Stefano Marzano, ceo of Philips Design for twenty years and now at Sapienza in Rome: "We must design the risk management of innovation"

Stefano Marzano is an international design legend. For twenty years, CEO of Philips design, he is a man who has invented many pieces of our technological present by profession. He did it by creating visions, probing technologies and the human soul in equal measure. "If I look back at how we have imagined innovation in past years, I see a lot of enthusiasm , a lot of confidence ".

An optimism that Stefano Marzano at this point in history begins to consider naive: "We never thought, not even for a moment, that technology could be misused or that it would lead us, among other things, to the climate crisis". The antidote to naivety, as a good designer, is research.

No longer within a company, but at the La Sapienza University of Rome, from which in 2018 Marzano received a Honoris Causa degree in Design. Hence the proposal of Biovision of the Future, an interdisciplinary round table together with Saperi&Co, the hub of La Sapienza research laboratories.

What is Biovision of the Future?

Last year Sabrina Lucibello, director of the Saperi&Co laboratory, contacted me to mentor Carmen Rotondi, a PhD student in Bio Design. Her research deals with design of biomaterials and biotechnologies: she came spontaneously to think about the ethical implications of a technology that works in all respects as a living being.

The current vision defines all the development of biological technologies up to the transhuman. We need an introduction to the moral ethical issue that this development will certainly raise.

I therefore proposed a round table with different disciplines (philosophy, sociology, economics, technology and a spiritual figure) to deal with three great powers: economic (which decides what to look for through investments), political (which regulates development and directs the legal part), spiritual (which has great influence on ethical and moral sensitivity).

You speak of a sustainable but also desirable future. What do you mean?

This meeting took place in December 2021 and a debate started from this meeting. The positive thing was the participation of the various faculties, which stimulated a workshop involving all the PhD students of the university on the topic of the future of innovation.

We cannot continue to ignore the negative side of scientific and technological research, which normally concerns the use that men make of it. Up to now we have also associated the idea of ​​human evolution, of improvement with the idea of ​​progress. In reality since the Industrial Revolution we have solved as many problems as we have created.

Both from an environmental point of view, but also from a criminal point of view. The sum has built a present in which we are witnessing antisocial behaviors, which hinder the possibility of working seriously in the research and construction of healing alternatives.

This can be avoided by moving towards greater ethical awareness. Including the negative scenarios, as well as the positive ones, of any scientific development. This is to build a culture of prevention shared by the various human fields, of research but also of ethics, spirituality, politics and justice. It is primarily a cultural operation that implies taking responsibility for future scenarios.

A global risk management, not just economic?

I don't have the ambition to solve any problem. But to be able to contribute to the prevention of the undesirable. A mindset that helps us build repair tools alongside those of progress.

I believe that the solution is to go towards the constant verification of innovation processes through a series of laws and preventive actions that regulate innovation. It is about adopting a culture of risk management in innovation.

Need to make amends and not fall into other enthusiastic temptations then?

It is impossible to predict everything and prevent negative spillovers, but starting to consider the risks is essential to illuminate the less positive parts of the research. Our ignorance has created unwanted realities, weighing heavily on the world economy, on the quality of life, penalizing populations and the possibility of being able to benefit from evolution.

The desirable future is a future in which risks must be minimized and for this reason we need to adopt more mature attitudes, as has already happened in the medical field.

What is the role of academic research?

I hope that we will be able to train more mature and aware professionals in all areas concerning the planning of the future. The university is the ideal humus to start doing this quickly.

And it is also the institutional place that has the best ability to dialogue with the political and legislative macro powers that really have the possibility, although they are seriously delayed, to impact on the choices. This is why the presence of the largest university in Italy is important.

It's weird to talk about dystopias with her…

There is not just one future, there are many possible futures. And they will take shape from the daily actions and choices of the next few years. Dystopia is a tool for thinking about what we really want for ourselves, for human beings and for the planet.


All the images published in this article are works by Gabriele Picco, currently on display (until 18 September) at Palazzo Martinendo Cesaresco Novarino in Brescia, on the occasion of the solo show of the artist Clouds Never Say Hello, curated by Claudio Musso. Ph: Giuliano Radici