Technology and knowledge connecting university and business
Issue 19 | Year 8 | July 2018



Festival of Economics 2018: the challenge is in the management of the transition

Versione stampabile
by Paolo Collini
Rector of the University of Trento.
Through research and developing our knowledge in different fields, the University aims to help progress, including social progress, in our world by providing tools that help us to understand and face change.

Once again this year, the Festival of Economics, now in its 13th year, allowed us to reflect on a topic of great economic impact whose effects could lead to major transformations in our society.

The Festival, promoted by the University in collaboration with the Autonomous Province of Trento and the Trento City Council, attracts people from all over Italy at the end of May and beginning of June, putting Trento for a few days at the centre of economic debate. This year academics, economic operators, opinion leaders and policy makers met to discuss the relationship between jobs and technology, to understand how major technological transformations have changed and will change professions and the organization of work, and consequently, change society.

Technological progress opens new opportunities and improves living conditions and social wellbeing, but the path is littered with difficulties and with human and social costs. Many traditional services have been substituted by digitalization and by connectivity, with benefits that are not equally distributed and that have the potential to harm many people.

When changes happen slowly, people have time to complete their careers, leaving those who come later time to prepare themselves adequately for the new world. But when change is rapid, many are caught out by it mid-career. These revolutions should be supported by welfare systems, softening the transition and helping workers who find themselves displaced by the technological revolution. The costs of these systems, however, are very high, and the social protection system, already weighed down by current obligations, has obvious difficulties in finding new funds to support them.

The benefits of the technological revolution exist and are useful because they increase productivity, making the system richer. But the benefits need to be distributed equally with robust systems of wealth redistribution. The real risk of the technological revolution is that a few gain enormous benefits from it while many are affected by a rapid loss of relevance of their professional skills or even by their jobs becoming obsolete, replaced by technology.

There are various hypotheses on how to manage this change and the Festival allowed many people to gain an understanding of the possible future scenarios. 
The Festival does not aim to give precise answers to the problem. In particular, it does not provide “quick fix” solutions that, while fashionable, often prove to be illusory and unrealistic for topics of this complexity. In the course of the Festival it emerged clearly that all this requires a strong capacity for governance and the desire to manage an evolution that is in many ways inevitable but whose effects are certainly not impossible to avoid.

It is a great challenge to which the University must also respond, with the scientific and technological research that is a given part of progress, and through the human and social science research that will provide an understanding of the economic, social, legal and ethical aspects of this change. 

The challenge of research that deals with the major problems of our society, such as the future of work, is at the centre of the Strategic Plan that the University has drawn up for 2017-2021: research that is increasingly interdisciplinary and oriented to real problems. By developing our knowledge in the various fields, this work of exploring the limits of what is known aims to help progress, including social progress, in our world by providing tools that assist us in understanding and facing change.