As humans, intelligent machines and the Internet of Everything interconnect and converge, forming a kind of ‘oneness’ in this new industrial age, there are increasing signs of fractures in the unitary world of the EU and around the globe.

It is yet to be seen whether the resurrection of ‘walls’ will ‘trump’ the virtual world of cyberspace – I suspect not as we are now at an inflexion point of no return. Disruptions to old economies and practices, old structures and systems are well underway and now accelerating to a point where the momentum is unlikely to subside.

Over the past decade or more, collaboration has risen in importance to the point where it’s now seen as an essential skill and one of the 4Cs (along with communication, creativity and critical thinking) deemed vital for 21st century learning.

No longer can we work in isolation or rely on a single person’s knowledge and expertise to achieve a successful outcome. Most goals of significant scope or substance require input from a range of perspectives and this is particularly true in the ICT sector, where major projects or initiatives are likely to impact a significant number of people across every field of endeavour. The power of collaboration lies in its commitment to achieving a win-win, where all parties benefit from their involvement.

Collaboration and the ACS
As I look back over what was a tumultuous 2016, collaboration has been a constant theme in how the way the ACS has engaged with our community and stakeholders. The involvement of several Government Ministers and numerous industry leaders from Australia and overseas in our 2016 Reimagination Thought Leaders Summit and Ministers Forum earlier this month allowed the ACS to explore significant ICT industry issues from a broad array of viewpoints and agendas, as well as considering the ramifications of emerging techno-social challenges confronting everyone living in this digital age.

In his keynote presentation at Reimagination, MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who co-authored The Second Machine Age, discussed the attributes of successful digital disruptors. He said a key trait of these disruptors was their willingness to seek information and feedback from different sources – including crowds of random strangers on the Internet – to rapidly test and progress their innovations, an approach that has yielded enormously positive results.

The day before, at the ACS Minister’s Forum, Ray Long, President of BCS, Britain’s Chartered Institute for IT, reinforced my own views about the importance of collaboration and leadership in ensuring successful outcomes for ICT projects.

“Projects fail because of issues around people and leadership and choices,” he said. “Sometimes we focus on technology training and education for people, but as a profession we need to undertake more training around the softer skills like collaboration and leadership.”

If I look more broadly, 2016 has also seen some monumental and highly disruptive collaborations, especially in the crowd-sourcing space. Uber’s increase in prominence is just one example of a collaborative platform which has rewritten old rules and beliefs about how we travel around our major cities.

Having seen first-hand the impressive displays of self-driving cars at the CES Innovation exhibition in Las Vegas in January this year, I can imagine a time in the not too distant future when we no longer own cars, but simply call on the services of automated vehicles when and where we need them.

The explosion in the use of smart sensors to capture and feed data to the Internet of Everything is itself a collaboration on the grandest possible scale that will provide the enabling platform for driverless cars, smart homes, wearables and eHealth, drone services and many other services we haven’t yet imagined.

The willingness of our Governments to appropriately share data both internally between agencies and externally with businesses to feed new innovative product and services, will be a crucial driver in our ability to leverage and capitalise on this critical enabling digital asset.

Where to?
As we look forward to 2017 and beyond, I am excited at the prospect of rapid advancement in learning robots, bots, androids and other forms of artificial intelligence. At the same time, I am unsettled by a recent draft report to the European Parliament which discusses the assignment of legal electronic persons status with specific rights and obligations to AI-enabled robots.

Perhaps Isaac Asimov, in saying that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom, was foretelling some of the techno-social challenges humanity will grapple with in the days ahead. Do we as humans need to consider a kind of collaboration with this emerging ‘form of life’ to create new economies, structures and systems that further enhance our capacity to innovate, grow and lead?

Anthony Wong is President of the ACS and Chief Executive of AGW Consulting P/L, a multidisciplinary ICT, Intellectual Property Legal and Consulting Practice.