7 min read
Artificial intelligence and machine learning, the professor who designs the future of IT
2020-09-28 2020-09-28 28 September 2020 - ROSALBA CATANEO
7 min read

Diego Calvanese, head of the Smart Data Factory at NOI Techpark, is going to become a Fellow of ACM, the world’s most prestigious association in the IT field: “The research we do in Bolzano has a global impact”.

He ranks first for citations on Google Scholar in the Description Logics research area, third for Verification, seventh for the Knowledge Representation sector and eighth, worldwide, for Data Management.  And as of today, Diego Calvanese, professor of the Faculty of Information Sciences and Technologies of the Free University of Bolzano and expert of NOI Techpark, is going to be a Fellow of the prestigious ACM - Association for Computing Machinery, the largest association in the world in the field of information technology. An award given to him "for his contributions to descriptive logic and their applications in data management and software engineering" because he is one of the few scientists in the world who is "redefining the digital age" with his studies.

"I am very happy with this recognition as it means that the research, we do in Bolzano has an impact on a global level". This is how the professor commented on his return from Sweden, where he will soon start working at the University of Umeå. "We computer scientists research because it is fun. But we also want to create real added value by generating systems to improve the world,” explains Calvanese. And this is exactly the purpose of ACM, an association founded in 1947 with headquarters in New York, and the aim to encourage the exchange of information and skills to promote policies and studies that benefit society. A mission espoused by 100,000 experts, including professors, scientists, technologists and engineers specialising in the advancement of information technology. "The very fact that ACM is made up of professionals, such as engineers and industrialists, makes it possible to work not only at an academic level, but at a concrete level, aiming to generate a real impact in the world", reiterates the professor.

And the impact on society is what Calvanese also pursues at NOI Techpark, South Tyrol’s innovation district, where he is responsible for the Smart Data Factory, a laboratory dedicated to technology transfer in the IT field.  Here, researchers from the IT Department of unibz, with experts from the South Tyrolean Innovation District, develop innovative solutions for the automated and intelligent acquisition, processing and analysis of complex data, then transferring them to companies.  "Many companies, observing the progress of artificial intelligence, started to take an interest in this issue. For this, we put them in direct contact with research experts. At NOI Techpark, in fact, we organise the Know How Transfer Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, or four annual events dedicated to the topic of artificial intelligence that encourage discussion between industry experts and companies, to better understand how the industry can use this technology in various sectors”, underlines Patrick Ohnewein, Digital Technologies expert at NOI Techpark, renewing the compliments to Professor Calvanese. “It is an honour for us to have one of the world's leading IT experts on our team.  It is precisely the exchange between talents of this level that qualifies our work, making us one of the most advanced poles in the field of artificial intelligence," comments Ohnewein.

In fact, AI is one of the areas that has allowed Calvanese to distinguish himself internationally, being one of the fifty-eight IT specialists appointed by ACM in 2019. Five of which are Italian, and Calvanese is the only one - alongside Elena Ferrari, of the University of Insubria - to live and do research in our country while the remaining three teach in universities in the United States. “The fact that Bolzano became part of this group only makes me happy. It shows what we are doing here matters globally, which is an incredibly good sign. Computer research in Italy is at a remarkably high level, and Italian researchers have excellent visibility at an international level", comments the professor.  

After all, the ACM Fellows are an elite group. But beware, who to ask for predictions on the future of IT and more precisely on that of Artificial Intelligence. “It is exceedingly difficult to understand what will happen. There is great expectation on AI at the moment and much progress was made in the last ten years. But in the past, we went through a phase of stagnation due to a decline in funding.  I hope it will not happen again”, reflects Calvanese. Of course, the progress made to date is there for all to see: we are talking about innovations that had a huge impact in shaping the way we live and work. Among the challenges that artificial intelligence has to tackle in near future, there are two large opposing areas for now: the "symbolic approaches", with which we try to explicitly model both knowledge and the rules of inference of an intelligent agent, and "machine learning techniques", that is, mathematical and statistical processes which have achieved great results in recent years. "The real challenge is to combine these two fields and be able to explain the choices these systems make," explains Calvanese. To date, the system can recognise one face among many in a public place but is unable to how it did it. “This is what we are working on globally, yet it is still not clear how long it will take and if any results are going to be achieved. I am optimistic, but it is difficult to make a prediction”, concludes the professor.

The new Fellows, from universities, companies and research centres in Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Switzerland and the United States, are going to be officially nominated at the annual Awards Banquet is taking place in San Francisco on June 20th in 2020. In the meantime, Calvanese has no doubts: he will continue to pursue his studies and projects, one of which, once again, is very linked to NOI Techpark. This is Ontopic, the first spin-off of unibz, of which he is co-founder and scientific consultant, and is incubated in the technology park, where it is currently developing advanced technologies for accessing and integrating data. The Ontopic team is particularly involved in the construction of a Knowledge Graph dedicated to data on tourism in South Tyrol.

 A new challenge, where talent and technology grow together.


ACM is the largest educational and scientific information technology company in the world.  Its Fellows, recognised as excellent computer minds, represent less than 1% of the association's global members.  Its president, Cherri M. Pancake, in announcing the ACM Fellows for 2019 commented: “All the technologies, directly or indirectly affecting us, are the result of countless hours of work, as well as creative inspiration and, sometimes, of conscious risk-taking.  In highlighting the achievements of the ACM Fellows, we hope to give credit where it is due, but also to educate the public on the extraordinary variety of areas in which IT professionals work.”

Diego Calvanese, professor of unibz, oversees the Smart Data Factory laboratory which is based at NOI Techpark. Its purpose is to foster technology transfer from academia to industry through the implementation and adaptation of research results.  IT experts offer support to companies and organisations interested in analysing and testing existing software to improve its quality and adapt it to current scenarios. For example, they carry out the architectural analysis of the software to prepare its migration to the cloud, the evaluation of the development process and they help the partner to design user-needs-centred software. The service also includes scientific support for customers interested in designing and prototyping intelligent systems.  This includes, for example, recommendation systems, decision support systems and systems based on space-time data.