Rocking the foundations

Wednesday, 01 September 2021

Jessica Mudditt photo
Jessica Mudditt

    With traditional business models being disrupted and early adopters of new and emerging technology gaining the competitive edge, it’s clear that digital literacy is key to a successful digital transformation. We asked a team of experts to identify the top 10 concepts in the digital toolkit directors need to be across as part of this foundational change.

    1. DARPA

    What is it? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been hailed by The Economist as “the agency that shaped the modern world”. It can be credited, at least in part, for game-changing innovations including the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, GPS, drones, bionic limbs, weather satellites, the personal computer and the internet.

    Founded in 1958 under the US Department of Defense, DARPA collaborates with academia, industry and government partners on research and development projects that expand the frontiers of technology and science. The research outcomes often go far beyond the immediate needs of American national security. DARPA’s success has inspired several governments around the world, including Australia, to undertake similarly ambitious endeavours.

    Why is it important? DARPA’s many projects are worth keeping an eye on. A new project that examines lifelong learning models for artificial intelligence (AI) is of particular interest. Just as humans benefit from learning from the experiences of others, could this prove the same for AI? The implications might be profound for the sophistication of AI services.

    “Lifelong learning is a relatively new area of machine learning research in which agents continually learn as they encounter varying conditions and tasks while deployed in the field, acquiring experience and knowledge and improving performance on both novel and previous tasks,” states the funding announcement.

    DARPA is offering up to US$1m per proposal under the Shared-Experience Lifelong Learning (ShELL) program.

    2. Edge computing

    What is it? Broadly speaking, edge computing occurs at the edge of a network and outside of the cloud, and in applications where real-time processing of data is required. Cloud computing operates on big data, while edge computing uses “instant data” generated in real time by sensors or users. It is sometimes also referred to as “fog computing”.

    Why is it important? Edge computing delivers business benefits such as faster insights, improved response times and bandwidth savings. It stands as a genuine rival to the cloud, however, claims that edge computing will replace cloud computing are unfounded, say several leading analysts.

    With storage in the cloud already pushing network bandwidth requirements to the limit, the aim of edge computing is to move the computation away from data centres towards the periphery of the network, exploiting smart objects such as mobile phones to perform tasks and provide services on behalf of the cloud. By 2025, an estimated 75 per cent of data will be processed outside the cloud or traditional data centres, according to global research advisory company Gartner.

    Speed is a major advantage of edge computing. By virtue of bringing analytical computational resources closer to end users, response times are improved. When speed is critical to applications, edge computing is far preferable to a traditional cloud-based system. Autonomous cars are one example: a time lag of even a few milliseconds could have very serious consequences. Preventing delays is also essential to most applications concerning health or public safety.

    3. Facial recognition system

    What is it? A facial recognition system can match a human face from a digital image or video frame against a database of faces. Some algorithms achieve this by analysing the relative position, size and shape of the eyes, nose, cheekbones and jaw. Other algorithms may compress the face data and only save the parts that are relevant to facial recognition.

    Although facial recognition is less accurate than other forms of biometric technology, such as iris or fingerprint recognition, it has been widely adopted because it is a contactless process. It has been heralded as one of the most powerful surveillance tools ever created.

    Why is it important? Facial recognition is useful for organisations seeking to improve security and authentication. But the issue of responsible and ethical use is one that companies need to give due regard, as violations could cause considerable reputational damage. While most people interact with facial recognition simply as a way to unlock their phones or tag their photos, the way that companies and governments use it can have a profound impact on people’s lives.

    For example, in China’s Xinjiang province, the Uyghur people are subjected to surveillance by cameras equipped with facial recognition software as a matter of policy, according to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report. An increasing number of scientists have urged researchers not to work with firms or universities linked to unethical projects.

    Evidence of racial profiling and protester identification resulted in Amazon, IBM and Microsoft halting sales of their software to law enforcement agencies in June 2020.

    4. Genomics

    What is it? A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Genomics is its study, with a focus on the structure, function, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes. While genetics concerns the study of individual genes and their roles in inheritance, genomics examines all of an organism’s genes and their influence on health and disease.

    Why is it important? Genomics is poised to bring about a revolution in healthcare, as it may lead to an understanding of why prescription drugs can affect people differently and produce adverse reactions. This has the potential to deliver a new medical frontier of “personalised medicine”, which promises to be far more effective than existing treatments.

    It could also contribute to an understanding of the causes and treatments for serious genetic disorders in children, and identify the specific mutations in cancer to detect its early onset and enable more effective treatment. Genomic sequencing has played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic by identifying which strand of the virus has been transmitted and helping contact tracers carry out their work.

