Though his book, the Italian Economist Marco Magnani offers us a journey through the technological innovations that have huge repercussions on the global economy, on the world of labour market and on our life in general. How we can achieve a sustainable growth? how to improve human life despite the continuous evolution of technologies? His essay "Fatti non foste a viver come robot" (sadly - only in Italian - our team will deliver an extract) is a reflection on the relationship between technological innovations and sustainability, a key topic of the current period.
What we are experiencing is the most innovative period of all time. There are many potentially revolutionary innovations for economics and the job market, education and training, society, politics and ethics.
Marco Magnani elaborates 12 innovations which he considers disruptive, analyzing the consequences of their diffusion. The topics are: advanced robotics (including drones), self driving cars, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, Internet of Things, big data, quantum computing, cloud storage and cloud computing, artificial intelligence (with machine and deep learning), augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, nanotechnology and nanomaterials, biotechnology. But the potential for innovations in energy storage, genome engineering, micro and nano sensors, neurobionics, space economy and 5G infrastructure should not be overlooked.
Moreover, the close connection between several of these innovations, on the one hand further accelerates their development and diffusion and, on the other hand, allows new and unexpected discoveries. The case of artificial intelligence is emblematic, which expands and accelerates - among other things - the development of robotics, nanotechnology, materials sciences, editing of the human genome.
First of all, it is important to remember that economic growth and innovations are not the enemies of sustainability, but they can be the best tools to pursue it. In particular, technology can be fundamental to overcome many of the constraints of environmental, energy and food sustainability .
There is no shortage of examples. Techniques for recycling plastics and the making of eco-friendly packaging materials are improving. The number of scavenger robots to clean up the seas is growing, including the recent Blue Resolution project at Sant'Anna in Pisa to eliminate invisible microplastics. The development of batteries favors the spread of non-polluting electric vehicles. Extraordinary inventions like LifeStraw are on the rise, a $ 3 portable filter straw that makes water drinkable and helps fight water shortage, prevent the spread of diseases in poor countries, and reduce the use of plastic bottles in rich ones. Thanks to its high computing capacity and AI, Eni's “digital dowser” cuts exploration and extraction dead times by 30%, reducing drilling errors and hydrocarbon leaks and, consequently, also costs and environmental impact.
Technological innovation is also fundamental to discover and improve the use and diffusion of new energy sources. Think of the progress made in nuclear and solar energy, the yield improvements in the production of wind, hydro and geothermal energy, the experiments on the exploitation of wave motion. Various waste to energy processes are also being developed , for the production of energy from organic and non-organic waste. The technology will help the spread of renewable energies, which are intermittent and non-programmable by nature, ensuring continuity in supply, especially thanks to the development of batteries and smart grids .
Technology can play a decisive role. For agriculture and zootechnics the challenge is above all to increase productivity per plant, per head and per unit of surface area, selecting the most productive plants and animals. Even without further innovations, but only by extending the use of current techniques, agricultural and Zootechnics production can significantly increase.
In addition to mechanization, the advantages can derive from the diffusion of techniques to hinder desertification, fight erosion, protect vulnerable soils, safeguard soil fertility, prevent and treat diseases and parasites of plants and livestock. To this must be added the positive impact of the spread of precision agriculture, the creation of digital twins, and the laboratory development of alternative proteins, such as vegetable meat and clean meat .
Great opportunities come from plant and animal genetic improvement techniques. Which can happen with traditional methods - hybridization, crossbreeding, selection, mutagenesis - or with genetic engineering. Genetically modified or transgenic organisms - GMOs - is a sector with great potential but which raises many fears, especially food safety. On the other hand, the history of agriculture is characterized by continuous human interventions on nature and agriculture itself is not a discovery but an invention of humanity.
In the most innovative era in history, it is essential to provide young people with adequate tools and knowledge. In the labour market, in addition to the typical skills of the industrial age, it is necessary to develop intellectual and personal skills that allow people to work alongside machines. This involves several areas: technical-scientific education, classical training, development of soft skills and flexibility.
First of all, it is necessary to place greater emphasis on teaching technical and scientific subjects, the so-called STEM (Science, Techology, Engineering, Mathematics). However, a good classical and humanistic education is also important: to allow mankind to use technology without being overwhelmed by it and to address the complex ethical questions posed by technological development. With the A of Arts STEM becomes STEAM .
The third crucial element is to value e and enhance the human characteristics that computers, software and algorithms cannot replace: critical and creative thinking, the ability to solve problems and make decisions, empathy and other dimensions of emotional intelligence, relational, social and communicative attitudes. In this perspective, the school system must rethink both teaching methods and evaluation criteria.
Finally, it is vital to develop the necessary skills to face change. Flexibility, adaptability, versatility are decisive for facing a constantly changing market. The school must teach how to learn.