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Empowering Change: Highlights from the Second International SoBigData Summer School

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The second Summer School of the SoBigDataPPP project, held from June 16-22 at the wonderful Poggio all'Agnello Resort in Baratti, Tuscany, was an incredible success. Amid the stunning landscapes, the School brought together researchers and leading experts to delve into the theme "Empowering Data for Social Good." As a partner of SoBigDataPPP, OpenAIRE AMKE, actively participated in the Summer School to enhance Open Science practices.

The Event

The Summer School consisted of a fantastic cross-disciplinary cohort of more than thirty PhD students, ten speakers, four tutors and four keynote speakers. For five days we were privileged enough to participate in discussions all about data for social good and worked in a collaborative manner. The Summer School's focus areas included Data Governance, Trustworthy AI, Sustainability, and Digital Health, which sparked deep discussions and fostered new collaborations. The keynote sessions were particularly enlightening, featuring leaders in data science and social impact who shared their insights on leveraging data for societal benefits. 

Roberto Trasarti, Coordinator of SoBigDataPPP, and researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, kicked off the event by introducing the SoBigDataPPP project and discussing their efforts to empower data for social good.

As a Research Project Management and Open Infrastructure Specialist at OpenAIRE, I presented on Open Science practices throughout the research lifecycle. My talk focused on ensuring transparency and community governance while showcasing OpenAIRE's services and demonstrating how they align with these principles.

Giovanni Comandè, Professor of Private Comparative Law at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, elucidated on the Data Governance Act (DGA). He highlighted how DGA enhances data availability and responsible use by enabling the reuse of data, fostering trust in data-sharing services, and promoting data altruism. This framework cultivates a reliable data-sharing environment, supporting initiatives that leverage data for social good. Along the same lines, Mark Coté, Reader in Data and Society at Kings College London, expanded on the concept of Data Altruism. He explained how the DGA facilitates organizations in sharing data for public benefit under specific conditions, promoting trust and ethical practices. By contrasting Big Tech's control with the innovative potential of collective data initiatives, Coté demonstrated how the DGA supports advanced data science projects, such as patient-led open-source healthcare initiatives. This promotes healthcare equity and drives positive societal impacts through transparency and cooperation. 

Together, these presentations underscored the transformative potential of robust data governance, Open Science, and data altruism in driving social good.
Mark Coté discusses the potential of Data Altruism.


Accountability and Ethics in AI Development

The keynote of Richard Rogers, Professor at New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam, emphasized algorithmic auditing and discussed methods to ensure AI systems operate transparently and fairly. Rogers covered methods to study search engines and social media platforms, including self-dealing, personalization and shadow banning. Salvatore Ruggeri, Professor at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Pisa, gave a presentation on "Bias in AI" where he addressed various types of biases that can affect AI systems. He discusses how historical, representational, and measurement biases in data sources can impact AI outcomes. Ruggeri emphasized that human biases can be learned by AI models, highlighting examples like gender stereotypes in occupational roles. He also explored systemic and individual biases and their influence on AI decision-making processes. Moreover, Roberto Pellungrini Researcher at Scuola Normale Superiore discussed Trustworthy AI. He focused on the importance of transparency and accountability in AI systems to build trust and ensure the ethical use of AI technologies, introducing Explainable AI. All three talks underscored the need for identifying, managing, and mitigating biases to ensure fair, transparent and ethical AI applications.

Leveraging AI for Environmental Sustainability

Experts showcased the vital role of AI in promoting environmental sustainability. Alexandre Barth, Associate Professor at the Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography - University of Liege discussed using multivariate convolutional neural networks to accurately reconstruct missing satellite data, which is essential for environmental monitoring. Angelo Facchini, Assistant Professor at the NETWORKS Research Unit of IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, highlighted the strategic planning of renewables and CO2 network analysis to reduce emissions.Franko Cicirelli, from the University of Calabria, wrapped up this session with a focus on green sustainability, introducing the concept of Cognitive Building, and integrating AI techniques and sustainable practices. These presentations collectively underscored AI's transformative potential in achieving sustainability goals.

Ethical Considerations in Developing and Using Female-oriented Technologies

In this session, speakers shed light on the critical issues of cybersecurity, privacy, trust, and bias in female-oriented data and technologies (FemTech). The keynote speech from Maryam Mehrnezhad, Associate Professor in Information Security at Royal Holloway, University of London, was on "Cybersecurity, Privacy, Trust, and Bias in Female-oriented Data and Technologies". Mehrnezhad explored the complexities and challenges in securing digital health and FemTech. She covered various research projects on digital health technologies, including those related to women's reproductive health, like menopause and menstruation tracking apps. 

Maryam Mehrnezhad discusses all about FemTech.


Jennifer Pybus, Assistant Professor Canada Research Chair in Data, Democracy and AI at York University, delivered an insightful presentation on "Tracking Women's Health: A Method for Auditing Menopause App Infrastructures." She examined the current state of menopause apps, highlighting the critical need for rigorous auditing to ensure these platforms are secure, private, and trustworthy. Pybus emphasized the necessity of better regulation of data practices within these apps to protect user information and maintain transparency. Both talks underscored the importance of robust data governance in FemTech, emphasizing the need to address privacy, trust, and bias issues to ensure these technologies are secure and equitable. They advocated for enhanced oversight to safeguard women's health data and promote trust in these critical infrastructures.

The contribution of OpenAIRE

OpenAIRE's contributions to the Summer School were integral in promoting Open Science practices and supporting the project's goals of empowering data for social good. Beyond the formal presentation, I actively participated in discussions and collaborative activities, enriching the dialogue on data governance, trustworthy AI, and sustainability. There was an emphasis on transparency, community governance, and responsible data sharing, all of which align with SoBigDataPPP's objectives. This emphasis reinforces the transformative potential of robust data governance and interdisciplinary collaboration as driving forces for societal benefits. OpenAIRE's presence and active involvement highlighted the value of open, collaborative research environments and interdisciplinary efforts in addressing complex societal challenges. These contributions reinforced the necessity of Open Science in driving social good, ensuring that data-driven initiatives are conducted transparently and ethically. The Summer School was a testament to the power of collaboration and the importance of leveraging data for positive social impact.

Social Programs in the Tuscan Landscape

The Summer School was enriched with two exceptional social programs, deepening our connection to Tuscan culture and providing excellent networking opportunities among students, experts, tutors, and university professors. Our first highlight was a visit to the Petra winery, nestled in the stunning Tuscan landscape. We enjoyed an English-guided tour of the winery, designed by the award-winning architect Mario Botta. The tour concluded with a delightful wine tasting and a standing dinner, perfectly blending local flavors and fostering strong connections.

The second excursion took us to the Acropolis of Populonia, where we explored its Roman temples, buildings, mosaics, and roads, along with the ruins of the first Etruscan settlement. The ancient walls and breathtaking views of the Gulf of Baratti added to the richness of the experience.

The stunning premises of the Petra Winery.
Part of the Roman Villa at the Acropolis of Populonia.

This combination of intellectual stimulation, practical experience, and cultural immersion made the SoBigData Summer School a truly fantastic experience, highlighting surely the transformative power of data when used for social good!

A heartfelt thank you to the organizers!

Grazie mille, Michela, Marco, Vallerio, Roberto and Daniele! A presto

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