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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 15 June 2018, 4:15 pm

More cows, bigger cows

I remember my first trip to Fieldays in 1983. We'd just arrived in New Zealand (literally only days before) and off we went to see this spectacle of New Zealandness.

It rained.

The six-wheel offroader (it looked like one of those moon cars from Space 1999 if you can picture such a thing) got stuck in the mud and had to be rescued.

It was too grey for the helicopter rides.

My little brother bought a hot dog and was astonished to discover a battered sausage on a stick. When he asked if there was a bun with it the girl looked at him like he had spoken Klingon to her.

It was not a raging success for the Brislen family.

But we pressed on and so did the Fieldays and in the course of only a scant 35 years it has progressed from a boggy paddock in Hamilton to… well, it's still in the boggy paddock but today it's big business.

Alongside the tractors and fertilizer and gumboot sales (ED: You really haven't been for a while, have you?) there are now drones and GPS mapping packages and AR/VR software sets. I'm guessing about that last part but I'm pretty confident because every conference or tech-related event in the world has a AR/VR thing of some sort. I think they just want photos of MPs wearing the goggles looking stupid. That was always my favourite part of it all.

But regardless of what's on display, technology is coming for agriculture in a big way and I'm not sure New Zealand is ready for it.

What will farming look like in the next 50 years?

I'd expect to see about six farms in New Zealand. Six very, very large farms, run by hardly any people at all. Forget the family owned properties, these will all be corporate-owned and managed as businesses because that's what they are. No more wall planners and calculators that look like pigs - it'll be spreadsheets and data sets and constant monitoring of flora and fauna.

But there will hardly be any staff, because you don't need many people to run these properties - you outsource most of it to the robots.

Robot tractors, robot monitoring systems, robot irrigation… Once you've mapped the property you can begin to exploit your data and make every square metre accountable to a cell on a spreadsheet somewhere.

I also wonder whether the farms will be used to grow protein in quite the way we do today. Cows are not very efficient - they take up a lot of room, produce nasty by-products (belching more than anything else, oh and the urine of course) and a hectare of land devoted to other forms of protein raising produces far more output than a hectare of land with a cow on it. Or a sheep. Or a pig. Or pretty much any of the other barnyard animals of yore (I'm not so sure about alpacas because I'm really just not sure about alpacas in general. Are they just long-necked sheep with a good brand campaign?)

Either way, we need to consider just what the environment is going to be like (literally) in the next 50 years and whether or not we need another string to our economic bow.

I suspect the answer will be: we do.

Fieldays - Fieldays 2018 (I wonder where the other 'd' went?)

NZ Farmer - Clouds lift as gates open for 50th New Zealand National Fieldays

NZ Farmer - Record spend predicted for New Zealand National Fieldays 2018


Farm 2025


It was 20 years ago today (more or less)

I had to pick up a new round because my old one, Y2K, had pretty much run its course by… well, about 12:30am on the 1st of January 2000.

By then all the planes that were going to fall out of the sky had done so (none) and all the power stations that were going to melt down had gone all gooey (zero) and all the reporters tasked with covering the Big Day (me) were bored out of our trees and thinking about what to do when the office opened again after the break.

That new round was telecommunications, and I've been mulling over just what has happened in my time since news broke that Vodafone's Russell Stanners was departing the company after 13 years in charge.

To put it mildly, almost everything has changed.

Back then Telecom was in the driver's seat and the former minister (Maurice Williamson) had spent a fair chunk of time refusing to intervene unless Telecom crossed a line in the sand. No, "this line.  No, THIS line!

By 2000 the new Labour government and its minister of communications Paul Swain were ready to act and following an inquiry into the state of the nation's phone lines, a new Telecommunications Bill was introduced.

Three goes later we now have the final stages of the forklift upgrade that took place first, with the operational separation of Telecom into Retail and Wholesale divisions, and then with the introduction of unbundling (albeit after a false start) and the launch of a third mobile operator, and finally with the actual separation of Telecom into two businesses (Spark and Chorus) and the creation of a fibre to the home network that is the envy of many a developed country.

(Let us marvel for a moment on the Australian experience in this regard. The NBN project is an utter disaster that is incapable of delivering even the most basic fibre service we have in New Zealand. The billions of dollars paid to Telstra to buy back the copper network, the fibre to the home plan that became a fibre to the node plan that can't deliver 100Mbit/s to the home but which costs more than my 1Gbit/s plan, the lack of cohesion around rural customers and the political infighting about which type of technology to use have been devastating to the Aussie market but quite entertaining on this side of the ditch. The Aussies sure now how to waste a golden opportunity, that's for sure. But I digress.)

Today, I have a mobile phone that is more powerful than my first desktop PC, operating on a plan that includes unlimited calling and TXTing, at speeds that would make an Aussie cry. I have a home broadband plan that allows everyone in the house (including the cat) to watch high definition video on their personal devices delivered simultaneously around the house while I work my fingers to the bone secure in the knowledge that everything I write or produce is saved to the cloud by the time I finish typing it.

My family video conference friends constantly (something that was literally science fiction when I was a lad) and we spend less now than pretty much at any time since the telephone was invited.

The best part of it is the network isn't even finished yet - it will only reach further into the hinterland and get faster as it goes so soon we really will be connecting our cars, fridges, home security, air conditioning units and pets to the net in ways we haven't even begun to fathom.

If the past two decades were any indication, the next two are going to be hard core to put it mildly.

Now, what are we going to do with all this capability?

Techblog - End of an era - Stanners to depart Vodafone

NZ Herald - Russell Stanners to leave Vodafone

Stuff - Vodafone NZ chief executive Russell Stanners to step down

ComCom - Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report (Warning: PDF)



The CIO Summit was on this week in Auckland with a line-up of speakers that came close to offering gender parity. Sort of.

Six of the 17 keynotes were women, which is about as good as it gets it seems. None of the international keynotes were women. I'm sure they were all chosen on merit.

And at the CIO Awards, Air New Zealand's Avi Golan (Chief Digital Officer) took out the top gong and was named CIO of the Year, while Rohan Aggrawal, Head of Digital and Technology Solutions for AMP Financial Services was named Emerging ICT leader of the Year. Ian Taylor, Chief Executive Officer, Animation Research Limited (and a former President of ITP) was awarded for his Outstanding Contribution to Technology and Business (so many capitals!) which is rightly so.

One thing is evident, however - the CIO is being replaced by a CDO and the phrase "digital transformation" should be struck from the language before it hurts someone. Maybe that's just me.

Meanwhile the government's own CDO, Colin MacDonald, has resigned and is off… to pastures unnamed. Could it be he will get the coveted Government's CTO role? The whispers around the traps are a resounding "safe pair of hands" or "a grey-suited Wellington apparatchik is not what we ordered, thank you" in almost equal measure.

But there's still no sign of a long list, let alone short list let alone announcement regarding the CTO role, which might suggest the government may have moved on emotionally and will be looking for a way to gracefully ditch the idea. We'll see.

For many, that's probably not a bad move.

NBR - Govt's chief digital officer and DIA boss quits

Reseller News - Govt digital boss and Internal Affairs CEO Colin MacDonald resigns


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