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The Future is in Data

ICTP among academic and business partners of new data science institute


Data-driven science is opening avenues to new discoveries about our world and our universe. At ICTP, data assists the Earth System Physics section to create more precise regional climate models, or the Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics section to investigate unusual properties of matter. In the Quantitative Life Sciences section, researchers combine data with dynamic machine learning techniques in which artificial agents learn by interacting with their environments, and study the deep connections between machine learning and statistical physics.

Along with data-driven science comes the need for data experts. ICTP scientists are lecturing at local universities SISSA and the University of Trieste, which have recently launched  doctorate and master’s degree programmes.

Now, in a move that will unite research, education and business, ICTP is one of five signatories to a memorandum of understanding that lays the foundation for a Trieste institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

  Signatories to the memorandum of understanding, from left: Roberto Pinton (Uniud), Stefano Ruffo (SISSA), Alessandra Possa, Generali Group, Philippe Donnet, Generali Group, Gabriele Galateri di Genola, Generali, Vladimir Nanut (MIB), ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar, Cristiano Borean, Generali, Roberto Di Lenarda (UniTs) Photo credit: Imagoeconomica  


The signatories--which include the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA), University of Trieste, University of Udine, MIB Trieste School of Management, and the global insurance company Generali--aim to create a centre of innovation to generate world-class research and new business opportunities based on data science and artificial intelligence.

The Data Science & Artificial Intelligence Institute would also nurture new talent and foster new collaborations through joint activities such as seminars and workshops, PhD and master programmes, dissemination activities, as well as upskilling and reskilling opportunities for the employees of industrial partners.

"It is clear that data science and artificial intelligence will drive new breakthroughs at the frontiers of science, for the benefit of all humanity," said ICTP Director Atish Dabholkar, adding, "A public-private partnership can be particularly fruitful in exploring these new frontiers, and we are very glad to have Generali's strong interest and support. As highlighted in its new strategic plan, ICTP recognises the opportunities for innovation in these fields. We are pleased to be joining forces with Trieste's top research institutes, together with Generali, to encourage knowledge transfer not only among our Trieste partners but also with the worldwide ICTP community, which encompasses regions eager to overcome the digital divide for equal access to science and education."

ICTP scientist Antonio Celani's research fits well with the new Data Institute. A physicist by training, he has used his strong interest in biological systems and fluid dynamics to investigate animal behaviour, from the soaring of birds to the mating habits of moths, and how that behaviour can inform broader applications, including artificial intelligence. Currently a lecturer in the master's programme in Data Science and Scientific Computing run jointly by ICTP, SISSA and the Universities of Trieste and Udine, Celani sees the proposed Institute as a natural progression in the growth of research and education in data science and artificial intelligence in Trieste.

"This is a chance for Trieste to become one of the central places in Italy where this research is done," said Celani.          

Celani explained that once established, the Data Institute is expected to evolve into a consortium with its own legal status, and aims at becoming a new unit of the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS), joining a network of the best machine learning laboratories in Europe.

"The foundation of this Institute represents a unique opportunity for ICTP to position itself at the forefront of this rapidly expanding field, as well as an important contribution towards strengthening and innovating the "Trieste System" and consolidating data science initiatives in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region at large," said Celani.