Italy’s AI Strategy for 2024-2026: The Key Points

by Giacomo Lusardi and Alessandra Faranda

The government’s vision of AI: a strategy and a bill

In the past few days, an executive summary prepared by AgiD (Agenzia per l’Italia Digitale) and the Department for Digital Transformation was made available on the web. It summarizes the vision and architecture of Italy’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy for the next three years through four main pillars: scientific research, public administration, business, and training.

The document helps understand the Italian government’s vision of AI and contextualizes the domestic AI bill expected to be presented shortly. The AI bill aims to supplement the European Regulation on Artificial Intelligence (AI Act), soon to come into force, in several specific sectors.

The strategy’s objectives

AI is rapidly becoming a driving force in shaping the future of our society. To follow the wave of the ongoing technological revolution, Italy has developed an ambitious strategy for 2024-2026, aiming to guide the country toward a leadership position in the global AI landscape.

The strategy’s main objective is to fully exploit AI’s transformative potential to improve citizens’ lives and promote the country’s economic and social growth in synergy with the European Union and the international community. In other words, it aims to build an ecosystem where AI is at the service of people, fostering ethical principles and social responsibility and safeguarding key factors such as privacy, security, gender issues, and environmental sustainability.

Pillars and key actions

The strategy highlights the importance of scientific research in improving the quality of life and the social environment. The actions proposed in this regard include the consolidation of an Italian AI research ecosystem that facilitates the exchange of knowledge between universities, research centers, and businesses. Such an ecosystem is also expected to be a breeding ground for the development of innovative start-ups, the support of a plan to retain and attract talent, the development of national AI Large Language Models that respect the values of European regulations, and the funding of blue-sky research for next-generation AI. 

AI is also seen as a critical tool in the transformation of the public administration to improve internal efficiency and provide services tailored to citizens’ needs. To fully exploit AI’s potential, a structured and systematic approach becomes necessary, including actions to guarantee privacy, security, and proper data management, as well as the development of AI systems for interoperability and training of public personnel. In addition, guidelines should be adopted to promote the use of AI in public tenders and create AI applications for the public sector that can guarantee adherence to regulations. According to the executive summary, AI could also simplify the interaction between public authorities and citizens or businesses by developing large-scale solutions based on feedback and specific needs. Finally, the strategy urges comprehensive training on AI in public administration through upskilling courses for staff. 

Regarding businesses, the strategy aims to shed light on AI’s benefits to the Italian production and entrepreneurial system, known for its process and product excellence, and manufacturing vocation. A twofold strategic approach is proposed: on the one hand, the role of Italian ICT companies in the development of AI systems should be enhanced by fostering collaboration with universities and research bodies and facilitating the management of regulatory and certification practices; on the other hand, companies not directly involved in technological development but influenced by AI should align their strategies towards a greater centrality of data and AI to increase their competitiveness, with a particular focus on the challenges of environmental sustainability. The strategy proposes coordinated actions to strengthen the AI ecosystem among SMEs through dedicated funding to support the adoption and development of interoperable AI solutions. It also highlights the need to create laboratories to develop AI applications in industrial contexts and to support the growth of start-ups operating in the sector. 

Last but not least, AI training. The executive summary notes that there is currently a shortage of AI skills in Italy, which slows the adoption of innovative solutions. To this end, the strategy proposes an integrated plan to strengthen and spread knowledge of AI in the education system, from high schools to universities, paying particular attention to PhD programs. Furthermore, structured reskilling and upskilling programs in both the public and private sectors are envisaged to update skills and retrain workers to use new technologies. Similarly, promoting AI literacy for the population becomes essential to avoid creating a knowledge gap that undermines social and economic cohesion in the long run. In this respect, the strategy proposes implementing AI learning paths in schools, creating internships, exchange and visiting programs in companies and research centers, introducing AI as a subject in university degree courses, and supporting the National PhD in AI. 

Enabling Factors

A crucial element of the strategy is the identification of strategic ‘enabling’ actions that define the framework within which specific initiatives are to be deployed in the different pillars. These are divided into infrastructural actions and actions for the implementation, coordination, and monitoring of the strategy: the former includes the creation of a repository of datasets and models as a national knowledge asset and the strengthening of network infrastructures for AI; the latter focuses on the establishment of an Artificial Intelligence Foundation as the body responsible for AI initiatives and analysis of the strategy implementation.