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22 May, 2024

Italy's AI tsar: An 85-year-old who might struggle to google AI

Political confusion and eye-rolling over unconventional AI appointment

Source: The Telegraph

A decision to appoint an 85-year-old as Italy’s artificial intelligence (AI) tsar has caused bafflement and stoked political tensions within the ruling coalition.

Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister and head of the constitutional court with no apparent IT expertise, will lead a new commission to assess the risks posed by the technology.

As Italy confronts the brave new world of artificial intelligence, critics suggested that Mr Amato might struggle to Google AI, let alone understand the fast-moving challenges of algorithms, machine learning and ChatGPT.

The choice of Mr. Amato was unfavorably compared with his equivalent in Britain – 41-year-old Ian Hogarth, a Cambridge-educated computer science expert and tech entrepreneur who founded several start-ups and made a fortune investing in AI companies.

A leading authority on AI, Mr Hogarth was in June appointed the head of a £100 million taskforce looking into the risks surrounding AI, with Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, pledging to make the UK a global leader in AI regulation.

Mr Amato's UK equivalent is 41-year-old Ian Hogarth - John Phillips/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion
An opposition MP described Mr Amato as a “dinosaur” who should not have been selected for the job.

“Under this government, we are becoming a country that is unable to take into consideration our young people, a dinosaur-ocracy stuck in an outdated and conservative vision,” said Emma Pavanelli, an MP with the Five Star Movement.

The appointment was “absurd”, especially in comparison to the British decision to appoint an expert with bona fide credentials such as Mr. Hogarth, she said.

“London chooses Ian, aged 38, while Rome chooses Amato, aged 85,” was the headline in La Stampa newspaper, which misquoted Mr Hogarth’s age.

“Does he know what an algorithm is or will he be able to look it up on Google?” the newspaper asked of Mr Amato. “Why not appoint a young person, there are plenty who are capable. That’s easy to answer – because in Italy we suffer from Albus Dumbledore syndrome, as in the great rector of Hogwarts.

“When things are going badly, or we just don’t understand them, we prefer to resort to an old wise man.”

The reaction on social media was equally scathing.

“Eighty-five-year-old Amato probably doesn’t know how to send a screenshot on his mobile,” one Italian said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Another wrote: “With all the people we have who are under 30 or 40, we appoint him to study the impact of AI?”

Meloni ‘irritated’ by decision

Born in 1938, Mr Amato served as prime minister of Italy twice, first from 1992 to 1993 and then from 2000 to 2001.

His appointment has reportedly “irritated” Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister, who was not informed of the decision.

The Meloni government blocked ChatGPT in March amid concerns about how the site processes and saves user data.

But the decision was later reversed, with the country’s data protection authority saying that ChatGPT had been reinstated with “enhanced transparency and rights” for users.

Mr Amato was put forward by a junior minister who belongs to Forza Italia, the centre-right party of the late Silvio Berlusconi which is one of three parties that make up the governing coalition.

Relations between Forza Italia and Ms Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, are already strained over a scandal last week in which audio and video were leaked of the prime minister’s partner Andrea Giambruno making sexual remarks, including suggesting a threesome, to female journalists at the television channel where he works as a presenter.

The channel is run by Mediaset, a company that was set up by Mr Berlusconi and is now managed by his heirs. There were suggestions – which have not been substantiated – that the clips were leaked as part of an attempt by Forza Italia to weaken the prime minister’s position within the three-party coalition.

Within hours of the recordings being made public, Ms Meloni broke up with Mr Giambruno, the father of her seven-year-old daughter.

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