I propose a challenge: try to list all the books and movies that, in recent years, have told us stories to avoid sleeping acclimated in technological dystopias. It is clear that it would not be such a recurring theme if, in many cases, they were not getting closer and closer to being fulfilled. Recently, China has implemented a system of rating whereby a series of algorithms decide if you can buy a house or if your children can go to university. And do not go so far to see other examples: in more and more countries they can take you out of a selection process only because of what your digital identity says about you.
The European Commission takes these concerns seriously into account, to which the person in charge of its digital department, Roberto Viola (Rome, 1960), puts it: "We have to avoid becoming a society like that of Minority Report. Our job is to prevent us from crossing that barrier. "
The Italian receives us at the offices of the institution in Madrid taking advantage of his visit to the capital. Start by advocating local technology without forgetting that there are certain areas where there is still a lot of work to be done. "If you look at the electronics or robotics industry, Europe has achieved some excellence. In addition, we are in a dominant position when it comes to open infrastructures, "he argues.
The trend towards the adoption of an open data policy, an aspect that leads Spain within the Union second only to Ireland, it makes sense in a connected world like ours, where algorithms feed on information and, thanks to them, many companies can offer services that improve the lives of citizens. With this reflection in mind, the Commission presented a new directive in this line in April that modernizes the current one in three fundamental aspects: it expands the obligation to provide open data to all the sectors that work with the Member States, delves into the need for them to be dynamic -That are updated and provide information in real time- and delves into its public character. "This information belongs to people and can not be hidden in private agreements between public administrations and third parties with which they deal," he remarks.
Viola argues that, in order for Europe to be competitive, it is necessary for it to develop the best technology and for talent to be generated and maintained on the continent. And he considers that he can do a good job in artificial intelligence and blockchain. This strategic commitment is based on the diversity of areas that will end up affecting both technologies.
As regards the block chain, the Commission has created an Observatory to gather the most interesting experiences and use cases and has encouraged an initiative for Member States to work on a public infrastructure based on this technology. "Our idea is to promote an ecosystem that guarantees trusted networks for public administration, health or energy applications," he explains. "We want all interested parties to work together in the development of trust standards for blockchain"
One of the most attractive applications that this technology has in the Administration is its use to vote in electoral processes, but perhaps it is one of the most delicate areas. "We need all the possible monitoring to control some electoral processes. You have to see if the data is well coded and this still needs more development, "says Viola. "I think we will see elections with blockchain, but when we are able to offer adequate security ".
On the other hand, the path to follow in relation to artificial intelligence is more drawn: the first step is to decide how we will use it. "This technology can improve our healthcare systems or simplify our work, but we need to do it right from the start", Clarifies. In the first place, it highlights the importance that its entry into our lives occurs in the most transparent way possible: a patient will have to be able to decide if he prefers that his diagnosis be made by a doctor based on his professional criteria, that algorithms help or that it is a machine that is in charge of interpreting its symptoms. "Whoever decides this last option has to be able to trust the system because it has been explained how it works, just as when you go by plane you do not worry because the autopilot is on," he compares.
To be able to trust this technology, it is convenient to worry about its ethical implications and put limits on its behavior. One of the main risk factors is the bias of the data. "If an artificial intelligence for fintech it is fed with data from banking conferences in which practically all the speakers are men, will have a male perspective of the sector" Viola's solution is simple: invest resources and money in cleaning up the data to end that bias. "Our society has not yet achieved the equality to which it aspires in many ways. If we give this impulse to the algorithms, we can help things to be different in the future. "
One of the wars fought hardest by the technological section of the European organism has to do with the adoption of the digital single market. And everything indicates that they will soon win an important battle. On December 3 will come into force a series of measures that seek to end the unjustified geoblocking eliminating cross-border barriers in online shopping, facilitating deliveries and protecting buyers' rights. "Today, customers can buy the same product or service at different prices depending on the country from which they pay, since many e-commerce they redirect them through the web of their local version, "explains Viola. "From now on, when you rent a car on a European website, you will do so on the original page of that website, with the same conditions as in the rest of the member countries"
Technology can improve our healthcare systems or simplify our work, but we need to do it right from the start
But Europe has other ghosts: the continent supplies 5% of the resources of supercomputers on a global scale and, nevertheless, consumes a third of it. The Commission has set a budget of 3,500 million, which, added to the nearly 500 that the member countries have pledged to contribute, constitutes an important amount with which to alleviate this deficit. With this money, it is intended to improve existing facilities and build new centers for supercomputers. "If there is a field in which we must advance, it is this and we have to do it quickly," he urges. "And, maybe in ten years, we'll be focused on hybrid computers to work with quantum computers. The quantum technology will be one of the great changes that we will see soon and it will suppose a whole revolution; will be able to solve problems that today seem unsolvable. "
Nor can we ignore the challenge in education: in the coming years, nine out of ten jobs will require digital skills and, according to the Commission, 44% of Europeans do not have the basic ones. "In Spain, Italy and other southern European countries there is a contradictory phenomenon: there are many digital vacancies and too many young people without work. And the reason is that there is a huge difference between what the industry needs and what people learn in school", Regrets the Italian.
Encouraging cooperation among universities, entrepreneurs and governments is one of the first ways to tackle the problem, but the problem goes beyond higher education. "Spain occupies a good position in terms of technological graduates, but it is not enough to be at the forefront of university education: the change has to start from below, from professional training and from people who are already working," he concludes.