    The cost of genomic sequencing has dropped dramatically in the past decade and Australia has the capacity to lead in further developing and retailing the offering. It could obtain a sizeable share of the market, seizing significant global commercial opportunities in the process.

    5. Human-centred design

    What is it? Human-centred design (HCD) is an approach to problem-solving that develops solutions by involving the human perspective in every step of the process. It is most often applied to design and management frameworks. HCD combines what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.

    It is credited with boosting effectiveness and efficiency, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability, as well as counteracting adverse effects of using interactive systems development — an example of which is a mobile phone — on health and safety.

    Why is it important? Adopting a human- centred approach to design and development will likely confer substantial economic and social benefits for users, employers and suppliers. Companies with user-friendly systems and products tend to be more successful, technically and commercially. Consumers are often willing to pay a premium for well- designed products and systems, and help-desk costs are reduced when users do not require additional assistance. Employers and suppliers in many countries also have legal obligations to protect users from risks to their health.

    6. Industry 5.0

    What is it? Also known as the Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR), Industry 5.0 is linked to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0 or 4IR) currently underway. While 4IR concerns the automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using smart technology, 5IR is tipped to involve the process of humanising these technologies through digitisation. Like previous industrial revolutions, it has two components — the creation of new technology and the change in production that it brings about.

    Why is it important? The third and fourth industrial revolutions took a heavy toll on humans and the environment. According to business leaders such as Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, a crisis of trust in technology is on the horizon. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2019, he said 5IR will see the introduction of a chief ethical and humane use officer across businesses worldwide. “Are we using these technologies for the good of the world? You can’t do business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution without the trust of your employees and your customers and partners.”

    7. Journey map

    What is it? A customer journey map involves defining a customer’s needs, problems and interactions with a company. This will lead to an understanding of their intentions, motivations and pain points — and what makes them decide whether to become customers or to take their business elsewhere.

    Why is it important? Understanding the experience at each stage of the customer journey is crucial for turning business insights into long-term improvement strategies that win new business and retain current customers.

    Through journey mapping, companies can improve the customer experience. Organisations can benchmark the experience valued by customers against what they actually receive. The map helps create a logical sequence to the buyer’s journey. When matched to the needs of well understood customer segments, personas can be created, enabling the journey to be better tailored to deliver an experience that is valued by the customer.

    Salesforce research found that 84 per cent of consumers feel that being treated like a human rather than a number is crucial to winning their business — and that personalisation is one of the most important aspects of the customer experience. Customer journey mapping allows companies to create personalised experiences across all touchpoints — for every individual, across all channels.

    8. Ransomware

    What is it? Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that encrypts files and computers, effectively locking them. Cybercriminals then demand a ransom be paid for access to be restored. Attacks are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated, and involve state and non-state actors.

    Why is it important? Ransomware can bring companies to their knees — even bringing about their demise. Authorities generally advise against paying a ransom, as there is no guarantee access will be restored and it serves to encourage the illegal practice. Directors should familiarise themselves with Australia’s Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 proposed reforms for a fuller understanding of how to respond to and prevent ransomware attacks.

    In July, The Washington Post reported that companies that have been locked out of their computer networks by hackers are now being sued by consumers and workers on the grounds that they were harmed by “lax cybersecurity”.

    9. Quantum Supremacy

    What is it? CSIRO explains scientists can isolate, control and sense individual quantum particles (electrons/protons) and their properties. “In a quantum computer we use these capabilities to create an entirely new form of computation... They have the potential to solve problems that are impossible on current computing systems.”.

    Why is it important? According to the CSIRO, large-scale, accurate quantum computers could help develop new medicines, engineer energy- efficient batteries, advance AI and offset the massive amounts of energy consumed by the world’s supercomputers. Google claimed the computer it created in 2019 demonstrated “quantum supremacy” performing a calculation in three minutes that would have taken the world’s biggest supercomputer 10,000 years. Australian-founded quantum computing players include listed company and IBM partner Archer Materials, infrastructure software provider Q-CTRL, and PsiQuantum, which raised US$450m in its recent series D.

    10. Unhackable internet

    What is it? With ransomware a modern business scourge, the prospect of an unhackable internet is much anticipated. Although it is still some five to six years away, researchers at the Delft University of Technology are working hard to build a network connecting four cities in the Netherlands entirely by means of quantum technology. Messages sent over this network will be unhackable, the idea being that it can be replicated for global use. This will likely be a reality by the end of the decade.

    Why is it important? The new internet will utilise quantum physics to provide inherently secure communication. Similar innovations are underway in China. However, the Delft network is expected to become the first to transmit information between cities using quantum techniques from end to end.

    Contributors: Warrick Cramer, Murray Hurps, Maria MacNamara

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