People Computing Sciences

Algorithms Will Not Take Over the World

, by Andrea Costa
Luca Trevisan, Fondazione Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi Chair in Computer Science, will dispel some widely held concerns about what machines can and cannot do in his Lectio Inauguralis

The safety and privacy of our data and the security of cryptographic applications are guaranteed not by the power of algorithms, but by their inability to solve certain mathematical problems, Luca Trevisan, Director of Bocconi's Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence, will explain today at the Lectio Inauguralis of his Fondazione Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi Chair in Computer Science. The Lectio Inauguralis, bookended by an address of Rector Francesco Billari and closing remarks by Bocconi President Andrea Sironi, will also feature a speech by Salil Vadhan (Harvard University).

"In recent years we have invested in research in artificial intelligence and computer science by opening a new Department and new training programs: from Bachelor's degrees to PhDs," explains Rector Billari. "It is an essential investment for a university that wants to continue to be at the frontier in the field of social sciences and management. And it is an investment made possible thanks to the proximity of far-sighted donors such as the Romeo and Enrica Invernizzi Foundation, which has chosen to support, through this chair, long-term research on the design and limits of algorithms."

The main idea behind Luca Trevisan's lecture is that, contrary to popular belief, algorithms cannot and will never be able to do everything. Algorithms, it is worth repeating, are the "recipes" that tell computers how to solve problems. Over time, computer scientists have invented and continue to invent faster and more efficient algorithms, and it is these ever more efficient algorithms, together with the development of more powerful computers, that are the building blocks of the digital revolution we are all witnessing.

But, as Trevisan himself points out, "There are limits to what algorithms can do, and this is actually a very good thing. It is very important to be aware that algorithms that can do certain very specific things do not exist. In this way, the study of the limitations of algorithms, which is one of my interests, relates very much to the safety of the digital infrastructure on which we rely every day."

Salil Vadhan, whose speech will cover "The Foundations of Computer Security and Privacy", is the Vicky Joseph Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics in the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Director of the Harvard Center for Research on Computation and Society. His research areas include computational complexity, cryptography, randomness in computation, and data privacy.

The Fondazione Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi Chair in Computer Science supports long-term research on algorithm design, on the study of the limits of algorithms, and on interactions between research on algorithms and pure mathematics. More specifically, it plans to support research opportunities for young students in Bocconi, in the University's PhD programs and in the new Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence.

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