Australia needs to focus on digital technology research, according to a new report by the Australian academies of Science (AAS) and Technology and Engineering (ATSE).
The summary, published on the AAS’s website, urges policymakers to recognise the significance of digital technologies – including AI, quantum computing, cybersecurity, blockchain and 5G. While the use of all this technology is growing in Australia, the academies stress that the country lags in innovation and development.
“We call on the Australian Government to recognise the importance of building scientific capability behind the digital economy, both in investment and narrative,” says Professor Shazia Sadiq, an ATSE Fellow and computer science researcher at the University of Queensland.
The summary stresses that compared to other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations, Australia is falling behind in digital technology research and development. On average, 11.2% of OECD nations’ GDP comes from digital innovation, while in Australia it only accounts for 7.4%.
The academies have three key recommendations for the federal government:
- Prioritise research and innovation in emerging digital technologies
- Include this in the 2021 Research Infrastructure Roadmap, and
- Recognise digital technology as its own independent growth sector
The report points out that there’s a growing demand for digitally skilled workers, with an expected increase of 100,000 jobs in the sector between 2018 and 2024. This contrasts with a rise in automation and AI, both of which are expected to replace jobs and further disrupt the workplace over the next decade.
“While it is difficult to predict what future innovations might look like, a strong national focus on fundamental science and engineering behind emerging digital technologies will allow Australia to stay ahead of the curve in a dynamic and fast evolving landscape,” says Sadiq.
“Australia must address the digital divide to ensure equity of access to the benefits delivered by digital technologies, and to meet the skill requirements for a future digital workforce,” says ATSE Fellow and University of South Australia Emeritus Professor Mike Miller.
“Australia’s emerging digital technology capabilities must receive this support in order for the nation to remain internationally competitive and ensure that scientific leadership is adequately harnessed in shaping our collective digital future.”
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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