/In Europe and at home, more questions arise about how powerful data scientist Mimmo Parisi will solve poverty in Italy

In Europe and at home, more questions arise about how powerful data scientist Mimmo Parisi will solve poverty in Italy

Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi is a Mississippi State University sociology professor who has spent two decades getting to know Mississippians. Parisi is the head of NSPARC, a Mississippi State University research center that gathers and analyses millions of pieces about citizens. This includes where they went to college, their income, and whether they have received food stamps, unemployment benefits, or both. Parisi now plans to return to Italy to use all he knows about human behavior and the workforce to help him defeat poverty in his homeland. Parisi has been appointed by Italy’s right-wing anti-immigrant government to head the National Agency for Active Labor Policies. This is also the country’s national employment office, known as Anpal. Parisi’s appointment also caused concern overseas. News organizations in Italy were asked about the ability of a professor from one of America’s poorest states to solve poverty in their country. More questions surround the links between Mississippi politicians and the architects of Brexit. There is also alleged data mining that is under investigation in many countries. Emma Briant, a British researcher at George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs that specializes in propaganda and political communications, said: “The fact this always seems to come back to data projects — What is happening to Mississippians’ data?” We trust that the data they give to academics or governments will be used for the benefit of Mississippi. We don’t think they’re going off to help a far right group with it. Briant expressed concern about Mississippians’ data being used as a basis for new tools in Italy. Parisi also stated that no Mississippi data would be taken with him to Italy. Briant claims that this is irrelevant. “Even though he isn’t actually taking the data, the models could have been drawn from it. Briant stated that they wouldn’t have worked if not for the original data and what they created from it. “Did Mississippians authorize that use?” The Mississippi State press release about Parisi’s departure gave few details, including how Parisi would use the Mississippi expertise he had in this new role. Parisi will not have any official university duties during his leave, but the release stated that he would be using the expertise he developed in Mississippi to help him. Parisi also acknowledged Briant’s concerns and said it was an honor to be selected for the prestigious Rome post. They are not calling a Harvard professor. They called a Mississippi State professor, one of the most respected data scientists in the country. Parisi said that he found it very flattering. Parisi denied any connection or involvement with Brexit backers, saying to Mississippi Today, “That’s the most bizarre thing — I have nothing do with that.” He said that even the notion (that I was connected to them), is absurd. Parisi’s appointment to Italy in recent months, by a government that has promoted anti-immigrant attitudes similar to those that led to Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2016, sheds light on Mississippi’s strange connection to far-right figures. Mississippi’s first public welcome to Nigel Farage, a European Parliament member and campaigner — nicknamed “Mr. Brexit” because of his role in persuading British voters to leave Europe — on the stage at the Mississippi Coliseum, Jackson, during President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign rally. Eventually, Gov. Phil Bryant connected Farage and his partners Arron Insurance’s primary Brexit bankroller and Andy Wigmore, who together are the “Bad Boys of Brexit”. Bryant also provided office space at the University of Mississippi for Farage to create an artificial intelligence data project called Big Data Dolphin. According to transcripts, Wigmore stated that “We’ve established an operation at Ole Miss University (Mississippi) which is the center for artificial intelligence in Europe,” in October 2017. Wigmore said that he was referring to “And, and,and, and the guy who runs it,” transcripts show. This project remains under legal scrutiny. A motion was filed Wednesday to renew the lawsuit against Eldon, Big Data Dolphin. Fair Vote Project, a British group, alleges that Banks and his associates transferred the data of British citizens to Mississippi. Both the University of Mississippi and the defendants deny these allegations. Fair Vote Project’s local lawyer, Dorsey Carson, stated that “only one person in Mississippi would lead you believe Mississippi is an artificial intelligence center of this world.” “If you want to store or use large amounts of data in Mississippi, NSPARC is the best choice.” In order to advance Brexit, Banks and his team began to make allegations that Eldon and the pro-Brexit EU campaign had illegally traded data to target voters. In February, Banks was fined by the UK’s Data Protection Watchdog, Information Commissioner’s Office for sending unsolicited email marketing messages. An ex-employe of Cambridge Analytica, which used Facebook data to influence Americans during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, testified last June in Hinds County that Banks stole the idea for the Mississippi project from her company. In June, Fair Vote Project’s suit was dismissed by a judge for lack of personal jurisdiction. Eldon and Big Data Dolphin filed a petition to protect University of Mississippi. They sought to seal documents related the Mississippi project. Carson moved Wednesday to renew the lawsuit. He argued that their petition against the university nullifies the Fair Vote Project’s jurisdiction issue. He writes that Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins have a relationship to Dr. Domenico “Mimmo”, the founder and chief of the National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University. Parisi recently accepted a position in the Five Star Movement, a right-wing political group in Italy. Dr. Parisi, who is also the Executive Director at the National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center as well as a professor of Sociology from Mississippi State University, is one of the most respected data scientists in the world. This new information about Dr. Parisi’s European connections sheds light onto the true nature of Defendants’ relationship with Mississippi. Plaintiffs believe that although the physical location of the defendants may have been intended at the University of