NBN the tip of the iceberg for Australia's tech future: Berners-Lee

NBN the tip of the iceberg for Australia's tech future: Berners-Lee

Summary: Looking on as the CSIRO launches a digital research project aimed at using the NBN for boosting the Australian economy, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said that the network is just the start of bigger and brighter things to come.

TOPICS: NBN, Emerging Tech

"A piece of fibre coming out of the wall" is just the starting point for the National Broadband Network (NBN), world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said.

Credited with inventing the web in 1989, Berners-Lee said that Australia must recognise the need for continual innovation if it's to succeed in the digital era.

The British academic, speaking at the launch of a CSIRO digital research project in Sydney on Tuesday, said that the NBN will be a brilliant tool if it is used to help concepts like the research body's AU$40-million-a-year plan for a digital economy.

"The NBN is a wonderful commitment to getting everyone connected," the 57 year-old said.

"It's a brilliant foundation — it will be a foundation for many things.”

"But having established that foundation, the fact you have a piece of fibre optic coming out of the wall, is really only a start."

The CSIRO's "flagship" project, which may last 10 years, aims to find ways of helping businesses and governmental organisations make greater use of digital technology in Australia after the mining boom.

It will focus primarily on the services sector, which provides about 80 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, but has in recent years suffered from declining productivity growth.

The CSIRO hopes that by utilising the NBN and providing the sector with innovative new ways of working digitally, it can boost the economy by up to AU$4 billion a year by 2025.

The research is already looking at ways of using technology to predict emergency department waiting times at Queensland hospitals and tracking social media conversations to help fight bushfires.

Helping to launch the project in Sydney, Berners-Lee said that it was an example of how broadband internet may be used to improve quality of life for all citizens.

CSIRO's Ian Oppermann, who will head the project, said that its goals would be accomplished using a three-phased approach. The first will focus on the immediate benefits of using technology today to increase productivity, leading to a second approach of "doing old things in new ways."

"We get to have that conversation when we deliver value right now and we talk about what's possible next. Then the really exciting stuff is when we talk about doing new things in completely new ways--ways we've never envisaged before."

In his talk, Berners-Lee alluded to the technology being used beyond its originally intended purpose, pointing to the internet as a system of protocols that its creators and contributors at the time could not have predicted would grow into the web today.

"Vint Cerf and company in 1969 had built the internet without knowing about the web, and without, in a way, caring about the web. They just wanted to build it for any arbitrary program that wanted to run on top of it. They built the internet as a platform which did not dictate what it was going to be used for, so the web is the same thing, and it's that aspect of the web that has been very important to preserve. It's a platform which does not dictate what sort of applications are built on top of it."

He also urged Australian governments to make far more data available online, including information about schools and hospitals, and to avoid online censorship.

Berners-Lee said that there is a whole host of data that isn't private that could be made available, but at the same time, it isn't a simple matter of putting it all out there and letting someone else sort it out.

He used the example of the figures it might cost to run a school, data that Berners-Lee said would certainly be useful, but at the same time, if a school only had a single teacher, there were privacy concerns that would need to be addressed.

"The art of finding out how you can release aggregated data without accidentally giving away [sensitive] data is really an important thing to do."

Berners-Lee brought up other ethically debatable uses of data, such as whether employers should be looking at the social networks of prospective employees that are under the age of 16, and said that the issues could be more subtle, such as whether data use is culturally acceptable. He said this could have even wider impacts when data is inevitably shared on an international scale, highlighting the scenario where US and Australian doctors may have to bring up patient records, but the laws and culture around health records differ significantly.

His comments came as new figures showed that far more work would be needed for the NBN to reach its 2013 mid-year rollout target.

Rollout figures for the second half of calendar 2012, released on Tuesday by NBN Co, showed the fibre-cable work has now passed 46,100 existing premises and 26,300 new home lots.

The June 2013 target is for it to pass 286,000 premises.

Federal Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy insisted that the rollout was on track and would be ramped up in 2013.

"This year you will not be able to walk around a street in Australia without falling over construction work for the NBN," he told the CSIRO launch.

"It will continue to ramp up in every state and territory around the country."

NBN Co boss Mike Quigley said that the government-owned entity was "ramping up" the $37.4 billion project, but acknowledged that there was much work to do to meet the June schedule.

Topics: NBN, Emerging Tech

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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  • Sounds positive

    Nice to hear positive comments about the NBN from one of the most respected people in the history of the internet. It looks like we're starting finally to look at ways this will help Australia's future and economy rather than worrying about the initial startup investment financially.

    "If you build it he will come".

    History is full of inventions building on new technology developed previously. Let's look ahead and let the creative juices fly. This is not just about fast reliable internet, but what it will enable.
  • NBN Outsourcing

    A major benefit of the NBN will be the ability of companies to outsource jobs.
    Consumers will also have better access to services from the global community and not just Australia. Via google HD TV through the NBN we will be able to click on any service we need provided by someone anywhere in the world.
    Websites like 99designs, outsource.com have proved popular with cheap labor in 3rd world countires. The NBN will open up so many avenues for this.
    Teachers can be streamed from one school to another to share quality teachers around and provide all schools with the ability to teach any subject - even if only 1 student wants to take that class – just stream the class via nbn. 1 teacher can now teach 20, 200, 2000 kids via the nbn. Get parents / junior teachers to keep the class under control.

    A brave new world... all in HD
  • NBN Google TV Doctor

    For those skeptics out there who doubt the NBN will do wondrous things.

    Initially you might think it’s ridiculous that the NBN could replace the doctor.


    You clicked on your NBN google tv with a webcam and say “I need a doctor”

    TV : “Whats the problem”
    YOU : I did my back in playing footy
    TV : “Upper or lower back?”
    YOU : “Lower”
    TV : "Google is searching for a lower back specialist for men in their mid forties who injured themselves playing footy."
    TV ; "From our 273,381 doctors we have 15 that meet your requirements. These 15 specialists have seen 7,298 middle age men who have lower back injuries from playing football. (That’s all they do each and every day as google can give them these specific patients). A South African doctor with a google Dr patient rating of 8.9 can see you in 4 minutes. Your Medicare card and medical history are being read by him as we speak. Whilst waiting you can read patient reviews of your doctor.

    Mmmmm Why would you even consider a trip to the local GP to get a referral to go to a specialist to try and get booked in etc etc etc..