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Living on the curve

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 12 July 2018, 11:44 am

It was Gordon Moore who pointed out that technological change isn't linear, it's exponential. As computer power doubles, the price for it halves and this is having a profound effect on the way we live and think, so that we are now, as Amy Fletcher put it, "living on the curve".

That's just one of the take-homes in a day of ideas at ITx, the tech industry's biannual conference, hosted by IT Professionals. It began yesterday and will run for the rest of the week with the highlight being the NZ Excellence in IT Awards Gala Dinner this evening.

Fletcher, an Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury, was one of the keynote speakers. Her presentation had an ambitious title: AI, Robotics, Ethics and You.  She only had 40 minutes, but instead of attempting to solve those issues she did what the best presenters do - raised a whole lot of questions.

She noted that while the audience will likely be familiar with concepts such automation, machine learning and AI, this is not the case with the general population. The technology topic in which people are most interested in is the future of work. There is a massive transformation taking place, as many of the skills required to thrive in the last two centuries are becoming obsolete. And while she is optimistic that humans will find new ways to be creative and productive in the "fourth industrial revolution", the transition could be tough.

Education is, as it should be, primarily focussed on preparing the younger generation, the so-called millennials and Generation Z, for the future workforce. But Fletcher says the person who might need the most support is the "42-year-old single mother whose job has been automated away".

Earlier in the day Communications Minister Clare Curran talked about the Future Work Forum in her speech. This is to be led by Grant Robertson with Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope and CTU President Richard Wagstaff. "It'll examine the big challenges ahead and help shape the policies we need so workers and businesses can adapt to the rapidly changing nature of work," Curran says. "We want to work with you, this isn't just something happening on the side."

Also challenging the audience to use its skills and expertise, was Ernie Newman, a digital economy consultant based in Whakatane, who has worked on consumer issues around online personal electronic health records, and implementation of telehealth. He says the health system has not embraced digital transformation in a way that other sectors have - such as banking and aviation - and as a result it is not serving New Zealanders.

"Consumers aside, the people who best understand the opportunity are those professionals working in health IT. They are the people in this room," he said during his presentation entitled: Health - A Digital Laggard - Diagnosis and Treatment Plan.

"So, my challenge to the health IT profession is to lend active support to establishing a consumer action group tasked with envisioning a re-engineered health customer interface. One that reflects the changed needs of today's society and the massive potential of the digital age. Are you up for it?"

The first day ended with recognition being given to the IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews, to mark his 10th anniversary in the role. Matthews has himself led a transformation in the New Zealand tech sector - changing the New Zealand Computer Society into the IT Professionals, and ensuring it is an important and relevant voice in the sector. Technology is more than just zeros and ones, software and hardware. It is the contest of ideas, and this is well on display at ITx.


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