Work, innovation and new policies for the city

Continue the work of “Connections – Paths of political formation”, in the headquarters of La Civiltà Cattolica : in the second meeting, Saturday 24 February, there was talk of work, innovation and new policies for the city with Paolo Benanti , Franciscan, professor of theology moral at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Marco Bentivogli , general secretary of the Italian Metalworking Federation (FIM CISL).

At the opening, p. Francesco Occhetta led a reflection on the profound meaning of “giving” : the poor widow of whom the Gospel of Mark tells us (12, 38-44) questions the ability to give herself totally and reminds us that also what seems of little importance, in front of God can have importance. Holiness is to start from the small, authentic gestures which, after getting out of our poverty, become fundamental in order to be a fertile seed in society.

Paolo Benanti has dealt with the theme “city” declining it in the direction of digital innovation and of the necessity of a policy that transforms innovation into human development , meaning by politics the attention to the common good and not only the answer of practical solutions to some instances. Benanti presented in two stages the possible scenarios and future challenges, which can be considered the key questions to be answered.

By “scenario” we mean an instrument that allows us to look at possibilities that are not said to happen. It is good to keep in mind that the scenarios are not predictions or prophecies, nor simulations, but they are possible realities, which serve to develop an imaginative thought, providing solutions and tools for analysis. They combine theory and narration rigorously and pre-evoke a thought that can accompany political management.

What could these scenarios be? How digital innovation could change, for example, the medical sector?

With machine learning , all data collected by the health system can predict patient outcomes ; some projects propose a continuous recording of our vital parameters and this allows the machine to have a strong prediction of what could be our health condition; one scenario involves fewer medical personnel who will take care of the cases indicated by the machine, this means that the doctor will be guided through a machine learning process, towards that patient who is more likely to live. This puts in front of the fact that the resources are not enough for everyone, that health data are considered a very interesting resource, and raises the question of how and how it is legitimate that a machine decides who lives and who dies, or a condition that it is not always a technical answer on the condition of the patient.

Another scenario concerns the pervasiveness of digital vision systems . Today, our cities are full of cameras that analyze data flows. One of the challenges is certainly privacy: some digital systems are able to identify even the emotional state of a person; who is, however, the owner of this biometric data?

Another scenario is the military one, in particular the control of autonomous weapons . There are drones capable of selective elimination of people and could be used in cities. This raises many questions concerning national security and public defense. Whenever we upload content on social media, we apply “digital tattoos” to ourselves that allow us to profile ourselves, that is, to be framed and labeled within a certain category. Based on this, the marketing of big brands is set up, creating interactions between us and these companies.

Finally, the scenario that takes the name of social credit , already in force in China, where all people have a four-digit number, according to their social skills to fall into a certain category. The State gives more or less access to a job or a visa according to the category in which it re-enters: it gives a model of behavior and, as in a gold rush, it leads people to approve themselves.

The security of data and information of some social data can be used for malicious intent, such as an identity theft . In complex systems, this can also cause survival problems. The data represent a very important resource of digital information and on this issue many of the political scenarios will be decided.

What, then, are the challenges?

The “know yourself” of Socrates is no longer referred to a path of spiritual research, but rather to know what data my person produces. What value, therefore, do the data have? And the dignity of the individual is reduced to the question of data? Who is the owner of the data? Where does my individual property of data end and where does that of the other begin?

Benanti cites the example of the Strava case and how, sometimes, even the lack of data can communicate information. In fact, this fitness app allows you to map the most popular places by those who play sports and these places. In areas like Afghanistan, the app, which is used only by US soldiers, provides information on places that coincide with US military bases.

The ur future is not to be avoided but to be built : we must put ourselves faced with the fact that uncontrolled technology, by itself, is not a source of good.

Another issue is profiling . Does the profiling algorithm encourage a certain behavior or simply predicts it? If we understand this limitation, it is also possible to understand the political and social management of this mechanism.