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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.

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  1. Communication between professionals and semi-professional workers and/or technicians is the feedback referred to as “quality control circles. Proposal writers who get contracts to produce products unfortunately are not the same professionals that must deliver reliable products. The CEOs in headquarters claim to take responsibility for entire projects but they are often unaware of production problems and environmental problems that show up in initial simulated system tests and get recognized by production line testers. The feedback must be responded to quickly but it often is ignored. Design changes must be made to hardware and/or software0.(“A stich in time saves nine” as Ben Franklin’s proverb states)…The end user…or in the case of aircraft the test pilot may be too late to whistle blow on a unreliable design that is too expensive to initially fix.. The public does not understand the entire sub systems are designed produced by subcontractors who are closely coordinated by airframe designers. Communication, instrumentation, navigation etc. black boxes and cockpit displays have often been the work of sub-contractors. I don’t knw if it the same as it was when I worked for Collins Rockwell 40 years ago but Boeing aircrafts deepened on Collins to deliver most of the avionics-electronic systems. Now Collin Rockwell has been bought by United Aircraft. I don’t know if it remains a primary supplier to Boeing. Collins used to be the major supplier, attempting to manufacture all the sub systems com-nav hardware. Technically things have changed with the development of GPS and smart black boxes driven and coordinated central computers. I fear that the “knowledge gap” can become gaps in quality control circles. Some CEOs fear that engineers will continue to improve designs forever if not limited. Statistical risks must be taken in order to meet deadlines. Component such as sensors, integrated circuits, microswitches, can not be relied upon to be individually responsible to operate without redundant Humans have to learn what they need to learn. It will never be easy to make twin logical software to emulate human brains. Pilot quick manual response to failures can not be assumed. Too much is automatically controlled. The space programs have earned merit because system design has been coordinated by very tight technical management Cognitive engineers must al follow their specialties to the end product. Unfortunately this can only be accomplished when all humans continue to work well together and are educated well enough to fully understand their role in the producing of the entire product. They used to call the automatic pilots…”George” and say “Let George do it.” Do how much of what? keep aircraft neutrally stable.. Keep aircrafts on scheduled courses. We will soon be dealing with automobiles that drive themselves. Can we safely and economically let George drive them? Will we be released from “driver error” ? Can we close the gap between men and digital machines? Who knows who may be the most responsible for a crash? The Primary academic education of human engineers is now ambiguous. How much needs to be remembered? How much is in hard drive files.? How much is backed up in a cloud? What is remaining task for the nut behind the wheel, the foot pedal, the joy stick or the mouse?…Or the antenna or bus cable?

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