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Applying Cognitive Digital Twins to Professional Education – I

Next week I am going to present some thoughts at the AIAED 2019 on the increasing knowledge gap, its impact on business competitiveness at personal and company level and possible approaches to tackle it.
I am doing this as president of the Associazione EIT ICT Labs Italy that has been supporting the EIT Digital Italian Node in various areas, including professionals, companies and institutions knowledge acquisition and transfer. I like to share here some of these thoughts, that are also being addressed at the Future Direction Committee of the IEEE, looking for your comments, dissent, ideas.


A “selfie” of Leonardo da Vinci. A person like him, able to excel in maany disciplines and having a comprehensive global knowledge, would be unthinkable today. Image credit: Fulcrum Gallery

It is clearly impossible to keep up with the advance of knowledge. A novel Leonardo da Vinci is no longer possible given the breath and depth of knowledge built in these last centuries, and particularly in these last decades. Connectivity and digital processing (that used to comprise storing, access but now is evolving into analyses, correlation and creation) have created, paradoxically,  a sort of black hole of knowledge. We know that there is a huge wealth of knowledge potentially available but in practice it remains beyond reach to the single person and more and more to the individual company.

This is getting worse. In several (technical and scientific) areas the knowledge gap is widening and, in spite of the abundance of good and accessible courses, remaining up to date has become impossible. Even seeking a general awareness of what knowledge would be available is challenging.

As I am spending more and more time interacting with institutions, organisations, companies and… professionals I detect on one side a sort of frustration in those that really would like to invest in the upkeep of their knowledge and a sense of inadequacy in most of the others that translates into a loss of interest in remaining up to date. 

These latters are advancing a number of (sensible) reasons, like 

  • the business is too competitive, no time left but to focus on daily chores
  • I am missing the bases, the roots, to learn what is new
  • it is useless, by the time I have learnt the latest it will no longer be the “latest”, it is a pointless effort, a never ending story.

Several companies are -de facto- acting like they have lost the hope of staying on the leading edge of knowledge. There are plenty of examples of companies that just twenty years ago were on the leading edge of knowledge and were actually actively working in pushing the knowledge boundaries forward and that today have completely lost their knowledge having delegated that to providers. One of the big issues of several Telecommunications Operators (incumbent) that I know of is their loss of technical knowledge, For too many years they have outsourced their Information Systems, they have shifted the planning and operation to their suppliers. Now they have big troubles in steering their own future. 

It made (economic) sense to outsource activities to specialised providers. At that time those seemed menial activities but some of them have become crucial to today’s business. The problem, common to most business shifts, is that change seems to be far away, for the time being the feeling is that one could operate as in the past: we were successful in the past, actually we are still making quite good money today, why should we worry? If there is something new, there are new -small companies- focussing on novelty, pursuing tech evolution, experimenting new business models. Let them get some peanuts, if they can, whilst we continue to make the big money. Unfortunately, if it is true that most of these new companies will fail, and only a few will succeed, it is also true that they are disrupting the market decreasing its value (independently of having or not having success).

What is now becoming clear its that the knowledge gap and the “offshoring” of knowledge is hitting companies business hampering their evolution. It has become clear that knowledge is a strategic lever and one has to be very careful in delegating knowledge to someone else.

More to come.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.