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A ‘tidal wave’ of disruption is on the way - CSIRO

Peter Griffin, Editor. 28 July 2022, 12:31 pm

Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, has published its once-in-a-decade report on the future and it's a picture of massive change, with tech playing a central role.

In the absence of a similarly comprehensive foresight project from our own government, the CSIRO report is a useful summary of the megatrends that will shape the world.

The seven identified by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation include: Adapting to climate change, Leaner, cleaner and greener, The escalating health imperative, Geopolitical shifts, Diving into digital, Increasingly autonomous and Unlocking the human dimension.

Screenshot 2022-07-28 at 11.52.58 AM.png

Source: CSIRO

“Australia is at a pivotal point. There is a tidal wave of disruption on the way, and it’s critical we take steps now to get ahead of it," the CSIRO’s chief executive Dr Larry Marshall says.

“From resource scarcity to drug-resistant superbugs, disrupted global trade, and an increasingly unstable climate threatening our health and way of life – these are just some of the challenges we face,” he adds.

Despite the bewildering array of complex issues we face, Marshall says there is a huge opportunity for Australia to leverage innovation to shape the future.

“The next wave of digital innovation will generate $10–15 trillion globally,” he points out.

"Australia can tap into this to transform existing jobs and create new jobs and wealth while leveraging Artificial Intelligence to solve some of our greatest challenges, like outthinking bushfires, accelerating vaccine development, predicting drought, or stabilising our energy grid.”

While our own issues are a slightly different subset of those preoccupying Australia, the big picture themes are the same and the report’s chapter Diving into Digital outlines the massive digitisation that both nations will face in the coming decade.

The report is a valuable resource for decision-makers taking a big picture view on the strategic issues that need to be accounted for.

Snapshot of the megatrends:

Adapting to climate change: with natural disasters expected to cost the Australian economy almost three times more in 2050 than in 2017, we can expect to be living in a more volatile climate, characterised by unprecedented weather events.

Leaner, cleaner and greener: an increased focus on potential solutions to our resource constraints through synthetic biology, alternative proteins, advanced recycling and the net-zero energy transition. By 2025, renewables are expected to surpass coal as the primary energy source.

The escalating health imperative: the post-pandemic world has exacerbated existing health challenges posed by an ageing population and growing burden of chronic disease.  One in five Australians report high or very high levels of psychological distress and there is heightened risk of infectious diseases and pathogens resistant to modern antibiotics. There is now a burning platform to also respond to our health risks and improve health outcomes.  

Geopolitical shifts: an uncertain future, characterised by disrupted patterns of global trade, geopolitical tensions and growing investment in defence. While the global economy shrunk by 3.2% in 2020, global military spend reached an all-time high of $2.9 trillion and Australia saw a 13% increase in cybercrime reported relative to the previous year.

Diving into digital: the pandemic-fuelled a boom in digitisation, with teleworking, telehealth, online shopping and digital currencies becoming mainstream. Forty percent of Australians now work remotely on a regular basis and the future demand for digital workers expected to increase by 79% from 2020 to 2025.

Increasingly autonomous: there has been an explosion in artificial intelligence (AI) discoveries and applications across practically all industry sectors over the past several years. Within the science domain the use of AI is rising with the number of peer-reviewed AI publications increasing nearly 12 times from 2000 to 2019.  

Unlocking the human dimension: a strong consumer and citizen push for decision makers to consider trust, transparency, fairness and environmental and social governance. While Australia saw a record level increase in public trust in institutions during the pandemic, this ‘trust bubble’ has since burst, with societal trust in business dropping by 7.9% and trust in government declining by 14.8% from 2020-21. 


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