The world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become an object of study, work and professionalisation. The universities of Pavia, Statale di Milano and Milano-Bicocca have partnered to kick off an international degree programme entirely dedicated to artificial intelligence in September.
The 2021–2022 academic year will therefore also bring a university course in Italy that straddles new technologies and the humanities, specifically dedicated to understanding, articulating and enhancing a relatively new sector.
An important nod of encouragement to the world of education, work and research: the partnership of three major universities guarantees a distinctive and unique offering, also in an international context.
The fast-growing AI sector needs new skills and new professionals from the fields of science and digital humanities.
Giampaolo M. Azzoni teaches General Theory of Law at the University of Pavia. He also heads the Centre for Applied and General Ethics at the University, and is Vice-Rector and Delegate for Communication. Professor Azzoni was a member of the working group of fifteen professors leading the multidisciplinary design of the degree course.
What is the strategic and professional importance of a degree course in artificial intelligence?
The degree programme is inter-university, international and interdisciplinary. Inter-university means that it is organised equally between three major universities, a very rare feat in Italy. International because it is conducted in English and open to students from outside the country. Interdisciplinary because we sought to create a course capable of addressing the highly complex nature of artificial intelligence.
The world of work seeks an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to artificial intelligence
A subject that embraces scientific disciplines in the purest sense, and also disciplines that are more humanistic and social, ethical and psychological.
Can an education in artificial intelligence articulated in this manner become a strategic asset not only for individuals but also for the entire country-system?
Such cross-cutting expertise ultimately equates to an opportunity to work and therefore invest in artificial intelligence in terms not only of technology, but also in business, economic, medical and humanistic terms. This is about challenging technology on its home turf, also in terms of ethics and law. The benefits for the community as a whole are obvious.
The worlds of work and business are watching this interdisciplinary approach to AI with great interest. An approach which fits in with the idea of human-compatible social and economic development. As further proof of this, many relevant organisations such as financial and communications companies, trade associations and federations, have already reached out to us to express their interest.
How would you explain this particularly broad interest from the world of work?
I would say that the very breadth of artificial intelligence is extremely broad. This breadth extends over two essential areas that our project committee spent a lot of time discussing when designing the degree programme. The first area involves data processing to induce decision-supporting insights. This leads to indications of social knowledge and also stimuli to take decisions that will have a strong impact on society itself. This is the domain of the worlds of marketing, law, medicine, economics and predictive analysis of social behaviour. Yet also of ethics.
What is the second area of application for artificial intelligence?
Clearly embedded data. In other words, data embedded in objects. We now have a huge array of smart devices that are incorporating data: some examples are clearly medical devices or sensors, but also manufacturing that draws upon the work of big data. With algorithms as part of its core structure, artificial intelligence concerns this work on data.
Artificial intelligence constitutes a completely new body of knowledge. The challenge entails interconnecting them by creating new professions
Data that are either knowledge tools available for processing or data embedded in devices to produce intelligent performance.
How do ethics and law come into play in developing artificial intelligence?
We should bear in mind that artificial intelligence will always face problematic and complex relationships with natural intelligence. Problematic because they are asymmetrical: in the field of AI, we are in fact dealing with a level of performance that no human could ever achieve. However, AI disregards a whole series of qualitative elements that, on the contrary, human reasoning would include.
This is why there is a need for a course of study embracing an approach to AI that also includes comparisons between AI and human intelligence. I refer to human intelligence as perceived by neuroscience, psychology, ethics and also legal sciences. These sciences can question and challenge us on the use of AI to ensure that it is compatible with the advancement, not the debasement, of humanity.
What impact can such a course have?
The key challenge entailed merging cross-disciplinary professionalism with a critical-scientific approach. I believe that this challenge is now the crucial challenge of our time with respect to artificial intelligence. A challenge that can only benefit society as a whole if grasped in its entirety.
Many people still find it difficult to understand the concept. Perhaps there is no precise definition of AI?
Artificial intelligence actually identifies a new set of subjects and disciplines. A plexus that, for example, was difficult to frame from an educational point of view. There is no degree class in AI and it was not easy to design such a course by interfacing with various subject areas. Yet even this difficulty points to a basic characteristic of artificial intelligence: one of being a radically new plexus. A composite of branches in information science, mathematics, physics, robotics, psychology, ethics, computer science… The shape of our future will depend on our response to this new development.