During COVID-19 pandemic, technology is playing a crucial role in supporting people’s daily activities whose realization would otherwise be compromised. However, one of the most powerful contributions technology is having is in the health sector. In particular, the pace at which the virus has been spreading and the similarity of symptoms of this infection to those of influenza and other diseases make it hard for physicians to diagnose, isolate and control the positive cases. Artificial Intelligence, and in particular deep learning, come to assist the healthcare system by providing tools able to detect COVID symptoms which are not discernible at human sight.

A study published in August on Nature Communication shows how it is possible to employ deep-learning techniques to classify, with high levels of accuracy, COVID-19 pneumonia, distinguishing it from the very similar influenza-associated pneumonia, in CT (computed tomography) scans. The algorithm, trained on a multinational dataset, is actually able to identify positivity to COVID-19 even on patients showing early symptoms.

However, scientists were able to do even better. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, several organizations and universities across the world have collected huge samples of cellphone-recorded forced coughs – such as the ones you let out when the doctor asks you to cough while listening at the stethoscope – and spoken words in order to build a model to detect infections. Indeed, the sound of cough is influenced by the conditions of surrounding organs, so even a very short recording could provide insights about vocal cords strength and lung performance, the latter being crucial for COVID-19 detection.

And, at the beginning of November, MIT researchers announced they finally developed a model recognizing COVID cough from forced cough recordings. The revolution brought by this discovery is the fact that a properly trained AI could extract up to 300 distinct features from the recordings and, thus, isolate even those patients who would be considered asymptomatic by a human doctor, who is only able to analyze 3 to 5 features of a cough. In particular, the model analyzes four main COVID-specific biomarkers (vocal cords strength, sentiment, lung performance and muscular degradation) from the recordings. Researchers trained their already existing Alzheimer’s disease AI model on the largest cough dataset, made of more than 70,000 recordings. The final version of the model correctly classified 98.5% of positive COVID coughs, including all the asymptomatic patients.

Despite the extremely positive results, this AI will not be used to perform an exhaustive diagnosis for COVID-19 infection. The next step for MIT researchers would be developing a COVID app which people could use on a daily basis to make a pre-screening, hoping this will help control the spread of the virus.

Claudia Sessa


The added value of circular economy and financial education

On Tuesday 10th November some BSI members were invited as guest to the event entitled  “Can we create value through sustainability?” which focused on ESG and financial education, organized by Demetra, a non-profit organization that aims to support start-ups and  aids business men and women in getting into contact with third parties, such as investors and consultants, to upscale their projects and entrepreneurial ideas, Cultura Italiae Young, a platform that aims to provide a concrete contribution to the creation of a common and shared space for cultural projects, but not only, Women In Business and Finance (WIBF), an association that promotes leadership and empowerment in women in jobs and aims at providing women with the tools for professional and personal fulfillment, and Network of Innovation Management and Strategy (NIMS),  an international network, of which BSI is a proud member, that gathers like-minded students in the field of innovation management and strategy in the organization of career and job-oriented events to promote innovation on a 360 degree view .

During the event, guests from the education, private equity, chemical and start-up sectors, touched various topics such as the importance of financial education, the transition to a green economy, and the financial implications of such change.

Why is financial education so important?

Financial education is one of many steps that will allow modern society to reaching the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it is particularly effective when focusing on goal 5 that tackles the issue of gender inequality. Many organizations around the words are working towards providing financial education for economically and socially fragile members of society, such as women and youth that unfortunately are often deprived of the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and tools to reach financial and social independence and empowerment.

Financial education is a fundamental part of the greater effort to eliminate inequalities and discrimination: it provides more vulnerable members of society with the means to make informed and independent choices in both a professional and an everyday setting and it allows the spread of the concepts of diversity and inclusion throughout society and firms.

Paying attention to the younger portion of the population is decisive when talking about financial education. Intergenerational transfer of knowledge between parents and children and between older and younger students is of primary importance to provide younger generations the tools to understand the rights they are entitled to, and for which they have to fight for (e.g. climate justice), their responsibility and duties.

Associations around the world, including the ones attending the event, are engaged in creating platforms and ways to provide financial literacy starting from a really young age, for instance with projects targeted at children aged four to eight, with the intent of developing a more constructive and supportive learning system.

Digitalization has become the core strategy for many associations around the world at the forefront of the fight against economic and educational poverty, including corruption and fraud. Some fin-tech observatories have been setup in Italy and around the world using Artificial Intelligence in a more positive and useful way to collect and share data (for instance on non-drug related addictions such as compulsive gambling) as a tool that allows the elimination of those distortions that a unethical use of AI may cause.

It is necessary for financial innovation to be sustainable: we must break the paradigm that sustainability is not efficient and that it cannot provide return for investors.

Shifting to a greener economy

First of all, what is circular economy?

“Circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible”

Now that we have a clear understanding of what circular economy is, let’s try to focus on why “moving to a greener and circular economy” is a widely shared and common affirmation among experts in both corporates and start-ups, but also among the general public (e.g. Fridays for Future). There is evidence of the increase of consciousness on topics of ESG from the side of consumers in terms of more responsible and aware purchasing and consumption (consuming less and better).

For these reasons, a linear model based on consumption and waste (burned or, in the best-case scenario, recycled), as opposed to a circular model, is not a viable solution anymore

Sustainability and profitability are not to be considered separately. On the one hand, those firms that will innovate in a sustainable manner will be able to stay competitive and thrive on the market. On the other hand, those firms that will neglect the environmental impact of their activity will sooner or later be kicked out of the market because of economic reasons (aware consumers will not buy harmful goods for the environment and for their personal well-being) and a technological and methodological reason (the sooner firms innovate, the bigger the advantage in the future)

Clear demonstrations of how this trend is changing the way of doing business can be seen both in the startup and corporate sector. Startups creating fabric for the fashion industry from by-products of citrus fruits and chemical giants investing in the transition towards green chemistry are both clear examples of how many companies are putting a huge effort into decarbonizing some of the most polluting industries in the world.

Then, the question you might be asking yourself now is: why is the transition to a greener economy so slow? Is there a lack of finances or a lack of ideas?

Transition is not as fast as we would all hope because of different reasons:

  • In the chemical industry, for instance, the main issue is linked to the fact that the sector is traditionally “conservative”, characterized by a high entry barrier and a slow innovation process
  • In startups, in universities and in research centers there is an abundance of valid projects, however there is a very limited tech transfer. In many cases valuable ideas don’t turn into marketable solutions because a holistic approach is missing. 

Summing up, financial recourses are available, both from private and publics investors, and valid projects are not scarce, but there is a very limited exchange of information. This is why there is a need to create an integrated model, with the help of public institutions, to match the know-how and recourses of well-established firms, and innovation projects from universities and startups.

Private equity funds and circularity

The growing attention to sustainability has led to the creation of revolutionizing private equity funds that evaluate managers’ performances on the level of circularity of their work with certified indicators and parameters that are more easily measurable compared to ESG indicators.

This is an example of how the international community is understanding the importance of shifting towards a green approach to investment, and that investments in sustainability can create value for both shareholders and stakeholders

So, can we really create value through sustainability? The answer is YES! Through a collaborative effort we, as students, as entrepreneurs, as managers, … , as members of a rapidly changing society can shift towards a greener economy that will guarantee a sustainable future in terms of environmental wellbeing (e.g. better air quality) and in terms of economic prospective (e.g. new marketable ideas and jobs).

by Lorenzo Samperi