The interview

The interview

Soft & Green meets Alex Giordano, Professor of Marketing and Digital Transformation at the University of Naples Federico II.

Soft & Green asked Alex Giordano, professor of Marketing and Digital Transformation at the University of Naples Federico II, to reflect on the relationship between man and technology. 

Is the rapid digital transformation we are witnessing a tool that can help the transition to a better future?

There are two rapid evolutions taking place: one concerns the development of technology and the other has to do with its use. Actually, compared to deep architecture, computers have not undergone such a radical change in the last 50 years. The ease of use of the machines and their propensity to be understood and used by human beings has certainly increased. This depends entirely on the fact that the power of processors and the capacity of memories have grown exponentially. 

Computers have become increasingly more powerful. So much so, the iPad 2, for example, has roughly the computing capacity of the Cray 2, the supercomputer that was the most powerful in the world in 1985. It is perhaps worth remembering that the Cray cost $35 million more than the iPad. If we were to build the iPhone today using the same components and technology used for the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) – the first all-electronic general purpose computer put into operation in 1945 – the phone would be about the size of 170 Vertical Assembly Building (the largest single-storey building in the world by volume) and weigh as much as 2500 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers for a total of about $50 trillion, or about the GDP of the entire planet. So the smartphone we carry in our pockets is a fully programmable supercomputer with which we can do crazy things (it could decipher Enigma encryptions or design atomic bombs) but, in the end, we use it to take selfies in champagne bars or look at photos of our colleagues in bathing suits.

When it comes to techno-acceleration, opinions differ and some fear that there could be strong issues when it comes to personal freedom, the organization of work… How will the relationship between man and technology change?

Today there are about 5 billion people connected to the Internet and hundreds of thousands of Google searches and Facebook posts are made every minute, containing information that reveals where we are, what we do, who we are with, how we feel and how we think. With IoT, we will have 150 billion networked sensors within 10 years, i.e. 20 times the number of people on Earth. Artificial intelligence is also making breathtaking progress, especially through the automation of data analysis. Seventy percent of all financial transactions are already carried out by algorithms and news content is generated automatically. Between 2020 and 2060, supercomputers will surpass human capabilities in many areas. Within a decade, ‘common’ work will be replaced by technology and over half of current jobs will have disappeared. Unfortunately, this great wealth is currently produced in a collective way, while the economic benefits are divided among a few subjects so powerful as to even affect the dynamics of geopolitics. Moreover, these innovation processes have not (yet) had any form of governance or orientation, so innovations have not tended to be aimed at addressing major societal challenges. On the contrary, the gigantic business that is being produced around innovation is being accumulated and not reinvested, generating great social differences. I hope that this will change radically.

The change taking place requires a good knowledge of technologies to have positive effects. Of course, this does not mean we all need to become techies, but we all need to be a little more tech-savvy. What are the biggest obstacles to overcome?

In my opinion, we are faced with a great cultural deficit: on the one hand, sciences such as mathematics and astronomy have made many discoveries while, on the other hand, there is a generalised knowledge based on codified disciplines that have remained unchanged since the last century. This way, people are neither educated nor prepared to live with today’s complexity. The great French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who left us a few months ago, said that industrialization and the development of technology have produced a progressive reduction in the knowledge of humankind, because we have entrusted our knowledge to machines and tools.  As Stiegler says, to combat this inexorable process, it is not absolutely necessary to oppose technology, not least because it is not possible to do so. Instead, we need to develop a different relationship with industry and technology, making media, machines, instruments and devices become the tools of know-how and industrial knowledge. It is also very important to produce theories that are able to invent or use new economic models, new models of reconstruction of the physical and social space. We need to disseminate a new knowledge at all levels, that helps to see and accept complexity. And, in my opinion, this is also the only way not to limit ourselves to suffer the choices of others; and it is the way that can help us to go beyond the solitary and self-referential access to technologies that is our daily experience. 

To conclude, the expression “tech for good”, almost unknown until a few months ago, puts the ethical and responsible use of technology at the centre of attention. What do you think?

In the Societing 4.0 model we are developing and experimenting with, technological and social innovation are necessarily linked. In this model, technologies are thought to be and used as the means to imagine – together with young people, craftsmen, small businesses, social entrepreneurs, startups, research 4.0 and institutions – a different sense of production, work, environment and society; therefore becoming the key to sustainable development, protecting biodiversity, the environment and people. This is the great potential I see in the use of technology and, in this sense, the use of technology becomes ethical. I think collective intelligence has an important role to play in this, even for the development of green solutions. I find it very interesting that today’s key issues, which are intertwined in the political visions of Europe and Italy, are the digital transition and the ecological transition. It is from the combination of people and machines, organizations and networks, that radically new ways of solving complex problems can be devised, identifying drawbacks more quickly and combining resources in novel ways. It seems to me that technologies can play a key role for these necessary changes, and to support these processes, I believe that it is necessary to promote both individual and collective learning.

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