Automation must be embraced by government: Data61

Australian businesses and governments need to embrace industry changes brought on by automation rather than fearing them, according to Data61 CEO Adrian Turner.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

The world is going through what some people term the fourth industrial revolution, according to Data61 CEO Adrian Turner, led by the rise of automation and an increasingly connected world that relies on devices.

But rather than fearing the change brought about by automation in the workplace, Turner said Australian businesses and governments should focus on creating new jobs that embrace and adapt to these changes.

Speaking at the first day of the Garner 2017 APAC Data & Analytics Summit in Sydney on Monday, Turner said that although 40 percent of jobs won't exist in 15 years because of automation, this 40 percent will roll into new industries. As such, Australian businesses and the federal government should work together to make sure the nation is well prepared.

"The future is not certain and not known, and we have an opportunity to create it en lieu," Turner said. "We've got all the smarts, we got a sense of where it's all going, we have a tremendous opportunity to step up and create new industries that will create new jobs; there's no reason why we shouldn't do it."

Australia actually has a massive advantage over other western economies in implementing these changes through government, according to Turner, because of the nation's relatively small government, the size of its economy, and the quality of the universities.

"We think that Australia is in prime position to lead a whole bunch of new industries. If you think about trying to do some of these things in a market like the US or the EU, it's much more fragmented, it's harder to get everything lined up, whereas in Australia we can."

Turner particularly stressed "underemployment and not unemployment", and said that Australia should look to adapt to changes straight away in areas such as education.

"The reality is the education sector is changing. The challenge is that the market context is changing so quickly that in a four-year degree cycle, you have to think differently about how you teach. We need to do a better job of contextualising why technology matters for graduates and for kids," he said.

"In Israel, they teach kids from 14 years old cybersecurity and the fundamentals of cybersecurity; we don't right now. The government has a role to make sure there's a safety net for us as an economy to help transition."

Companies are adopting new technologies, automation, and data collection methods at an impressive rate, according to Turner, and not only because of operational efficiencies, but also because of the multiple types of natural bias that humans have that can affect the interpretation of data.

As a result, the increasing move towards automation is affecting industries that had previously never been thought of as being susceptible. For example, he said in law, through the application of machine learning and analytics, computers can understand any piece of regulation and break it down into machine-readable objects.

There will, however, be a counterbalance, Turner said, where more opportunities are created because of automation in areas such as in and around the arts, cultural activities, content production, precision medicine, and trading, as well as entertainment. Turner pointed to the US, where in the national security industry, data analysts are looking for a wide range of professionals to derive insight from data -- even artists and philosophers.

He pointed to the belief of Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales and Data61, who said that as well as being technically literate, creative thinkers will be fundamental for a systems-thinking point of view and knowing what questions to ask computer systems.

"It's not about this technology replacing jobs, but shifting the nature of jobs. New jobs will be created, make no mistake. It'll be jobs that require a lot of dexterity."

Turner also stressed that some industries will be less affected because there are certain types of jobs that systems and machines will have a hard time replicating. Even a simple manual job such as folding a towel, for example, will always take longer for a robot than for a human.

Australia now needs to recognise those areas where the technology can really make a difference, according to Turner, and past the obvious structural changes that are now necessary because of technology.

"If we take a step back and break it all down, there's actually enormous opportunities for new industries. The world's moving, the models are shifting, we're moving to more rapidly iterate more careers within our career. We shouldn't fear this change, we should embrace it. We should work with the technology.

"What we're moving to -- at a country level, a corporate level, an individual level -- it's really the survival of the digital fittest."

Last year, Gartner predicted virtual personal assistants to become the front-line interface between government and citizens, while government agencies will shift to autonomous business processes and business intelligence capabilities to help humans make better decisions based on context in real time.

"What you'll see as these machines become smarter, more data is fed into them, more real-world experience is extrapolated from them, what you'll see is fewer humans interacting with transactions," said Rick Howard, research vice president at Gartner.

Government CIOs must also adopt threat-aware, risk-based approaches that allow governments to make informed decisions about risks, according to the company, and those that are too slow to adopt technology innovations will increase business risk and cost, while compromising the mission of their organisations.

Gartner predicted worldwide government spending on technology products and services to reach $476.1 billion by 2020.

"By 2020, 30 percent of the transactions we engage in today will no longer exist," Howard said. "The focus is now on effectiveness and outcomes, and the contribution that technology makes to the operations of government."

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