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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 17 November 2017, 3:23 pm

Chief Technical Officer

No, not one of the red shirt wearing brigade on Star Trek but rather the proposed head of all things digital for the government.

CTOs aren't uncommon and the government already has one, but the roles tend to be more operational and technical in nature. The proposed role appears to be more aspirational and about setting goals and vision for the government both as a user of technology but also as an actual government - one that sees a future looming and realizes it needs to do something to prepare the country as a whole.

So here are a few issues for the new Tech Lord to consider and start measuring if we're to become the tech powerhouse I know we can be.

R&D - we have to double the value of our spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP if we're to get to the middle of the pack. If we want to get up there with the market leaders we'd need to quadruple it but first things first, let's see about reaching the OECD average. This isn't about government spending more - we already hit that target at a run - but rather it's about government setting the parameters properly for private sector spending on R&D.

Women in technology. Given women make up roughly 50% of the population, I'd like to see roughly 50% of the jobs in IT going to women as well and not for any arbitrary reason but because diversity is vital if we're to develop apps and solutions that have a market in the world at large. Same goes for "minorities" who are, let's face it, in the majority. Diversity is the name of the game and this is easily measured and should be easy to address. Should be.

Technology in schools. I'm very pleased to see more effort going on in this area year by year. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programmes, Network4Learning, digital learning environments, new tools for teachers and administrators, it's all coming together nicely. Now we have to ensure that all our kids have access to digital learning both at school and at home because we're moving to an all-digital world where homework can be set and completed online. Technology in schools is only part one of the project.

Which brings me to the Digital Divide. Connectivity and networking is essential if we're to take our place in the world and that goes doubly so for rural and remote New Zealand. I don't want to develop a class system based on haves and have nots: let's make sure our more remote communities can get access to the latest tech wherever possible. Yes, people in remote areas tend to be there for a reason but if we're talking regional economic development, digital capability is essential.

International connectivity. I'm glad to see new cables finally being laid (it's only been a decade or so since we first demanded redundancy) but that's only the physical layer - we need connectivity at all layers. We need an environment where international money, international employers and international workers all want to come to New Zealand. Currently that's not entirely the case. We have great assets but we also have no strategy for attracting the best talent to New Zealand. That has to be a priority.

And finally the new CTO needs to consider the impact and implications of the move to automation on our society. It's not just truck drivers and petrol pump attendants who are going to find their work automated - farmers, lawyers, pilots, diagnosticians and a whole range of others will also discover their jobs are better performed by robots. There will be new jobs created I am sure, but for those caught in the whirlwind of change that's going to be a particularly difficult transition. We need to handle it carefully.

There. A recipe for a new CTO. Applications should be directed to the Beehive.


CIO - CTO proposal in the government's 100-day fast track

Computerworld - Government to create chief technology officer role

Reuters - Technology invading nearly all U.S. jobs, even lower skilled: study

The New Yorker - The Tech Industry's Gender-Discrimination Problem




The Digital Self

It's only a matter of days since Apple launched the iPhone X with its face recognition software but already someone has successfully (with a large grain of salt) hacked the software.

Putting aside for the moment the question of whether a carefully constructed and poised rubber mask actually counts (see story below for details) it really only is a matter of time before this kind of hack becomes routine and that has to be troubling. Not because I worry about my face being stolen, although that is a problem, but because we now trust so much of our selves to our devices that a hack that gets in can and will cause years of damage.

There are some identifiers that banks and government agencies like to use. Mother's maiden name and IRD numbers are the obvious ones - so if they get compromised, where do you turn? And if you, like me, are starting to trust third party apps with more access to your details (Apple knows my credit card number. So does Dashlane and a raft of other providers) then the potential spread of companies that pose a risk to my security is large and growing ever larger.

How long will it be before something major and irreversible happens to a very large number of people, I wonder. We've already seen Yahoo! try desperately to pretend it wasn't hacked much, even though it was totally compromised - what if a real service provider gets caught?

There's really no going back from that sort of mess, yet we seem hell bent on charging in that direction.

Computerworld - How to fool Face ID on the iPhone X


The headlights of disruption

The New Zealand Initiative and InternetNZ have released their report Analog Regulation, Digital World on the state of regulation facing the technology sector and sadly found few successes and many opportunities for improvement.

This shouldn't surprise us as last time a major piece of digital regulation was introduced (the Copyright Act) it was a shambles and days after introducing it the minister responsible was happy to stand up in Parliament and declare that he didn't know what Netflix was.

Since then we've had more craziness in the form of the GCSB and SIS legislation governing what we can spy on (us) and stupidity around the Patents Act which nearly went in with software as a patentable item - something every sane country in the world has rejected.

Hopefully we've put those woeful attempts to regulate technology behind us but MPs are not renowned for their fast moving use of fast moving technology and are often caught in the headlights of disruption.

The report highlights several areas that could do with something of a tidy up:

Copyright must surely be first off the blocks with a review underway and much room to improve. Film and television censorship must be updated to take into account the global and far reaching availability of content.

Open data principles needs to be translated into actual practice - something we've struggled with in the past.

Anti-Money Laundering legislation has been the bane of my existence. Having to go into a branch to fill in forms to set up a business account (like an animal) in this day and age is laughable.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act is due for review and frankly you have to wonder whether it's worth maintaining at all. Much like the "car crushing boy racer" legislation, it runs the risk of being seen as a knee-jerk reaction to something of a media beat up.

Those are the easy ones and I'm sure we can all name various bits of mad legislation that simply don't work in the digital era.

Looks like the new CTO will definitely have their work cut out for them.

Techblog - Keep up with technology or be left behind

NZ Initiative - Analog Regulation, Digital World


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