Mississippi but the home of the data of the defendants may have been at Mississippi State University with Dr. Mimmo Parisi.” NSPARC maintained its position as the top data company in the state despite increasing scrutiny. NSPARC and Mississippi State University cut the ribbon to NSPARC’s 3,300-square foot, state-of-the art data center. It can store 400 Terabytes of data. This translates into roughly 100 Billion pages of text. August saw Gov. Bryant presented Parisi the “2018 Excellence in Government Award.” One month later, Parisi met Luigi Di Maio (M5S leader), deputy prime minister of Italy, and minister of economics, during a conference on workforce development in Italy. Its leaders and party gained notoriety for their xenophobic remarks about keeping Italian migrants out. Parisi was unaware that a photo Parisi posted of Di Maio and himself to an Italian official’s Instagram account generated buzz about the Mississippi professor being “the guy who was going to transform the workforce system in this country,” Parisi explained to Mississippi Today. Parisi said that one of the criticisms was “How can we use Mississippi to model?” Parisi stated that Mississippi is one the poorest and smallest states in the nation. Parisi said that Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country and that it must be fixed so that we can do more with less. We are a poor country and face more challenges and barriers than other states. We have to find a way to remove those obstacles, such as connecting people in more fair and just ways…opportunity for all.” Farage was most recently in Italy lobbying Matteo Salvini, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, to stop the UK’s latest request to delay Brexit. This would have meant that the UK could not leave the EU on March 29th. The UK has yet not approved a Withdrawal Agreement (or deal), which will set the terms for their separation from the Union and provide a transition period. The short delay granted by Italy last month was not vetoed by Italy and the European Union seems to be willing to grant Britain’s Brexit delays. Parisi will now be in charge of the new $8 billion national public income and workforce development program. This project aims to lift people out poverty by providing cash assistance to every household that reaches the poverty line. Reuters reported that the program is similar to U.S. cash assistance programs. Participants must do community service, take training courses, and accept one of the three job offers they are offered. Jonathan Barlow, a NSPARC employee, said that Barlow helped to create a “case study” – a narrative with matching graphics – of a fictional citizen in the citizenship income program. This was presented to Italian leaders in October. Parisi will introduce the Italian government, to facilitate the job-search component. Parisi is referring to an online job portal that NSPARC created and launched in 2014. Mississippi Works is Bryant’s name for Bryant’s workforce initiative. The app is called Mississippi Works. According to Italian media reports, the job-matching software that powers Mississippi Works is central to Italy’s plans to overhaul its workforce. Parisi stated that the virtual, automated system could replace caseworkers at physical unemployment centers and improve efficiency in government. Parisi stated that the audience was “blown Away” when he presented the idea at an Italian conference. Parisi stated that many people in Mississippi have not appreciated the work we did with the SLDS, Lifetracks, and Mississippi Works. “…Nobody’s ever been able create the technology we’ve created here at Mississippi State.” Many media outlets in Italy, including Huffington Post questioned Parisi’s appointment. They speculated about whether there would be conflicts of interest if Parisi were to lead the nation’s employment bureau and then to acquire and implement the job-matching software that he invented. Parisi’s current position at Mississippi State, as well as other quasi-government positions such the chair of the State Early Childhood Advisory Council, have been questioned by media outlets. The governor’s office refused to answer any questions regarding possible leadership changes within the council. Parisi will not have any official university duties while on leave, but will be able communicate with NSPARC staff when necessary. The news release states that officials from Mississippi State have tried to find conflicts of interest to ensure Dr. Parisi’s leave is in line with university policy…as well as the applicable laws and regulations. Parisi stated that he will be visiting Mississippi approximately one week per month. This prompted Linkiesta to publish an article entitled “Air Force Parisi” in which Linkiesta questioned Parisi’s requests for reimbursement for international travel expenses. Mississippi Today sought copies of Parisi’s ethics agreements with the university about his use of human subjects for research or their data. However, university officials claimed that the records were exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act. Mississippi Today received a link to the Office of Research Compliance website after a second request for ethics forms. Parisi admits that the questions are valid. “At the end, they are raising very important questions. It is important to address conflicts of interest. It must be addressed. Parisi said that they are asking whether I might do this for my personal interest. “… I would tell them to take some time, and they will be able to see the facts for themselves. I’m an honest, decent man. Parisi stated that his appointment was politicized. Parisi stated that he is not concerned about conflicts of interest and Mississippi State University taking ownership of Parisi’s analytical processes. “… You have academic freedom. Parisi stated that what he is offering to the Italian government is “the transformation of human activity into data”, and that technology is available anywhere. Parisi stated to Mississippi Today that he will not sell to Italy the Mississippi Works software, which was developed at NSPARC, for EUR100million, or approximately $112million. However, he said that despite being asked the same question by Italian reporters following a presentation on March 27, he preferred not to answer. Sid Salter, Mississippi State University’s spokesperson, denied several requests for interviews regarding Parisi’s new appointment. He said that it was a personnel matter and that the university would not comment on speculation. Read the first story in this series about the role of Mississippi State research lab NSPARC and its director, Mimmo Parisi, in collecting data on Mississippians.