Robert Saracco, an IEEE senior member dedicated to empowering the next generation of digital innovators in Europe, died unexpectedly on 5 December at the age of 70.
He was a key figure in the creation of EIT Digital, an organization that invests in research and continuing education to bring new digital technologies to the European market. Saracco also taught courses on technology forecasting and market impact at the University of Trento in Italy.
An active IEEE volunteer, he chaired the IEEE New Initiatives Committee, which supports potential IEEE services, products, and other creations that could significantly benefit members, the public, customers, and the technical community. He was also a co-chair of the IEEE Digital Reality initiative, dedicated to facilitating disruptive technological innovations and fostering cross-industry collaborations globally while taking societal impact into consideration.
Contributions at Telecom Italia and EIT Digital
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Turin, in Italy, Saracco began his career in 1971 at the Telecom Italia Lab, in Rome. There he led network management research and helped design Italy’s first electronic exchange and data network.
Saracco also contributed to standardizing the company’s telecommunications management network. Later, he led the team that developed Italy’s first network management center.
In 2003 he was promoted to director of long-term research at the lab, focusing on technology’s evolution and its potential impact. Five years later, he changed roles and began serving as director of Telecom Italia’s Future Centre, an interactive technology museum, in Venice.
Saracco left the museum in 2011 to join EIT Digital as the president of its Italian branch in Trento. He held this position until his death.
In 2017 and 2018 he served as head of EIT’s Industrial Doctoral School, headquartered in Palaiseau, France. The organization supports Ph.D. students from European universities to help them transform their research into marketable products and solutions.
From 2015 on, he was also a senior lecturer at the University of Trento, where he taught a master class called “Technology Foresight and Economic Implications of Technology Evolution.” Beginning in 2020 he served on the advisory board of Reply, an international digital technology consulting firm based in Turin.
IEEE volunteering and authorship
Saracco, an active volunteer, helped lead groups and initiatives at IEEE, including the IEEE Technical Committee on Network Operations and Management and IEEE Future Directions, which is responsible for identifying and organizing research on emerging technologies across the organization. He was also a member of the IEEE Communications Society board of governors and served as its director of marketing.
He authored or coauthored more than 100 papers and 14 books, including The Disappearance of Telecommunications, published in 2000 by IEEE Press. Saracco also published a daily blog on the IEEE Future Directions website, where he mused on the latest technological developments and their impact on humanity.
Tribute from a close colleague
Davide De Palma, co-founder of HR Coffee and a colleague of Saracco’s, submitted this in-depth portrait of his close friend to The Institute.
Remembering Roberto is to immerse oneself in a world where passion for technology shines brightly. Roberto was not just an expert in his field; he was a man who lived each day with a deep and sincere love for exploring the unknown. His curiosity was not merely academic; it was an emotional journey that took him deeper into the ever-expanding universe of new technologies.
But what really struck one about Roberto was his immense humanity. He did not just explore the technological world; he delved into the lives of people. He was a man who knew how to listen–truly listen. Every conversation with him was a journey, where words were not just sounds, but bridges to a deeper understanding.
Roberto had a unique talent for recognizing and valuing the best in each person. He was not just a mentor or a teacher. He was an artist of the human soul, capable of discerning and illuminating the hidden talents in each of us. His approach was never superficial. He was interested in the details, those small nuances that often escape notice, but for him were the key to truly understanding people and the world around him.
His legacy is not just in the field of technology, but also in the countless lives he touched. Roberto taught many of us not just to be better professionals, but also to be better human beings. His passion, his curiosity, and his humanity will continue to live in the hearts of those fortunate enough to have known him.
In our conversations, Roberto truly shined. I vividly remember our long talks about personal digital twins, a topic that particularly excited him. His eyes would light up as he talked about how these digital counterparts could transform not just how we interact with technology, but also how we see and understand ourselves in an increasingly digital world. His vision was deep, capable of seeing beyond the mere technological aspect and touching the chords of human essence.
But it was not just technology that captured his imagination. Roberto placed great importance on organizational processes and knowledge management. He believed that technology, however advanced, could never replace the human value in decision-making and creativity. For him, data and knowledge were like golden threads woven into the vast canvas of technological innovation, essential for creating a more connected and humane future.
And then there was his passion for training knowledge engineers. Roberto was convinced that the future belonged to those who not only understood technology, but also how it could be harmonized with human wisdom. His vision was clear: to train a new generation of engineers who were not only technically competent but also deeply aware of the value and importance of human knowledge.
Remembering Roberto Saracco is to remember a man who lived with boundless passion for technology, but even more for the humanity it serves. His legacy is not just in the innovations he helped create, but in the lives he touched and the minds he enlightened. His legacy continues to live in every knowledge engineer he shaped, and in every conversation about technology that transcends the technical to touch the human. Roberto was not just a pioneer in his field, but a true maestro of life, a beacon of wisdom and humanity in an increasingly digital world.
Sit tibi terra levis [May the earth rest lightly upon you], Roberto.