Most of us would agree, with the proposition that technology has and will continue to have a transformational impact on society. While many of the effects of technology today are overwhelming positive and have improved our quality of life and have economic stability, there is growing concern about the disruptive impact of emerging technologies.
Developments such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and computer vision allied with developments in robotics are making ideas that a short time ago seemed fantasies, deployable realities today.
Autonomous mining and transport, robotic manufacturing and automated office processes and the Internet of Things (IoT) are now starting to have a real and measurable impacts on employment, and North Queensland will not be immune.
In fact, many studies have indicated that relatively remote and industrially oriented economies, such as we have in the north, may well be particularly vulnerable to the disruptive impact of technology.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) have recently reported that by 2022 over 75 million jobs will be lost to automation, but that over 100 million will be created. The important caveat is that the 100+ million new jobs will require very different skills and abilities. At every point in the work chain – training, workers, companies and government – we are going to have to step up and change.
How we make this change is one of the great, but silent, challenges in the north.
Klaus Schwab, CEO of the WEF, argues that we have now entered the fourth industrial revolution. This new industrial era is characterised by the convergence of multiple technologies which will “blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.” The scale and intensity of these changes will be responsible for transformation of systems of employment, production, management and governance.
This fourth industrial revolution is the result of two intersecting forces:
1. The democratisation of mobile, digital platforms which now see billions of people connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power and,
2. By the speed and diversity of emerging technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, 3-D printing and even new biotechnologies.
One of the most important of Schwab’s insights is the observation that “in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.” This is a really critical concept for North Queensland to get its collective heads around.
The industrial world of the near future will be less and less concerned with the location or place and more concerned with talent and the high-end skills of people. In many ways this message is not dissimilar to what we have been hearing for several years now – our future will be more about ideas and the capability of our people rather than primary resources. From where we are sitting right now this might seem far-fetched, but the reality is that very soon we will need fewer people to produce the goods and services we produce today. So, we need to do more.
Townsville and the north in general is fortunate to actually have one of the key resources required to meet these new challenges – an established and world class post-secondary education sector. While traditional engineering and IT skills are critical to any region, at James Cook University (JCU) we have been responding to the new global forces and introducing new programs to equip students with the new skills required to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution.
In Cairns, JCU has introduced Australia’s first accredited engineering degree in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) which gives students the skills needed to design smart cities, develop precision agricultural systems, monitor natural environments, create new generation health monitoring and more. All of this along with a focus on business and innovation skills are needed to develop the real products and services needed to transform local economies.
JCU’s fully on-line postgrad Data Science Program is one of the fastest growing programs in Australia and is designed to upskill graduates with the practical knowledge needed to become an expert in this critical 21st century discipline. Data is now at the core of nearly every business and data scientists are the people that can mine and transform this data to create new value and competitive insights.
“in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.” | Klaus Schwab, CEO of the WEF
Leadership in technology development and translation for the purposes of business and economic development across Northern Australia is essential for us to thrive in the 21st century. JCU will be adding to our portfolio of new generation programs and knowledge-based entrepreneurism to attend to the human capital needs in our region and equip our graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to take up the opportunities of a digital economy.
Few fields will go untouched by the fourth industrial revolution: law, education, health, business, mining, infrastructure, agriculture and government are all now re-examining approaches to business and using insights and processes enabled by new technologies. Quite simply, if you don’t have access to these skills it’s going to be easy to be left behind.