“These days, we are all amazed, intrigued, or in any case attracted by the generative potential, development, and growth of AI. But accurate leadership processes are needed for a balanced and sustainable adoption of AI.”
Start-up Mentor and Data Sharing Enthusiast: Program Manager for TOP-IX and Mentor in various projects, Christian Racca shares with us his views on data, its utilisation, and its social impact. Christian is also an operational partner of Impact Deal, a start-up accelerator program volvero joined, and we’re glad we had the possibility of having a chat with him on a complex but fascinating subject!
5 min read
Can you tell us a bit about your journey through data, impact, and social design?
Currently, I hold the position of Senior Engineer & Program Manager at TOP-IX. Throughout my career, I started with technical roles focusing on technological infrastructure. From there, my interests shifted towards data, innovation processes, and digital startups.
For 9 years, I led a vertical training program on Data Science, Data Visualization, and Data Engineering (Big Dive), which foreshadowed many of the themes found in today’s Artificial Intelligence bubble. My interest in data began when the Piedmont Region asked TOP-IX to support them in launching the Open Data portal dati.piemonte.it. The Piedmont Region, the first region in Italy to have its own open data portal, is also one of TOP-IX’s consortium members. This is where our data activities originated, transitioning from Open Data to Big Data as the latter became relevant at the infrastructure level. We immediately identified a significant lack of technical skills in companies in the field of data analysis.
But what exactly do you mean by “data”?
I like to think of data as digital traces that humans leave in their interactions with the digital world and that are similarly generated by (inter)connected objects. Data is a “mirror” of reality and perhaps the most concrete way we have today to embrace the complexity of the world we live in.
“ Data is a ‘mirror’ of reality and perhaps the most concrete way we have today to embrace the complexity of the world we live in”
What’s the data economy like nowadays?
The data economy today is something extremely concrete and tangible. There are many reports describing the economic opportunity of careful analysis and judicious use of data. What is still only partially explored is when a data asset is related to other datasets in other companies or organisations, which is one of the factors that led us to launch the Impact Deal project. The idea is to grow startups or companies by connecting them with corporates that can provide access to their proprietary datasets.
Data remains a somewhat complex topic for the general public. Are there any interesting resources you could recommend to help us understand the issue better?
Certainly! Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil; Data Culture: How leveraging data and algorithms can help large enterprises and AI startups shape their future – by my friends Stefano Gatti and Alberto Danese; The Algorithm and the Oracle (L’algoritmo e l’oracolo) – by Alessandro Vespignani; Artificial Unconsciousness (Incoscienza artificiale) – by Massimo Chiriatti and finally Creating Value with Big Data (Creare valore con I big data) – of which I am a co-author 🙂 (now somewhat outdated in concepts).
I must say that the titles that interest me most are those that analyse the positive aspects of data usage, linked to growth and economic opportunity, but at the same time, highlight the social challenges and the repercussions of incorrect data usage. My deep conviction is that data is a very important growth opportunity, but at the same time, it can be a significant boomerang if used improperly or illegally to discriminate against individuals or communities.
So, an ethics of data.
Absolutely. Let’s take the topic of artificial intelligence. These days, we are all amazed, intrigued, or in any case attracted by the generative potential, development, and growth of AI. But accurate leadership processes are needed for a balanced and sustainable adoption of AI. In this sense, I am almost more interested in the philosophical and humanistic dimension than in the technicalities. Contributing to a positive impact means ensuring fewer discriminations, more equity, or at least avoiding disparities or abnormal concentrations of power. This is somewhat the risk we see both when we talk about data and when we talk about artificial intelligence; business giants have emerged who have the vast majority of data and thus the vast majority of power. It is no coincidence that Europe is investing significant economic resources in the digital sovereignty of its member states.
Moving away from data and towards our favourite theme – mobility. We are curious, how do you move around?
I am a moderate user of “shared” mobility solutions. I try to limit the use of private cars within the city as much as possible. Where possible, I use a bicycle.
“Contributing to a positive impact means ensuring fewer discriminations, more equity, or at least avoiding disparities or abnormal concentrations of power. This is somewhat the risk we see both when we talk about data and when we talk about artificial intelligence”
Well, we can’t avoid asking… what do you think of volvero?
Volvero cares about alternative methods of understanding mobility. More sustainable ways. And this is a strong, important, tangible need of modern society. You are clearly one of the actors that can establish itself in this context. From a technical point of view, your solution seems interesting to me. From a strategic-entrepreneurial point of view, there is still a validation process underway, which is what we want to stimulate within the Impact Deal program. The focus at the moment is local, and it would be interesting to see if the business model can be extended to other contexts. This is the challenge and curiosity we have about you.
Challenge accepted! 😉
Alice Franzon @volvero