“Every now and then I ask myself, what are we waiting for? Let it be too late.” Reflecting on the broad and increasingly urgent debate on artificial intelligence and thinking about different scenarios regarding development and applications, purposes, ethical and social implications, up to regulatory aspects, this expression by Alessandro Baricco in his book “Ocean Sea” .
According to the available data, Italy is late in the artificial intelligence game if two areas of intervention are considered: the production of competitive AI technologies on the international scene and the adoption of these technologies in the production system.
As for the first point, the problem in terms of “digital sovereignty” is not only Italian, but primarily European. In the global race for supremacy on microchips – key in the development of artificial intelligence technologies – the European Law on Chips Brussels intends to double the production of semiconductors, reaching 20% of the global production capacity by 2030, in order to take the leadership position and autonomy in a particularly strategic sector in terms of technological innovation . It is not an easy goal considering that the European production capacity has been reduced from 20% in 2000 to 8% and that the main producers of microchips in the world are concentrated in China, Taiwan, the USA and South Korea.
Given its very limited design and manufacturing capacity, Italy, like Europe, currently suffers from an inevitable dependence on high-tech imports.
The role of company size
From the point of view of the application of artificial intelligence technologies in the production sectors, in Italy only 18% of companies manage to adopt two or more AI solutions. It is clear how company size affects this ability, favoring large companies that can benefit from greater economies of scale and potential return on investment. The percentage of SMEs using AI systems is actually only 5.3%, compared to 24.3% of large companies.
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Despite the clear delay in the adoption of solutions based on artificial intelligence, which limits the size of the internal market compared to the European and global ones, in recent years there is a clear growth trend: in 2022 the market of artificial intelligence in Italy has reached a volume of more than 400 million euros (+21, 7%), and is estimated to reach 700 million by 2025, with an average annual growth rate of 22%.
Google-Digital Republic Fund collaboration
And it is precisely in this scenario that the “crescerAI” competition was launched, promoted by the Social Enterprise Fund for the Digital Republic and supported by Google.org, with the aim of supporting the development of artificial intelligence solutions for Made SMEs in Italy, including social enterprises.
“crescerAI” was born from the sharing of strategic and operational goals of Social Enterprise and Google.org. On the one hand, a social enterprise (100% owned by Acri, the Association of Banking Foundations and Savings Banks), which promotes goods and services of general interest and social utility and is entrusted with the responsibility of operational management of the tender, selection of candidate candidates and accompanying monitoring. On the other hand, Google.org, the philanthropic body of the company of the same name, which last May launched the Social Innovation Fund on AI, a new fund that intends to support non-profit organizations in Europe in the development of solutions based on artificial intelligence that have a positive impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The call, with a total upper limit of 2.2 million euros, is intended for public and private non-profit entities – such as universities, research institutes and centers and technology transfer centers – which will be able to participate by submitting project proposals until January 31, 2024 through the portal Re@dy.
Companies can contribute to project proposals by contributing specialist knowledge and experience in the field of artificial intelligence, to also encourage collaboration and exchange of skills between for-profit and non-profit organisations.
Projects will be supported at all stages for the creation, promotion, application and scaling of innovative AI solutions: it will be possible to include preliminary research and development activities, testing and experimental application, implementation and scale-up of the proposed solutions, which will have to implement the provision of enterprises in open source mode .
Finalist projects will also be evaluated by a commission of high-profile experts from the national academic, institutional and manufacturing world, consisting of Vincenzo Ambriola (Director of the Computing Department of the University of Pisa), Raffaella Cagliano (Director of the Management Engineering Department of the Politecnico di Milano), Eleonora Faina (General director of Anitec-Assinform), Mario Nobile (general director of AgID) and Agostino Santoni (vice president of Confindustria responsible for digital).
Attention to disadvantaged contexts
The goal shared by Social Enterprise and Google.org is to identify solutions applicable at an experimental and scalable level, capable of creating a functional benefit for the needs of the production structure of small and medium enterprises and social enterprises, with special attention to contexts in a disadvantaged position of the country, such as areas with low-income or characterized by a high rate of entrepreneurial vulnerability, as well as in marginalized contexts characterized by less availability of resources.
The challenge lies in increasing awareness and accessibility regarding the application areas of artificial intelligence and the possibilities offered by this transformative technology which, if developed responsibly, can be a tool that benefits everyone: people, companies, communities, ecosystems.
In a situation where the country lags behind on several fronts, the “crescerAI” competition represents an important opportunity: for innovators, who are encouraged to create and experiment with artificial intelligence solutions in the service of the manufacturing sector, and for small and medium-sized enterprises, which will be able to benefit from concrete competitive advantages thanks to the application of these new technological tools.
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