New report reveals Australia lags behind US, UK and China in digital tech innovation

Digital technologies are now at the heart of our daily lives, as anyone who has swapped their desk for a videoconferencing screen, or downloaded a contact finder application, is well aware.

This trend is expected to continue even in a post-COVID world. Australia is at a crossroads in developing a strong digital economy to face this changing world head-on.

In the words of computer pioneer Alan Kay, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Australia must also seize the opportunity to leverage its research and development strengths in emerging digital technologies and create a ‘digital future’ by amplifying growth opportunities in this important sector and strengthening our sovereign capacities. . But Australia is lagging behind many other countries in shaping this digital future.

In a new report released today, the Australian Academy of Sciences and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering jointly issued an urgent call to action, calling on government and industry to recognize the importance emerging digital technologies.

The report makes several key recommendations:

  1. make emerging digital technologies a national science and innovation priority
  2. include research and innovation in emerging digital technologies in the 2021 research infrastructure roadmap
  3. recognize emerging digital technologies as an independent growth sector.

What technologies should we encourage?

The report focuses on emerging digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and 5G networks.

These innovations are already starting to transform sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, waste management, transportation, finance, education and health. But they are still considered “emerging technologies” because they have not yet realized their full commercial potential, unlike more established technologies such as 3D printing, mobile computing or GPS.

The next wave of emerging digital technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, smart micro-grids, 6G networks and quantum computing, will disrupt and further transform many sectors of the economy.

Of course, it is difficult to predict exactly what innovations will occur in the future. But by ensuring a strong national focus on basic science and engineering in this rapidly evolving field, Australia can ensure that we stay ahead of the game no matter what the future holds.

What are other nations doing?

The problem is, Australia is currently doing the opposite. It is lagging behind countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and China, which all favor digital technologies as a strategy to strengthen their global competitiveness.

Digital innovation accounts for just 7.4% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP), compared to an OECD average of 11.2%.

Read more: Australia’s digital competitiveness is on the decline. This is how we can catch up

The applications of emerging digital technologies will continue to diversify and grow. Research and innovation in emerging digital technologies should not be artificially tied to specific application areas nor focus too much on today’s needs, as this limits the potential for innovation that might otherwise create opportunities. entirely new industries and jobs.

At the same time, emerging digital technologies continue to exceed social expectations and regulatory frameworks. Australia’s digital divide continues to widen and people with low incomes, jobs and education continue to fall behind. This challenge is likely to exacerbate our looming shortage of digitally skilled workers and widen existing inequalities.

Achieving digital literacy and inclusion through education and workforce development is essential for Australia to meet its commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to ensure the development of a highly qualified workforce with a digital mastery.

Australians are early adopters and avid users of technology – a trend that has been accelerated by the COVID pandemic. And the federal government’s Digital Economy Strategy is already investing A $ 1.2 billion in key digital capabilities like artificial intelligence and drone technologies.

This investment is welcome, but the government must also clearly recognize the importance of building scientific and technical capacities in order to support the entire digital economy, and not just specific technologies.

Making emerging digital technologies a national science priority will increase their importance, both in terms of investment and storytelling, expand research and development strengths, provide critical research infrastructure, and be a catalyst for the creation of new technology companies and support for existing companies through strengthened links between research and industry. Through recognition of a growing sector, it can help attract talent and meet the nation’s future skill needs.

A highly digitalized society will require world-class leadership in the development of digital technologies and reduce our dependence on foreign technology and expertise. Coordinated and strategic support for this crucial sector of our economy will help create a digital future for Australia in line with our social and economic aspirations.The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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