Nexa Center Annual Report 2021

Presented in 2021 during the Board of Trustees meeting of the Nexa Center


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.

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