also needs to master the Python language that allows one to develop numerical computing applications and understand how algorithms work. “

Top companies investing in AI in Italy

In Italy, the top ten companies that invest in artificial intelligence include Telecom Italia, Ammagamma of Modena that develops customised solutions for other companies, MDOTM of Milan that is a leader in Europe in the development of investment strategies; Cyber Dyne of Bari that deals with software and engineering; Kellify of Genoa that uses artificial intelligence to bring value to investments; YNAP Group of Milan that has become a multinational company specialised in retail e-commerce of high fashion clothing and Haruspex Security of Pisa a platform capable of predicting and neutralising possible cyber security threats.  

WILLIAM CARBONE

CEO, co-founder of The Adjacent Possible, a Helsinki-based research and development company that supports various organisations to explore new IP opportunities in different sectors, with a mission to connect global technology ecosystems co-developing common IP applications. At IBM, he served as Global Business Development Executive and Quantum Ambassador – Aerospace & Defense, Program Manager for AI and Innovation and was a member of the prestigious IBM Academy of Technology. He holds an MBA from the Quantic School of Business and Technology in Washington DC and an MSc in IT Systems Engineering from the Vienna University of Applied Sciences.

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