"100 women and 1000 more": Silvia Santini


Institutional Communication Service

9 December 2019

Computer scientist and professor at Università della Svizzera italiana, Silvia Santini is among the women chosen for the campaign “100 women and a thousand more”. Computers are a constant in our daily life and Prof. Santini’s work aims at feeding the synergies between society and new technologies.

Her research focuses on the development of technologies and systems that have the potential to transform the way with lead our lives. Her work deals with interdisciplinary issues strictly connected with computer science that are also often in touch with the humanities. She is currently developing emotion-aware systems, which are able to perceive human emotions and act accordingly. "It's about allowing the technological tools that accompany us in our daily lives - such as smartphones and smartwatches - to perceive the context in which we find ourselves and thus offer us services appropriate to the situation and our state of mind," explains Santini. An example of the application of this type of system is found in a work carried out with the students and teachers of USI: "We have used devices (similar to smartwatches) that can accurately monitor the physiological signals (such as heartbeat or electrodermal activity) of teachers and students during classes. We have also shown that these signals can be used to estimate the level of engagement - therefore of concentration or interest - in this context". The aggregate date obtained can then be useful to the teacher to assess the effectiveness of a specific lecture or even to the student to channel more attention in a given course.

Santini passes on to young students her passion for technology and science, an interest that dates back to her high school times and was later extended to computer science with her PhD at the Department of Information Technology and Electronic Engineering at the ETH Zurich: "Students are often surprised when they perceive the enormous capabilities and potential - and risks - of systems capable of perceiving and reacting to human emotions. The key message I am trying to convey is that it is our responsibility as architects and developers of new technologies, to understand their limits, potential and risks and to apply not only our technical skills, but also our ethical and moral judgment in our work, for a use of technology that is useful to the citizen and in accordance with their rights". In this context she often quotes Kranzberg: "Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral".

This call is true for an era in which there is a certain distrust or loss of authority in the scientific world: the abundance of information of all kinds on the Web and Social Media on current issues - such as, for example, the discussions on climate change - leads us to take as scientifically true inaccuracies and hoaxes that may lead us to think that science cannot give reliable answers. "In this sense - says Santini - it is important to increase the commitment of teachers and researchers to dissemimate the methods and results of their work, thus improving how science and scientists are perceived in the collective imaginary". In this sense, science and technology must be at the service of society to address the fundamental problems it is experiencing, such as water shortages, inequality, or even conflicts in many parts of the world.

According to Santini, part of the work of a computer scientist is precisely that of observing current trends, trying to understand their interactions and trying to envisage future developments and their potential: "the most disruptive developments are precisely those that we did not see that were coming. When the Internet began to expand, not even its architects were able to predict the rise of social media". A mother of two, however, with an open mind tries to imagine the interconnected reality in which they will live in the future.


Read Silvia Santini's profile on the initiative's website: