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Emerging Technologies – Victoria’s impact on Digital Innovation

03 September 2018

Victoria’s distinguished history


The term ‘emerging technologies’ is not new. In fact ‘technology’ as a term dates back to the 17th century, although at the time linked to applied craft. By the 1930s the use of ‘digital technology’ enabled the start of the computer age.


Dr. Peter Thorne, committee member of the Pearcey Foundation commented ‘From the very beginning of the computer age people and organisations seized the new technology to help them solve problems, to do existing tasks more quickly and more efficiently and to provide new products and services. The early scientific and engineering uses were quickly followed by companies and government organisations. As the technology has become cheaper and computer scientists and engineers have made it more accessible and easier to use, more and more people have benefitted.’


Peter continues about the early days of technology innovation in Melbourne - ‘When I was an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, I became involved in CSIRAC– the first computer in Australia and, with it’s first successful test in 1949, one of the earliest in the world - I got the job as weekend minder of the computer. I also spent time with Trevor Pearcey who had been the driving force in launching Australia into the computer age.’


Since the 19th century there has been wave upon wave of emerging technologies and Victoria has been the home to many significant innovations. These include:


  • Henry Sutton (1856 -1912) a student and later a staff member at the Ballarat School of Mines, whose innovations included experiments with flight, electric light, telephones (Alexander Graham Bell came to visit him) early automobiles and a form of television
  • Arthur James Arnott (1865 -1946) who, here in Melbourne, invented the first electric drill
  • Anthony Michell (1870-1959) a Professor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Michell’s thrust bearing is used on almost all large ships to this day, he also innovated in turbine design, the design of cypher machines and engines that did not need crankshafts
  • David Warren (1925-2010) who pioneered the Black Box flight recorder- now essential equipment on all commercial aircraft
  • Graham Clarke, David Dewhurst and team – the bionic ear or cochlear implant (an outstanding commercial success arising from early research work at the University of Melbourne)
  • Grant Petty, Founder of Black Magic Design. Founded in 2001, Black Magic Design is a Melbourne company that designs and builds high quality TV and film cameras. Black Magic Design’s innovative equipment was used in 8 of the last 10 blockbuster movies.


In relation to digital innovation, emerging technologies have had a dramatic impact on society, especially over the last 30 years. This was driven by development of the internet from private to public networks and the development of affordable digital devices.


‘The current digital devices are a million times more powerful than the early computers and can now fit in you pocket’ added Peter ‘this has allowed for individuals to have access to the world’. This is particularly relevant to countries like India where now over 500 million people have access to the internet, many of whom experienced this for the first time via their mobile device.


The Pearcey Foundation contine to celebrate and recognise the achievements of the IT industry in celebrating the past, informing the present and inspiring the future as part of DIF this year by hosting Pearcey Day. with plans to celebrate Trevor Pearcey's 100th birthday in March 2019.



Examples of emerging technology


Trent Clews-de Castella, CEO of immersive technology company PHORIA describes digital innovation as ‘an impactful transformation enabled by technology. There has been a paradigm shift brought forward by advances in computing, media and information technology.’


But the scope of emerging technology is extremely broad and also challenging for many to understand. AR, VR. MR, XR, AI, Blockchain, IoT – all terms that over time will become more common within general conversation. But what do all these terms mean and what is their benefit? We asked some of the experts from the Victorian community for their opinion.


Trent, who will be involved in both Magnify World and the Digital AI Summit, provided the following insights into VR, AR, MR and XR.


VR - Go anywhere

  • Virtual Reality (VR) is a fully immersive user environment affecting or altering the sensory input(s) (e.g.sight, sound, touch, and smell) and allowing interactions with those sensory inputs by the user’s engagement with the virtual world. Typically, but not exclusively, the interaction is via a head-mounted display, use of spatial or other audio, and/or hand controllers (with or without tactile input or feedback). 
  • VR can be used to alleviate pain, improve cognitive capabilities or to trick the brain (to overcome phobias)


AR - See anything

  • Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digitally-created content into the user’s real-world environment. AR experiences can range from informational text overlaid on objects or locations to interactive photorealistic virtual objects. AR differs from Mixed Reality in that AR objects (e.g., graphics, sounds) are superimposed on, and not integrated into, the user’s environment. AR is being used to expand on our human perceptions – for example we are using it to see through walls


MR - Why not choose both?

  • Mixed Reality (MR) seamlessly blends a user’s real-world environment with digitally-created content, where both environments coexist to create a hybrid experience. In MR, the virtual objects behave in all aspects as if they are present in the real world e.g., they are occluded by physical objects, their lighting is consistent with the actual light sources in the environment, they sound as though they are in the same space as the user. As the user interacts with the real and virtual objects, the virtual objects will reflect the changes in the environment as would any real object in the same space.


XR = VR/AR/MR – a combination of tools that extend reality in different ways.

  • X Reality (XR) is a general term to cover the multiple types of experiences and technologies across VR, AR, MR and any future similar areas. All of these systems have in common, some level of display technology (e.g., video, audio) mixed with a method to track where the user is looking or moving (e.g., up/down, side-to-side, turning around). How those systems work individually, and together, determines which of the more defined experiences the product would be named – VR, AR, MR, or some future XR.


Artificial intelligence (AI) – the automation of human tasks


Barbara Sharp is CEO of Melbourne based startup C-Sight, a platform that uses AI to automate low-order cognitive tasks like reading online body language.


Barbara describes AI as ‘the automation of human tasks using rules written in code. AI augments human intelligence to make humans faster and smarter. For example, the recommendations for movies on Netflix and Amazon are ready examples of algorithms learning from your behaviours or choices.’


Artificial intelligence is already starting to create change in many Australian professions and workplaces. The use of AI is commonplace in many leading businesses including carsales who are one of the presenters at the upcoming Digital AI Summit.


The impact of emerging technology


The Internet of Things or IoT is another emerging technology that has a broad range of applications. Lorraine Tighe, Smart Cities Consultant and former head of City of Melbourne’s CityLab, provides her thoughts.


IoT - ‘Put simply IoT connects ‘Things’ to the internet to collect and share data. Transforming something that is ‘dumb’ to a ‘smart’ device that can communicate without human intervention.’ The ‘Thing’ can be anything from a light bulb to a jet plane - any physical object really. The main components of IoT include:


  • Sensors - collecting data about the ‘Thing’ e.g. Temperature, GPS location, speed, and all other usable data about the “Thing”.
  • Controllers - control the ‘Thing’ e.g. turn on/off, stopping a vehicle, locking/unlocking a door, adjusting the temperature of an oven and any other controllable aspect of the “Thing”.
  • Software - programs to make the ’Thing’ do certain things e.g. Algorithms creating an if this happens do this function - this is where the magic or the mayhem happens!


The main element however is the data and using this data and other data sources to create new actionable insights for decision makers whether it’s a city planner, business manager or citizen. Now more than every Cities, governments and businesses have access to more data about their own products and internal systems, and a greater ability to make changes as a result.


One of the key application areas for IoT are Smart Cities. Smart Cities is simply about applying technology, data and engagement effectively to provide more liveable, sustainable and prosperous communities. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an integral technology for smart cities with over 8 billion devices connected today. A large number of these devices are in cities and can be used to provide real-time information to city managers, planners and citizens.


At the same time we are seeing the maturing of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies which also play an important role in enabling the smart city. Drone technology is also increasingly being used to map and understand environments for planning and also assist in logistics and emergency management. All these technologies are assisting us to have better experiences, better planning of spaces and resources, and more sustainable and safer places.


IoT is also referred to as Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution and is widely considered to offer the next productivity and economic uplift for advanced economies. Recent research by Deloitte Global found that Australian business leaders are the least confident in the world about successfully stewarding their businesses through this era yet the same research also revealed those leaders are the most confident of their current workforce ability to adapt to Industry 4.0. 


'How do we reconcile these and other research findings and what do they reveal about Australian leadership in the post-industrial age?' asks Sandy Plunkett, Pearcey National Committee, journalist, author and industry commentator. As part of DIF 2018, Sandy will lead a panel of experts in a deep dive into the good, the bad and the irrelevant in Australia at a time of extreme change asking - Industry 4.0 Does Australia get it?

Opportunities for further education


Despite being relatively new emerging technologies, the likes of AR and IoT are mature compared to Blockchain. Steve Vallas, organiser for the upcoming Blockchain APAC event said that ‘in terms of time, we aren’t even into the second minute of history for Blockchain. It is so new and many organisations are trying to understand how to utilise this within their business’.


‘Describing Blockchain is only determined by context. It is already co-opted as a definition and not the same conversation as a year ago. It has already been extended beyond the scope. At one end of the scale Blockchain is a bitcoin type product – private, distributed and de-centralised. However, the general adoption will be distributed ledger technology (or DLT) to help make businesses more efficient – private but not so private that we don’t know who you are.’ Steve says.


‘Blockchain is data and transactions but the magic is in how it is used. When you consider, for example, all the data points with Myki or road tolls then how can we make that data be used for a better experience? In addition, how much do people need to know about you? They may be perceived as the perfect customer with all this data but why do organisations really need it? With the development of Blockchain the customer can chose how much they give away.’


In terms of development, Blockchain is being de-centralised but there are still many questions that we don’t have answers to. ‘Blockchain APAC is an opportunity to claim your own personal seat at the table. The fantastic opportunity with Blockchain is that no-one can say that they have been working on this for 20 years like you do with many technologies,’ Steve added, ‘this means that whether you are a 20 year old developer or an inquisitive 40 year old engineer, everyone is at a similar starting point with their own knowledge and development’.


But for all these emerging technologies, it is not really about what it can do, more how it will be used as an enabler to improve the way things are currently done.
For me’ commented Lorraine Tighe ‘it’s not just about the technology, which is often the easy part. It’s really about understanding what the real problem is by engaging with the people who need the problem solved, and also the cultural change to ensure we’re applying technology thoughtfully.’


The Digital Innovation Festival has a number of events where these emerging technologies will be discussed. It is about starting a conversation and collaborating to build knowledge and connections. Check out the DIF emerging technology events here. 

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