Data61 CEO says Australia poised to lead the digital revolution

40 per cent of jobs to go over next decade and a half

Data61 CEO Adrian Turner has warned that the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will destroy 40 per cent of Australian jobs over the next 15 years but says he is confident that new jobs will emerge to replace them. However he concedes it will be a case of under-employment rather than full employment.

Delivering a presentation titled People in the Future of Work at Gartner’s Data and Analytics Summit in Sydney, Turner said: “New jobs will be created, make no mistake. It will be jobs that require a lot of dexterity.”

He suggested also that technology would create new roles just as it destroyed roles.

“You see keyboard operators declining massively but people moving into higher roles in accounting,” the Data61 CEO said. You see it in photography. You see a decline in developers and printers but an amazing explosion in creativity as more people get into digital photography. You see the number of print workers declining and the number of graphic designers growing.”

Turner said the world was on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution. “It is exemplified by cyber physical systems: people interacting with things. People call it the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of things, but it is much more than all that… We are moving to a world dominated by platforms and by platform economics.”

He pointed out that, in 2016, the top five publicly traded companies in the US were all platform companies: Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon whereas in 2005 there had been only one, Microsoft.

Platforms, he said, were naturally monopolistic and able to scale very fast. “There is a one way flow of value underpinned by data. The platform is creating the tools and rules to enable others to create value. Facebook is the largest media company despite producing no content.”

Rather than fear these changes, Turner said Australia should recognise that it is well placed to lead. “There are enormous opportunities for new industries and we think that Australia is in a prime position to lead a whole range of new industries because of the size of our economy, the quality of our universities and our smart people. We have incredibly smart people in this country.”

He listed five industry sectors that he said Australia should concentrate on as providing the best opportunities: precision medicine, automated regulation, digital currency, food provenance and real-time freight tracking.

Turner said precision medicine could be a ‘moon shot’ for Australia. “The whole healthcare system will be completely upended. We will move from a crisis interrupt driven healthcare system to one that nudges and collects data passively about us so that when we go and talk to a medical professional it will be a different type of conversation and it will spawn a whole lot of new industries. It will reshape our quality of live and length of life.

He said Data61 was close to commercialising an automated regulation product. “We are applying machine learning and analytics to regulation and law. We can understand any piece of regulation or law, break it down into machine-readable graphics and expose all that through a series of APIs. We are already trialling it in multi jurisdictional trade.”

And he said Australia had a world lead in block chain, likely to underpin digital currencies.“Australia has an overweight of people working on block chain relative to the other parts of the world and we have been asked to chair the internationals standards work on block chain.”

He said Australia needed to ensure the provenance of its agricultural products if it wanted to extract maximum export value. “If we want to command a premium for our agricultural products we have to be assert that they are Australia. Today 50 per cent of Australia’s meat exports are being switched out for inferior products.”

Turner concluded: “We have an opportunity to create the future and to lead and create new jobs and there is no reason whey we should not do it. The economics of some of these platforms are completely different for the leader versus the follower we have all the smarts to go after them. We should embrace this change not fear it.”

However some of his colleagues at Data 61 are less bullish about Australia’s prospects. Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, a principal scientist in Data61’s Strategy and Foresight team, told Computerworld in January that Australian industry and governments were being slow to recognise and respond to the changes taking place.

“Australia seems to standing on the sidelines and watching this game called digital and being amused by it but not diving in,” he said.

“Australian industry and governments are still by and large bystanders in the digital revolution. They are not jumping into it and putting skin into the game as other countries are.”

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