Between the success of the Wish Days gift boxes (today better known for the Emozione3 packages and before that for the gift shop selling site, Elation.it), subsequently sold to Smartbox, and the recent investments in start ups that deal with quantum computing and alternative proteins, Andrea Dusi has always kept the bar steady. Destination: the future. The same future he now seeks to anticipate and tell – mainly to high school students – through Impactscool: a platform for the dissemination of technological issues that emphasizes the impact that these exercise on our society. “I’m really interested in everything that is peak tech, futuristic technologies, as you will. Partially out of curiosity, and partially because I'm sure that everything we know today will have a form of disruption”, says Dusi.
Andrea, how was Impactscool born and how does it work?
Impactscool was born from an idea of Cristina Pozzi and involves, together with me, Andrea Geremicca as a cofounder. The goal is to prepare young people, and more generally, the future population. The first phase of this project, which we’ve been working on for two years now, is to bring awareness of the impact that new technologies, known as exponential, on one hand and climate and demographic changes on the other, have on our society. The audience we’re targeting are, first and foremost, students in high schools and colleges. Then there are professors and professionals, along with companies. These are showing great interest in the themes we deal with and, although we devote fewer events to them, they’re useful for gaining financing: Impactscool is a non-profit organization.
More specifically, how do your meetings take place?
We have several "products" that we bring to our audience. Among these, for example, are our immersive workshops that aim to go beyond the classic teacher led lesson. We aim to stimulate young people on the topic of future but probable scenarios, trying to give them roles to manage and carry forward, to create a discussion on issues that might arise and which, until that moment, they have never faced. Another thing, however, is vision hacking: a practice that we have studied at the Institute for the Future of Palo Alto and now are trying to bring within our reality. All this to give a different and alternative answer to the "Singularity University" model, of which we are fairly critical, believing it takes a far too techy approach, forgetting to put man at the center.
There are certain themes that are so fast and unpredictable that if we do not have a collective conscience, we will end up suffering from its ethical, social, work and industrial impacts
Among the topics you discuss, there is that of exponential technologies. What place does the debate on this subject have in Italy?
Unfortunately in this field there are many sophists. As it’s a new topic, there is a strong risk, like it has happened in other sectors, that we end up talking for nothing. So on one hand there is a lot of animation, let’s say. On the other hand, in some environments you can feel there is a need to understand and study the impact that these technologies have in order to anticipate their effect: if I know what’s round the corner, I can manage the changes that come with it. We are aiming at this: to bring awareness of the changes generated by new technologies not only to high level managers, entrepreneurs and politicians from a top-down perspective, but also in a bottom-up approach. On the other hand, there are certain themes that are so fast and unpredictable that if we do not possess a collective conscience we will end up suffering from ethical, social, labour, industrial impacts, etc. An eventuality that in a country like Italy, historically more wary of accepting and governing a change of this magnitude, would end up weighing on the weaker sections of the population. To comfort us are the numbers related to interest emerging from this: just in the schools we have held more than 200 meetings, we have been in all private and public universities, we have over 50 ambassadors who have participated in our events and who in turn have become loudspeakers for our contents.
So what is the differential between the topics you propose and the skills, the knowledge of your audience?
The differential varies a lot based on the type of audience we are facing, and based on the geographical location of the event. Generally, though, we are finding a lot of interest and background on a superficial level, but not a lot of awareness of the indirect effects. I can make an example.
The more robots at work, the less coffee they sell at the machine. It seems basic, but it clarifies what the progress of certain technologies is. If the first phase is that of disappointment for which we always expect that an innovation does more things than it does initially, then we end up not understanding the indirect effect on our business.
If the first phase is that of the disappointment we always expect that an innovation does more things than it does initially, then we end up not understanding the indirect effect on our business
What example do you use with students and professors, then?
For them the main thing is to feel part of a debate. This is why moral dilemmas are very useful, such as the self-driving car that, while driving, comes across a child on the street. What should the car do? Run over the child to save the driver's life or avoid the child and end up crashing into a tree putting the passenger's life at risk? To questions of this kind, we add another one: who decides these things? The faster we can create a shared conscience about these things, the faster we will be able to surf the change.
And where does this place itself in the institutions and in the Italian school system?
We have found, at the Miur, a great level of care, knowledge and competence regarding these issues. Outstanding. Furthermore, with the Ministry itself we have signed a memorandum of understanding and we have worked with it on the development of Futura (editor's note: a portal for the National Plan for Digital School) and in various schools in the country. All experiences that highlight the desire to change the current landscape to offer students a better preparation for the society of the future. Of course, it would be ideal to start from elementary schools or even kindergarten. In Finland, for example, there is a subject that is called “future” for six-year-old children. As far as we are concerned, high school is already a good starting point. Here, thanks to programmes such as school-time apprenticeship, there is a strong propensity to get involved in the issues we are dealing with. But we are also working to achieve, from 2019, a project involving universities.
We have lost the battle of digital, we are late to have a leadership role. But there is the possibility of being part of other great changes
After the last elections, the political balances in the government have changed, bringing with them a certain support for training and universities: 60 million of which 10 for research. Beyond the numbers, what are the real needs of the Italian schools?
I believe that this country can succeed in becoming a world leader. Of course, we have lost the digital battle; we are too late to have a leadership role. But we can be part of other great changes. Artificial intelligence, for example, which combines a wide range of themes that can then be applied to quantum computing and industry 4.0. With a minimum investment on these issues, Italy could survive for the next 20 years and have a leadership role at least in Europe.
And how much would this minimum investment be?
A quick estimate to make us competitive would be a three-year tender that aims to hire 500 researchers a year for about 100 thousand euros of salary each. Also because, at the moment, we are enriching other countries: from China to the USA, from France to Germany via Canada and Finland, artificial applied intelligence projects are becoming more and more important. In order not to lose ground, however, in addition to financing, it would take a medium to long-term vision, as the results of these researches do not exist in the short-term but they reverberate over time even on small and medium-sized companies that make up our productive system. It would be a small Renaissance.