Going into the next 15 years, Australia is going to face an unprecedented range of challenges. A set of new technologies are coming down the pipe that are going to change every individual, every business.
In 2016, Klaus Schwab, Executive Chair of the World Economic Forum coined a term for this seismic shift in society: the fourth industrial revolution.
Schwab pointed to a host of disruptive technologies that would change the fabric of society: automation and artificial intelligence; the internet of things; omnipresent connectivity; genomics and cybernetics.
These technologies promise to dramatically change the way we work and live in a relatively short period of time.
That disruption will result in some jobs being eliminated, many more jobs being augmented and some entirely new jobs created.
It will also have flow on effects across the economy.
Many of the tasks automated, for example, will be tend to be in the low-skill areas, creating a rising bar to enter the jobs market.
There will be economic issues, as some workers get displaced without adequate retraining.
This enormous disruption is why we need visionary leadership in government, to help us manage the transition into this new revolution.
We need government that isn’t just aware of the issues, but is proactively working to mitigate potential problems.
We need real forward-looking bills and budgets that factor in the realities of the coming revolution.
We need government with a plan to retrain potentially millions of workers displaced by new technologies.
Predictable, repetitive tasks are highly susceptible to automation, so people in manufacturing, office administration, transport and food preparation are likely to be the hardest hit, and we’ll need a plan to move those workers into growth sectors like technology and health.
We need government that understands that STEM and technology are going to be the drivers of this new world.
Australia needs 100,000 new ICT workers in the next five years just to keep up with demand; 200,000 if we want to be a world leader.
We need the best environment we can to foster that talent.
We need government that recognises that as the biggest employer in the Australian economy, it’s incumbent on it to help raise the skill levels of the workforce.
There are almost two million employees in the Australian Public Service – around 16 percent of the national workforce.
This represents a strategic opportunity for spreading skills across the Australian economy.
We need government that’s willing to update outdated legislation to reflect the realities of the fourth industrial revolution.
Too many of our current policies were made for the pre-internet era and haven’t been updated to reflect the current state of affairs or the global market in which we now operate.
We need government that recognises the value of technology.
It needs to see technology as an opportunity, not a threat.
The fourth industrial revolution is not a ticking time bomb – it’s the path to new opportunities for exports, for productivity and growth.
Our recent Australia’s Digital Pulse reports have revealed that in the past five years our ICT services exports have grown by 60%; that digital technology is going to be worth $139 billion to the Australian economy by 2020 and that the average Australian is better off by $4,663 per year as a result of general technological uptake.
Business R&D was also up 60%, and that’s a trendline that needs to continue.
And we need government that’s aware and engaged with the new threat landscape.
Cyberwarfare is on the rise, with many of the major threats coming from state-sponsored skunkworks, while cybercrime is at an all time high.
The government needs to be aware of these threats, to have a proportionate response while at the same time refraining from overreaching and becoming a surveillance state.
As we’ve seen with the recently introduced Assistance and Access domestic surveillance bill, that can be a difficult line to walk – enabling the law enforcement and security apparatus to do their job while not stepping on the rights of individuals or hurting the Australian cyber security industry.
If we can get government that succeeds in these areas, Australia will be well placed to succeed in the coming revolution.
If we can’t, then Australia risks becoming an international backwater, left behind in a changing world.