An interview on Artificial Intelligence with Prof. Alessandro Minello. The North-East a winning model with Artificial Intelligence a third way forward

Adjunct Professor of Economics, Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Economy - published on 17 June 2024

Source: Prof. Alessandro Minello, Adjunct Professor of Economics, Ca' Foscari University Venice


Artificial Intelligence Interview with

Prof. Alessandro Minello,
Adjunct Professor of Economics, Ca’ Foscari University Venice


It is a mix of will, passion, tenacity, sharing, and valorisation of cultural and territorial components that has distinguished the North East and, in particular, the territories of the provinces of Treviso and Belluno.

It is a model that has been envied to us and that has been able, through flexibility and innovation, especially in processes, to maintain competitive levels even after the entry of the euro and therefore without being able to count on an advantage of currency devaluation, which instead existed in the previous period.

Here, however, a challenge now opens up, and it is a challenge that we could call epochal, which is that of the absorption and introduction of Artificial Intelligence tools into business formulas, which is something more than digitalisation. Artificial Intelligence involves digitisation tools, but it goes far beyond that because, especially in its so to speak ‘generative’ component, it is capable of performing activities usually reserved for the human mind and so-called ‘natural’ intelligence.

Now, how far Artificial Intelligence can approach, approximate the tasks and activities performed by humans, this is still an open debate. We are probably still a long way from full emulation in many areas, but the path is set, in the sense that Artificial Intelligence will increasingly tend to have the capacity to calculate and perform tasks in the same way as the human mind does today.

While in the past technology has often been man’s ally, today Artificial Intelligence is considered by some to be man’s enemy, because futurologists envisage a world in which man’s role is reduced in favour of a more technological system. But these visions of the annihilation of man with respect to technology are visions, precisely, of futurologists, not of people who are projecting the reality we live in today into the future.

In reality, at least in my opinion, the role that technology will play will be determined by man today and also in the future it will always be man who will determine what role to give to technology. In the case of Artificial Intelligence, if man knows how to dialogue with these new tools and solutions, I believe that it can be an ally of man capable of enhancing man’s capabilities in carrying out the activities both that we already carry out today and those that we are not yet able to carry out because we do not have the appropriate technology. So the future, assuming that man is able to govern the technological process, will be a scenario in which man will always be at the centre, but he will no longer be alone. He will be empowered and supported by technology whose role will be determined by man himself.

So, what is the challenge before us? It is to understand how to use the new technologies of Artificial Intelligence and above all how to employ them for the benefit of business, social and institutional relations. ‘Understanding’ means first of all using and being trained. And here a problem emerges, because the training that will have to be done will have to be at a level that I call ‘universal’, on Artificial Intelligence, and will have to concern everyone: entrepreneurs, workers, people, institutions. Because Artificial Intelligence must be integrated and adopted not by a single actor, but by the entire system, otherwise it is as if someone had a telephone network but only he or a few other people were connected to this network. The benefit, like all network technologies, grows as the number of users who are connected, logged in, registered to that network increases. This is a problem because if we think of the numbers today – the data is Italian but more or less can also apply to the provinces of Treviso and Belluno -, the numbers tell us that only 3.5 per cent of companies have adopted, in the last year, at least one of the 7 technologies with which ISTAT classifies Artificial Intelligence. This means that, if we apply this percentage, for example, to the province of Treviso, we are talking about 4,000 companies using at least one solution or tool of Artificial Intelligence, while there are 76,000 companies that are not using or integrating it. And of these, only 4 per cent (thus almost an equivalent number to those that are already adopting it) have declared in the past that they would be willing to adopt Artificial Intelligence in their production processes. So that more or less means another 3-4,000 companies, i.e. we are talking about a picture in which we end up with less than 10 per cent of the companies in the local production fabric that are either already using or would like to use AI in some way over the next year. But that leaves at least around 60-70,000 companies where there is no AI and not even the intention, at the moment, to adopt it.

This is linked first and foremost to the lack of specific human capital skills capable of using these technological solutions. The other element that explains the scarcity of numbers of those who would like to use AI is that there is a lack of awareness of the benefits that a company could obtain by integrating AI solutions into its production processes.

These two elements – the lack of adequate human capital with specific skills, but also the lack of awareness of the benefits that AI produces – represent two major obstacles that training will have to address. Hence, training that will have to be geared towards the speaker, the entrepreneur and the institution alike.

Starting precisely from creating that awareness, among all users, of how important the integration of artificial intelligence into the current business model can be.

The first element, therefore, is an element of culture, which can be called a ‘new business culture’, of an evolved enterprise, an enterprise that becomes the ground where AI solutions can be developed and grown.

Together with awareness, then, we need the skills to use certain tools, let us think of machine learning tools, of the Internet Of Things, of Big Data, let us think of tools that enable text writing, or to improve marketing activities, or to automate and remotely control certain activities, or that can induce certain behaviour in the objects that surround us and make them dynamic (let us think for example of the technology that is used in the automotive industry for driverless cars, let us think of drones in the distribution of products.

There are, therefore, many technological solutions that require absolutely new skills compared to the past; therefore, with Artificial Intelligence there is a paradigm shift compared to the past, a new paradigm that requires first and foremost awareness and that means benefits but also risks of the new technology. This is a key issue, because the new technology also entails the development of business risks: text and image sharing can be risky, for example. There are also elements of ethics that are called into question. Hence, the skills must also be such as to limit the risks that can be incurred by using these tools. Then, they must be absolutely new skills because production processes change, the fundamentals of the past change, with the inclusion of new technological tools.

