We are living the fourth industrial revolution, or the second machine age, when robots and bots will enter into our world and probably support (or replace?) us in performing activities that until few years ago were considered only pertaining to human beings, such us driving cars, investing our money, cleaning the house or taking care of our elderly relatives.
Technology is not only changing the way we produce goods and offer services but also the way we communicate and interact, and ultimately intelligent machines will take decisions in our place whilst driving a car or supporting us in financial investments. The impact of the new technological paradigm will change consolidated business such as automotive production and mobility.
Some of the most promising enabling technologies of the fourth industrial revolution will be robotics, artificial intelligence, cloud, biotechnologies, gene editing, bionics, nanotechnologies. In recent years, we have assisted with the development of collaborative robotics, whereby robots are coming closer and closer to humans, in order to not only support their work but also their social activities. We are expecting that in the near future robots will enter in our society, in our houses providing us entertainment and assistance and these ‘social robots’ will act in symbiosis with humans to share objectives and actions. Robotics and technologies will be integrated with bionics and bioengineering, thus entering in our body, and the boundary between natural and artificial system will be continuously explored.
We already know that robotics and artificial intelligence will not only address problems of health care and individual personalized medicine, but will also have impact on our day-to-day lives. Similar to what happened in previous industrial revolutions, new enabling technologies will change not only the production of goods and services, but also the structure of the society, and ultimately will displace or change the number and quality of jobs.
In parallel we are living in a society characterized by ‘global challenges’ for governments that require special collaborative and cross-disciplinary efforts from science together with technology in order to face climate change, migration, food and water shortage, social inequalities, energy production, urbanization antimicrobial resistance and similar plagues. These so called ‘mega trends’ are demanding urgent international collaboration among scientists, who must be engaged in order to develop appropriate solutions with creativity and an anti-disciplinary attitude.
For the European Union, it is fundamental to address the urgent issue of reforming the higher education system in the scenario of the fourth industrial revolution. The risk is to miss the opportunity to become a digital single market where innovation and creativity make the European Union at the forefront of the industrial renaissance. This is the expectation for science: to solve problems and save the world. The world in which our younger generations are growing up is complex and in transformation. We have the responsibility of changing the higher education system in order to take into account the new context in which we live, and the competences and skills that will be required in future society. Unfortunately, the school and university systems are based on paradigms still belonging to the last century, so we must reform them in order to prepare future generations to be creative actors in society.
There is a strong demand for new skills and new competences for the future generations to face this transformation that is revolutionizing our society. To become more competitive and prepare our generation, we must be able to integrate the regional and local education system into a European Research and Education Areas where we must support brain mobility, cultural exchange, innovation and lifelong education. We have also to include our social state and welfare state in the scenario of reforms, because we need a more sustainable development, where we can be innovative but also inclusive fighting inequalities at all levels.
We observe that some parts of the world, the reaction of people is to demand more walls, and boundaries are becoming more and more difficult to be crossed. Is this the solution to overcoming global challenges? How can we engage the public in understanding the impact of the transformation and trust in the future?
Education, lifelong learning and outreach are crucial in this picture. We must address these questions in preparing the reform for our Higher Education system, in order to fulfill its mission in the future and prepare future generation.
Maria Chiara Carrozza is an Italian Scientist and Member of the National Parliament, Chamber of Deputies, Foreign and European Affairs Committee. From 2007 to 2013 she served as Rector of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and in 2013, she was elected Member of the Italian Parliament. From 2013 to 2014 she served as Italian Minister for Education and Research. Maria currently coordinates the NeuroRobotics Area in The Biorobotics Institute at Scuola Superiore Sant’Ann and since 2016, is the President of the Italian National Group of Bioengineering. Currently, she is member of the Italian Task Force in Artificial Intelligence of AGID (Italian Digital Agency) and Chair of the Panel for the interim Evaluation of FET Flagships Program for the European Commission, DG Communication Networks, Content and Technology. She is member of the High Level Steering Committee of the FET Flagship in Quantum Technologies. She is partner of the IUVO, a start-up in wearable robotics, the spin-off of The Biorobotics Institute, and serves in the Board of Directors of the Piaggio Spa group.