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AI: a new alliance between technology, business and society

Milan, 27/01/2020, National Roundtable

The Artificial Intelligence debate, which started back in the 1950s, has become particularly topical today. The benefits of AI are recognized as undeniable but, at the same time, there is growing fear and resistance owing to the evolution of the man/machine – or subject/tool – relationship.

Indeed, there are multiple advantages to AI in terms of process efficiency, increased productivity and improved quality of services. According to recent estimates, the overall impact of AI in Europe could amount to 19% of GDP within 2030 distributed across a variety of sectors. Thus, a true industrial revolution that, unlike past ones, is taking place with unprecedented speed and pervasiveness in light not least of an exponential growth in calculating capacity and of the explosion of data feeding the algorithms that facilitate decision making.

Parallel to that, some newly emerging areas are necessitating attention in order for this technology to be defined as augmented, in support of and not antithetical to humans and, more in general, supportive of economic growth. The round table sparked a fertile exchange of ideas on these areas of attention, foregrounding responsibility, ethics, skills and public/private collaboration as key focal points on which to work, especially in support of Italy’s international competitiveness.

It was agreed that responsibility, transparency and ethics should come voluntarily, yet some regulatory challenges were also mentioned along with hopes not so much in the drafting of new laws as much as the revision of some parts of the GDPR or of the responsibilization model.

Concerning skills and, more in general, the impact of business models, it was pointed out that work itself is changing; yet the fact remains that human beings’ contribution will always be decisive within a logic of co-creation. From this perspective, it was emphasized that essential to workers’ growth and awareness are investments in comprehensive training that take into consideration the need to reskill over-55ers and to implement a training model that increasingly integrates soft and hard skills.

Moreover, special attention should be paid to small and medium-sized enterprises, which need guidance in being able to advantage of the major opportunities for growth associated with AI.

The experience of the Milan city government confirms the value of strong public/private collaboration capable of channeling and coordinating the roles of various stakeholders, sensitizing the community and laying down rules. To that end interoperability and security in data management are central considerations.

The discussion provided much food for thought: the right to know why, understood as transparency in the place of the “black box”; the importance of a risk-management approach to legislation; the centrality of ethics in working together to design the society we wish to build; a country’s strategic vision for how to allot funding (however limited compared with other European partners); digital literacy and awareness, to overcome fear and raise citizen receptivity to a new digital humanism. All of this, with one basic underlying consideration: the absolute need to work together in a renewed alliance with shared interests in the sustainable development of the country.