Nexa Center Annual Report 2021

Presented in 2021 during the Board of Trustees meeting of the Nexa Center
This report was mainly curated by Giacomo Conti, Anita Botta and Giovanni Garifo with the contributions of the Nexa Staff, Directors and Community.
PDF icon nexa_annual_report_2021-min.pdf1.65 MB
June 2021

The annual report is available in PDF format.


As it is the case for all of society, this past academic year was marked by the global pandemic. Inevitably, life at the Nexa Center changed as well. Researchers and fellows were forced to work from home; professors had to teach remotely. While we certainly lost the important element of physical sociality, which had characterized the Nexa Center since its foundation in 2006, the year 2020 also brought new opportunities for research. The use of the Internet and of its tools became necessary for many activities: the increasing reliance on information technology and modern software, together with the use of artificial intelligence and pervasive data collection techniques, exacerbated by the unique situation caused by Covid-19, accelerated and exposed in plain view many topics that were often already at the forefront of the Nexa Center’s interests. Just to make one example, our activities regarding the study of the impact of A.I. on society turned out to be even more important and necessary that previously thought.
Let us begin with a special mention regarding Giuseppe Futia and Elena Beretta, who successfully discussed their PhD theses, respectively on the automatic knowledge graphs generation and on algorithms for social goods: congratulations to both of them! Then, it is perhaps worth mentioning that one of us, JC De Martin, had a role in strengthening the curricula of students at Politecnico di Torino through the creation of the new Politecnico course titled “Grandi Sfide Globali” (“Major Global Challenges”, an interdisciplinary course on six major challenges facing humanity). JC also designed “Tempi Difficili” (“Hard Times”, quoting Charles Dickens), a series of 11 public lectures on the ongoing pandemic with experts from different disciplines. The latter initiative has been organised as a follow-up activity of Biennale Tecnologia, which was curated by Prof. Juan Carlos De Martin and by the Nexa Trustee Luca De Biase as a periodic evolution of the previously organized Festival della Tecnologia: from 12 to 15 November 2020, more than 140 events were organized, with the participation of about 300 speakers and more than 20.000 people following it online (and many more afterwards, by watching the recordings). The next edition will be in November 2022. At long last, another one of us, Marco Ricolfi, has been asked to organize and direct the implementation of the Europan Digital Single Market Directive in his capacity as President of the Comitato Consultivo permanente per il Diritto d’Autore which advises the Italian Government in Copyright matters.
Many other teaching activities, University courses and seminars have been carried out by the Nexa Center, with an intense interaction between the humanities and social sciences with the engineering disciplines, to better face the issues that technology and its use pose on individuals and collectives. The Nexa Center also continued to participate in three institutional networks: the Global Network of Internet & Society Research Centers, CINI - Laboratory for Informatics and Society and “Scienza Nuova”, a center devoted to studying the digital revolution interdisciplinary co-founded by the Politecnico di Torino and the University of Torino.
In 2020 saw our Center was awarded two EU-funded projects: “StrategyHack”, which is meant to be the follow up to the well-received EDUHack project that the Nexa Center coordinated between 2018 and 2020, and “CLIKC”, an ERASMUS+ project that aims at the development of a new adaptive learning platform. StrategyHack is meant to produce a series of courses for mid-level institutional leaders aiming at leveraging the opportunities offered by the digital revolution in their areas of competence. CLIKC, instead, has as main objective the development of a new learning system based on an online recommendation system - of which Nexa is in charge - empowered by semantic web and by machine learning technologies. With the participation to these two research projects, the Nexa Center continues its commitment to research and develop new learning tools.
In the reporting period, the Nexa Center renewed its research collaboration with TIM, the main Italian Telecommunications company. Our cooperation with TIM resulted in two documents on the blockchain, its problems and its possible fixes, and its alternatives. The blockchain, and Bitcoin in particular, was also the main topic of the Payment Channel Networks for Blockchain Scalability project, which challenged the limitations of Bitcoin’s payment channel network, proposing a testing environment through the CLoTH simulator, developed by Marco Conoscenti.
An unusual but nonetheless stimulating Annual Conference was organised, remotely and for two days, in December 2020, titled “Speakable and unspeakable: who decides in the age of digital communication?”, during which several experts discussed topics related to fake news, hate speech, political correctness.
Due to the Covid-19 global emergency, there were no in person events this year but we are still proud to have successfully organized EduHack’s Online Workshop EduHackaton on the 7th of July 2020 and all our usual public seminars (overall more than 30).
In spite of all the hardships that this year has brought on us, or possibly because of them, we certainly carry with us a renewed awareness of the importance of real, face-to-face social interactions. On the other hand, we have further understood how deeply digital tools affect the life of all of us every day and, even more so during exceptional times like these, as it was necessary to use them constantly in our private lives as well as in the workplace. We will resort to this increased practical experience and on the reflections and studies reported herein to renew our efforts in protecting individual and collective rights in cyberspace, hence preserving also freedom in our physical life and in our democratic societies.

Juan Carlos De Martin and Marco Ricolfi – Faculty Directors