Gianluca Mauro: Artificial Intelligence Is Ready, People Are Not

We interviewed Gianluca Mauro, an energy engineer and artifical intelligence coach.

Gianluca Mauro - AI expert
Photo by Sofia Popov shared under CC Credit.

We interviewed Gianluca Mauro, an energy engineer and artifical intelligence coach

Modern technology has observed an immense evolution. Self-driven cars, instant translation, and cell phones that will do anything we need with a simple verbal order, are some examples of artificial intelligence (AI). We have discussed it with Gianluca Mauro, energy engineer, co-author and co-founder together with Nicolò Valigi of the AI Academy, a consulting firm of tech experts with the mission to help business leaders to “understand AI and what to do with it through trainings and coaching, and build successful AI projects with tailored consulting.”

Gianluca is a Roman, young entrepreneur and speaker, who has the ambitious plan to spread awareness about AI. Considering the many hardships of being young professionals — especially in Italy — we talked with him about the academy, the main issues in the Italian educational and professional fields, and prejudices against AI.

AI Academy

“We wish to raise awareness and motivate people to get to know more about AI,” underlines Gianluca at the beginning of our interview. “If you do not invest your time in trying to understand this subject, you are going to regret it, because it is one of those waves that will bring forward to a change in the way society works.”

AI Academy, a three-year-old company, currently focuses its efforts on two main tasks: training/coaching, and building AI projects for corporations. For being so young, AI Academy can boast a long list of powerful clients, as the leader of the diaper sector, Pampers.

Two-day workshops are organized for corporations and their employees, “to make them understand what AI is, and what you can do with it and for your particular business.” In AI Academy, consulting services are often tailored to specific corporations, as “usually three months is what it takes for businesses to truly comprehend the benefits of AI.”

AI for everyone

Gianluca Mauro (Left) and Nicolò Valigi | Photo by Alessandro Zonfrilli shared under CC Credit.

“AI Academy is now creating an online course,” explains Gianluca. “We thought about our mission and we realized that not everyone has the budget for a face-to-face interaction. Our goal is to make the course extremely cheap, or free entirely, for students.”

Many users have contacted Gianluca on Instagram. In particular, he adds, many messages of interest come from people with different professional backgrounds.

“The plan is to partially shift the focus away from bigger corporations, and translate what we usually explain and develop for our clients into an online format.”

Gianluca posted his first Instagram post as AI coach on September 25, 2019. His only 40 posts have provided him with over 1,000 followers in 6 months. The first uploaded video received over 1,000 views.

The numbers may be currently small(er) if we compare them to the “Instagram-standards”, however we are not talking about a regular channel, but one that touches a niche topic. The 21st century has opened new fields of interest, such as AI, and fortunately many want to know more about it.

“Initially, it felt awkward,” Gianluca tells us. “We had only posted once and my friends were asking me what I was doing with these videos. It feels different when it is you and the camera only. Especially considering that I am a perfectionist, so I was worried that making videos for social media would become time-consuming and stressful; instead, it has been a pleasant surprise.”

Gianluca explained that, within the last year, the academy has been shifting its business model in order to focus on the educational part. Before, he was spending more time building AI projects. “I realized that focusing so much energy, often on specific AI projects I did not believe in, was affecting the business too. Therefore, shifting on what I believed was more real to me, helped the business as well.” This is an advice he has for young professionals, especially for those who struggle with prioritizing the work that best represents their true vocation.

Education and professions in Italy

Two main reasons why Italy has a harder time progressing, according to Gianluca, are politics and mindset. “Our culture is so vast, beautiful, yet so heavy on our shoulders, so that Italians seem to forget to look forward.” He also tells us that as a young professional, it is harder to be taken seriously.

“I prefer the job market abroad, where they listen to you and allow you to present your ideas.” In Italy, Gianluca continues, CEOs wait before approaching innovative ideas, ending up wasting everyone’s time. “I see professionals of my age who learned to have a ‘in-your-face’ attitude. They know their worth and have demonstrated it as well.”

When it comes to education, Gianluca explains that Italy prepares its students extremely well on the theoretical part. “I went to study in Ghent (Belgium), as I was completing my Italian university degree, and realized that I was better prepared than my peers abroad. However, when it comes to being taught the pratical side of any field, Italy fails.”

Prejudices against AI

“People who are not part of the field think of AI as robots invading our planet in a Will Smith movie scenario or stealing jobs. However, if we have to be concerned, we should be worried about the actual algorithms used by social media that work to show you exactly, and only, what you want.”

Gianluca refers in particular to Facebook. This social network works in a way that, if you interact with particular posts, it will obscure anything else it thinks a user would not appreciate. He makes the example of liking the US President Donald Trump’s Facebook page. A user will be shown only the positive posts, since Facebook has no interest in showing us negative posts. “It holds a strong significance when it comes to fake news, politics and current social issues.”

“Social media gain money from this business model, we should not focus on stopping the tool to avoid it, rather we could shift the business model in order to get profit, while remaining fair,” Gianluca underlines. He does agree that it seems a quite impossible thing to achieve, as “even if a social network like Facebook were to go down, another one would simply take over.”

When it comes to the classic AI threat suggesting that its expansion will steal jobs, he highlights that “any technological revolution has instead demonstrated to provide more jobs”. He develops the argument that some jobs are still dangerous for many, and that AI could give support. A perfect example is a Chinese company whose employees hated their job so much they kept trying to commit suicide. AI would be able to substitute this kind of jobs.

Gianluca and Nicolò also co-wrote a book called Zero to AI , “to help non-technical people understand what AI is, what they can do with it and how they can bring it into their organization.” “It took a year to write it and we are looking forward to seeing the results.” Gianluca explains that on AI there is little substantial material around covering every possible aspect of this topic for non-experts, making his book quite unique.

AI is an ever-expanding topic and, considering the immense opportunities we have to learn (at zero costs), we should look into it, realizing that AI is closer to us on a daily basis than what we like to think. Should we not want to know more about it?

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