Code to Impact.

Let’s talk about data and digital society with Marcelo De Santis, corporate innovation leader and former CIO of Pirelli and Mondelez.

Riccardo Zanardelli
6 min readDec 18, 2018

Hello Marcelo, thanks for accepting this invitation, it’s a great honor for me. Technology is transforming economy and society while pushing us face-to-face with contraddictions and biases. Will we be able to use our technological superpowers to make the world a better place? My answer is «yes», but there’s surely a lot of work to do. I have some questions for you and I am extremely curious to listen to your thoughts.

Data is at the same time an individual asset and a public utility, at least under certain conditions. Here’s my first question: what’s your prediction for the data driven citizenship, let’s say in about 10 years from now?

Marcelo: «Currently we are – consciously or unconsciously – providing our personal data to organizations about many aspects of our life in return for either convenience and personalized experiences.

This data goes beyond our browsing habits, Facebook or Instagram interactions, it includes all the personal, financial, consumer and health related data – among others – produced by our smartphones, digital wallets, smart watches, connected cars, digital assistant and digital transactions.

All this data today is being commercialized by companies many times in large data marketplaces, sometimes without a fair compensation to any of us and many times without even us knowing – and we have many recent examples of this specific case. So the question to me is: if data is the new asset that will power up this new digital world, what are our citizenship rights?

How do we allow the “choice” for adjusting personal privacy on our data? How do we provide the “choice” to be fairly compensated for the use of our personal data?

Can we be given the “choice” to donate our data for a cause that we want to support? Can we “choose” to become “personal healthcare data donors” today to help science to improve the world tomorrow and see the results of our contribution while we are still alive?

Data citizenship is about greater good and requires a governance framework, associated policies that could leverage immutable and transparent records – e.g. Blockchain. It’s time to act.

I am glad that some NGO are working on it. For instance, Hu-manity is working to establish the human right #31 as “everyone has the right to legal ownership of their inherent human data as property” in addition to the existing 30 human rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

This is the bold vision and scale we need along with the right global ecosystem to make it happen. I think “choice” is an aspect of our world that we should never resign and should continue to be a design principle for humanity. it’s for us to lead the future.»

Digital citizenship isn’t just for smart cities. How can developing countries leverage on digital innovation to improve health, education and society and large?

Marcelo: «We need to proactively help emerging economies – and everyone in general – to understand the social power of data. In a few years most of businesses, services and institutions will run on software and data as a core element of their operating model.

This understanding should not only be at government, corporate and NGO level but most importantly embedded in the country’s education system so young kids grow up with the right level of awareness on the value of data for their society.

If we educate children with the skills to manage data responsibly, they will then build data driven businesses and organizations that are good for humanity.

They will establish the right governance mechanisms to ensure data sets area not biased, that algorithms are built with transparency by a diverse team of engineers to truly amplify human beings.

They will become the next generation of political, tech-savvy leaders that develop policies fit for a digital world, that can have smart, mutually beneficial conversations with corporate tech leaders.

There are many organizations working on teaching kids to code, encouraging women to embrace STEM careers and establishing data policies and standards- my favorite is Girls Who Code. While these are great efforts, they need to converge to gain scale and global impact.»

Algorithms are still locked into big platforms, but technology may allow us to reverse the model. Maybe in a near future we will be able to write our own algorithms and interact with data, objects, services and other human beings in a well described API society. Will everyone become a coder? Will coding change?

Marcelo: «I would say that coding is a new “universal language” and will be required not only to do any job in the future but also to be able – as you say – to interact with a world highly digitized and robotized.

The rapid growth of Internet of Things will make almost everything “programmable”. So in that context coding will not only be relevant for tech experts but for everyone.

Besides this, many platforms – low code tools and meta-languages – are enabling non-tech people to easily understand how to write applications plus the emerging digital native generation is growing in relevance.

So, yes, people will write their algorithms, publish their API and code will become accessible for everyone, like watching a movie in a foreign language with the “closed caption” turned on.

One important aspect to watch out is to ensure that all this code and AI remains open; no black boxes should be allowed, open source code for humans to evolve it transparently.

I am positive about the future of tech. I also know that we are called to a different level of responsibility: to grow a digitized world with solid human principles that only “us” can enforce.

Chances are that machines and AI will “do the things right” – and in many cases better than humans – it’s up to us to make sure they also do “the right thing” for humanity. The best is yet to come. It’s a great time to be in tech.»

I agree with you Marcelo! This is the time for all of us as individuals to contribute in making the world a better place also through a wisely designed info sphere, based on principles like equality, transparency, responsibility and -as you remarked- choice.

Thanks for your time Marcelo and thanks everybody for reading. The next episode will talk about data and advertising in the age of AI. Pretty interesting stuff. Ciao! 🤓


Marcelo De Santis’s Bio.

Marcelo is a digital innovation leader transforming companies at the intersection of people, data and technology. He has extensive experience digitizing products and business models while building value added engagement with consumers, customers and employees.

Over the years, he has developed a “panoramic view” of the enterprise while working across a wide range of industries – consulting, automotive, telco, financial services, pharma and CPG. He has provided leadership to startups, SMB and Fortune 500 corporations while living and working in North America, Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America.

He strongly believes in the power of cultivating a diverse, entrepreneurial, collaborative and agile team culture focused on delivering practical business results: profitable revenue, satisfied customers and engaged employees.

Determined to make a difference in the world; he actively supports non-profit organizations that work to improve the lives of underprivileged children.

Marcelo is former CIO of Mondelez and Group CIO of Pirelli. He is currently startup mentor and corporate innovation advisor at 1871 and member of Forbes Technology Council.

Riccardo Zanardelli’s Bio.

Riccardo is Beretta’s Digital Business Development Manager. Graduated in Engineering, he has served in various marketing roles before focusing on business transformation and digital platforms since 2016. In the last decade, he has developed a personal interest in exploring the potential of computational privacy/trust towards a more effective and sustainable data driven society. With the aim of contributing to a wide and open conversation about MIT’s OPAL project, he published “The end of Personalinvasion” (2019) and “OPAL and Code-Contract: a model of responsible and efficient data ownership for citizens and business” (2018). He is a member of the advisory board of “Quota 8000 — Service Innovation Hub” at TEH Ambrosetti. Since 2000 he experiments with digital art as an independent researcher. Some of his projects have been acquired from the permanent ArtBase collection of — NY (2002) and exhibited at the Montreal Biennial of Contemporary Art (2004), as well as at Interface Monthly (London, 2016, by The Trampery and Barbican). In 2015, he released FAC3, one of the first artworks in the world to use artificial intelligence. He is married and father of two. Want to drop a line? → riccardo [d ot) zanardelli {at} gmail [ do t} com



Riccardo Zanardelli

Digital Platforms @ Beretta | PhD student in Statistics & Data Science @ AEM, UNIBS | Engineer | Only personal opinions here | Code is Law (cit.)