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Barbara Caputo: “From artificial intelligence the next Italian unicorn”

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Barbara Caputo: “From artificial intelligence the next Italian unicorn”

Barbara Caputo will be guest of the Panel on Artificial Intelligence with Fabio Ferrari of Ammagamma; Michele Grazioli; Giampaolo Colletti of VedrAI. The appointment is at the Ogrs of Turin, on 29 September at 12:20 in the Duomo.

“Italian students have an advantage over others: they are used to synthesis, to see things in perspective, they do not think in terms of multiple questions and answers”, says Barbara Caputo, full professor at the Polytechnic of Turin, where she directs the Hub AI @ PoliTo, as well as researcher and co-founder of ELLIS (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems). “And they know how to get by, they don’t stop at the first obstacle”. He has about a hundred doctoral students and undergraduates in his laboratory, but the number varies rapidly, because school dropout is quite high. Contrary to what usually happens, however, in this case it is a positive sign: the young researchers in his laboratory, in fact, often leave classes because a company has offered them a job.

“There is much more demand than supply in our industry,” he comments. And there is the risk of devoting time and energy to training Italian artificial intelligence specialists, only to see them end up in non-Italian research centers or companies. “Every training investment in AI is a gift we are giving to our competitors, because we train people and then they go to produce for others, and that’s not good,” she says.

The theme is all the more felt in Turin, where one of the national centers for artificial intelligence is about to rise, with a specific focus on automotive and aerospace, two historically excellent sectors of the city. It should be shortly: the drafting of the statute is expected by the end of the month, then the legal entity must be established. But in the last electoral campaign, when artificial intelligence existed, it was relegated to a few footnotes at most, and it is not even clear whether the Draghi government or the new one will take the first step for the Turin Center. executive. “I have two hopes: while we proceed according to the directives expressed in the National Plan for artificial intelligence, without deviations or new beginnings; there is a path, let’s follow it. And then that the whole sector is placed under the direct control of the Prime Minister, to give it the importance it deserves ”, comments Caputo. AI has a strategic value for the country. We are submerged by data, we produce more of it every day: at best they will become digital garbage, at worst it will not be us who will handle them, but someone else will take care of them ”.

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There is an illustrious precedent, and also a recent one: for some months the powers of direction, coordination, programming and supervision of the Italian Space Agency have been in charge of the Presidency of the Council, while the Ministry of the University has remained the sole supervision of the scientific activity. “This is why I am cautiously optimistic, it is a significant precedent”, comments Caputo.

But in what does Italian research on artificial intelligence stand out? “In what we call symbolic artificial intelligence, in computerized vision, where Italy has visibility and authority worldwide, and machine learning is also growing rapidly. Without saying that the Italian robotics community is historically among the strongest in the world. Here there are many peaks of excellence, what is missing is the critical mass, we are struggling to take the next step, due to the structural weaknesses of our academic system. The first concerns the methods of recruitment, which are very strict, the second the salary. In general, the salaries of Italian researchers are lower than abroad, and moreover it is not possible to recognize that for some disciplines the labor market is different from others ”. And after the pandemic, with the spread of remote work, being hired by a multinational does not necessarily mean leaving your city: at most you will take a plane a few more times.

The Politecnico has a long tradition of collaboration with industry, but we often see the two worlds as opposed to each other: on the one hand pure research, on the other the product. “Instead – underlines the professor – putting themselves on the line opens up opportunities never seen before. And the right time is now, with the paradigm shift of artificial intelligence that is passing from the possibility of using almost infinite quantities of data to the need to obtain results even with less data ”.

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For those who stay in Italy and deal with AI at an academic level, there are essentially three ways: to continue within the university, to accept the offer of a company, or to found one of their own. And many do it: “Among the Italian startups today there is not a unicorn that deals with artificial intelligence. I believe it will arrive in the next few years “, concludes Caputo.

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