Given this scenario and considering the number of businesses at local level that are somehow inside the IA system, this universal training process must concern, in the case of the province of Treviso, at least 50,000 entrepreneurs and at least 250,000 employees, for the production fabric alone. Then there are the institutions.

So it is fundamental to understand that a process of training and retraining of skills must be started at a systemic level, not at the level of a single company. AI enters society, it does not enter the enterprise, it enters social relations as well as economic ones, environmental relations as well as institutional ones. It enters the school, it enters our culture. Here, then, it becomes a technology that requires a specific collective language, a system language, not of the individual company or research centre or university that speaks with a new language or code, but of society as a whole.

Therefore, this is why the challenge today is greater than those of the past, it is a challenge that calls for the partnership of many subjects, of different stakeholders: companies, institutions, representative associations, chambers of commerce, schools, universities. It therefore requires the development of a new linguistic code and skills.

This is also behind the fact that in the future we could give new opportunities and make our territory more attractive to young people than it is today. Because young people, especially digital natives, will first use AI in their relationships and then seek it out in work, in businesses. It is a bit like in the early days of the first computers, when the first companies that used IT tools were also the ones that hired young people the most, and young people were happiest to work in what were then digital environments, albeit in an embryonic state.

If we remain at that 3-4% of companies that will use AI technologies, many more young people, than even those already looking elsewhere to realise their dreams, will go abroad. In a decade, we can estimate at least 3,000-4,000 young people who might emigrate due to the lack of integration of AI tools. Basically, it is as if you told a young person to drive an outdated car, when he could choose to drive a Ferrari or a more technological car instead: the young person would always choose the more beautiful and operational car.

So the enterprise, but not only the enterprise, and this is precisely where the great challenge lies, but the entire environment of which the enterprise is a component, must be attractive, enhanced, in English ‘augmented’ with Artificial Intelligence tools. The child, the young person, must find in the environment, from home to school to work to entertainment to social relations, Artificial Intelligence solutions that make that place unique and differentiated from others.

Tradition does not lose its meaning, but must be networked and modernised, made alive again, through technology.

We will never have a future of technology alone, just as we will never have a future of human presence without technology. Instead, we will have a future in which technology and man will synthesise if they can dialogue together. It is therefore important for all players to be aware of this problem and this challenge, which certainly calls into question many of the competitive factors used so far.

It is clear that working hard is always the determining factor in the past, but today ‘working hard’ could be replaced by ‘working better’. Passion for work could be replaced by passion for life, of which work is an important part.

So educating and retraining society on the possibilities of using the new technology for its own benefit is a very important, I would say fundamental, element compared to the past.

We could say that AI breaks into our lives, but it is already present in our lives. If we know how to use it well and govern it, we must not be afraid of it, but we must take advantage of it, also considering its effects. If we have an attitude capable of governing and integrating AI, it will not cause jobs to be lost, but it will increase them, because it will increase the productivity of businesses, thanks also to the increase in productivity resulting from the system in which businesses are embedded. Institutions will increase productivity. If the system becomes more productive, so does the enterprise.

Artificial Intelligence can help above all to recover total factor productivity levels, which is linked to innovation, to organisation, which today is one of the Achilles’ heels of our companies. At the same time, it can increase labour productivity, i.e. the employee, the worker who knows how to use artificial intelligence, will be able to work more and better, be more satisfied, generate more results, and thus make the enterprise more competitive. If the enterprise increases its competitiveness, it increases its ability to sell in markets, both internal and external. But in order to meet the new demand in internal and external markets, it will need new personnel; hence, a virtuous spiral is set in motion whereby productivity generates more work and different work, whereby people do the same things as before but in a better way or do new things that artificial intelligence enables them to do, whereas nowadays those activities cannot be developed.

It is clear that in this context man has the decision of his future on his side, he has his future in his hands and in his mind. It is up to man to decide whether to abdicate in the face of technology, whether to reject it rather than use it for the good of his society, his environment.

So we come back to what was said at the beginning: for humans to be able to make good choices, they need to be informed about the benefits and risks that Artificial Intelligence can produce, but also about the potential available to them for a new revival, a new development.

If this is a global challenge, in our case it is a very important one, because the data tell us even today that it is large companies that use AI, while small and micro companies use little or nothing compared to what they could do.

So in this case, the problem with our development model is that it is no longer true that ‘small is beautiful’, but rather that ‘beautiful is that which is connected and integrated with Artificial Intelligence’, whether it is large or small is not a problem, the point is to have the possibility of being inside that system, that sub-system that is today in the minority, which uses Artificial Intelligence. And this is the gap that we absolutely must bridge if we want to be part of this new era of development.

AI, in the areas where it has been used most intensively – think of the United States, but not only there – represents, according to historians, a revolution similar to that of printing in the 16th century. This must make us think, because if we think of the consequences we would have had by not adopting the new printing techniques then, we can also think today what our scenario would be if we were left out of the solutions and potential that the tool of Artificial Intelligence offers us.

Alessandro Minello
Adjunct Professor of Economics, Ca’ Foscari  University of Venice 

Courses and conferences




Senza categoria