ART, SCIENCE, THEATRE, MUSIC AND MEDICAL DISCLOSURE… ON THE OCCASION OF THE FESTIVAL DEI 2MONDI OF SPOLETO, MARIA TERESA VENTURINI FENDI TOLD US ABOUT THE CHARMING AND SCARY WORLD OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Interview by: Silvia Motta
Editing and translation by: Fiammetta Cesana

Mark 1 Perceptron_Ecce Robot by Gabriele Gianni_Fondazione Carla Fendi in Spoleto

After welcoming the Nobel laureate Peter Higgs and François Englert, the CERN’s director Fabiola Gianotti and Lucy Hawking last year, the Carla Fendi Foundation reaffirms its strong commitment to science and advanced technology by hosting this June 30th “Ecce Robot”, a narration upon the privileges and risks of AI, at Teatro Caio Melissa Spazio Carla Fendi. The performance blends a series of videos, lectures and meetings, bringing on stage big names, from Jaron Lanier, Silicon Valley guru, scientist, bestseller author, musician and artist, to the actresses Valeria Golino and Valentina Cervi who, directed by Quirino Conti, read the story “Robot Dreams” by Isaac Asimov. 

Jaron Lanier_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Jaron Lanier_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Valeria Golino_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Valentina Cervi_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Quirino Conti_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
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“Ecce Robot”, investigating AI applications, from smartphones, domotics, to music and art created by algorithms, till medical support, concluded with the projections of the videos by Nigel Stanford and Gabriele Gianni, revealing, respectively, the relationship between robots and musical instruments, and their dialogue with humans.

Short documentary by Gabriele Gianni_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Robot Dreams_directed by Quirino Conti_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Music video performance by Nigel Stanford_Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
Ecce Robot_Festival dei 2Mondi_Carla Fendi Foundation_2019
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Then, the Festival continues with two leading women of the Italian Soft Robotics, Cecilia Laschi and Barbara Mazzolai, accounted among the 25 most brilliant scientists of RobHub association, that have been awarded with the Carla Fendi prize. The ceremony has been conducted by the director of National Geographic, Marco Cattaneo and anticipated by Giorgio Metta, vice director of the Italian Institution of Technology of Genova and father of ICub humanoid robot. Laschi and Mazzolai received a contribution of 30,000 euros to invest in their institutions’s research in the pursuit of robotic developments.

Cecilia Laschi (Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna Educational Institute, Pisa, Italy one of the Project Octopus scientists. The life-like Octobot can sense, squeeze and grab objects - just like a real octopus the robot's abilities mean it could be used to repair underwater structures like oil pipelines - or even perform marine search and rescue. Studio portrait with Octobot against black background.
Barbara Mazzolai_Berlin2018_Fondazione Carla Fendi in Spoleto
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And finally the visitor became actual protagonist by being digitally decoded through the installation “Neural Mirror”, presented at the former Church of Manna d’Oro. Bringing Artificial Intelligence to the art field, it elaborates the person’s image real-time and transforms it into a virtual alter ego by reading gender, demographical references and emotional conditions. 

Neural Mirror_Cristina Vatielli_Fondazione Carla Fendi in Spoleto
Neural Mirror_Cristina Vatielli_Fondazione Carla Fendi in Spoleto
Neural Mirror_Cristina Vatielli_Fondazione Carla Fendi in Spoleto
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The Foundation’s president, Maria Teresa Venturini Fendi, so passionate and enthusiastic about this evolution of our world, gave us new prospectives over Artificial Intelligence and educated robots…

A year after, we finally re-met for another memorable event of scientific excellences, how do you feel about this new achievement?

MTVF: I’m so glad. Especially because this year the Carla Fendi prize was given to two brilliant women, and I am really proud of that. They come from two different institutions, both internationally renewed and with a wide network – and this is really important, because from one discovery rises another one, so they need to be connected with the US, first of all, in real-time. 

They work also a lot on the relationship between robots and nature, plants especially. 

MTVF: Yes! Barbara Mazzolai has developed robots inspired by nature to build the first plantoid robot simulating plant’s roots.

This is amazing! And then there are other very important guests of Italian and international robotics…

MTVF: I am really happy to host Giorgio Metta, which is one of the most important people in the Italian Robotic panorama, and of course Jaron Lanier. He will tell us about the beginnings of Robotics from the Silicon Valley, and about what was born from it, the Artificial Intelligence, the computers with Steve Jobs. These genius were really ideological by that time, they thought to change the world and to democratize it by making knowledge accessible to anyone. 

This is actually a field that grew exponentially in a very short time, and without well-defined  rules. 

MTVF: Indeed. But now they are moving towards this fundamental change. Supported by America universities, researchers, philosophers, and by the EU community as well, they are pledged to establish the rules. But one thing needs to be clear: we won’t have privacy anymore. We need to know that, and it will positive for our safety for sure, but it could be harmful too. Any revolution brings to both good and bad effects. This one in particular will radically transform our and next generations’ way of thinking. There will be the Before AI and the After AI. 

Fascinating and scary. And also very philosophical! Though today we are always more projected to materialism rather than theoretical matters. So it’s great to see how you instead are enhancing the profound reality out of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. 

MTVF: Yes, absolutely. In fact it will be interesting to see how spirituality is going to engage with our life, because it could never be neglected, it’s intrinsic to human being. Who knows how it will be? Then, through the scientific subject of AI and the deep learning, which is one of the humanoid robot, we are trying to find a guiding thread also with music, art and theatre. Valeria Golino and Valentina Cervi indeed will interact with a humanoid robot by reading an amazing piece of the scientist and author of 50s fictions, Isaac Asimov. This is very impactful, paving the way straight to philosophical and ethical issues. 

It’s also nice to see that also Italy is greatly approaching this world. 

MTVF: I got so impressed by the work of Giorgio Metta. He is a really young man, we studied in America and then moved back to Italy. He is the father of ICub, and when I saw it I could hardly believe my eyes. The humanoid robot has been created since it was two, it has been educated and raised up, and now it has the size of a 7-year-old child, and they were teaching it how to play with toys, having prehensile functions indeed. It’s incredible, and it was so cute as well! Let’s think that in years elder people, lone ones, they could have a companion… I would never say something like this before, but now I believe that there will be ways, emphatic ways, to make people relate with robots. We are just at the beginning and it will be a long process.

You made the Festival dei 2Mondi a real celebration of the two worlds of today. Because the other side of science is creativity: many times a discovery comes just from an intuition, from something distant from pure mathematical structures.  

MTVF: So true. And for me it’s very fun. This festival gives me the opportunity to meet incredible people and discover a world that was completely unknown to me, except form Kubrick’s movies. I am so curious about this evolution! Science is yes rigorous and mathematical, but is also has a wonderful humanistic and creative dimension. 

Festival dei 2Mondi 2019
Carla Fendi Foundation
Spoleto, Umbria, Italy
June 30