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Griffin on Tech: Tech's role in challenging times

Peter Griffin, Editor. 20 May 2022, 1:35 pm

Another Techweek has just wrapped up, showcasing the innovation and creativity of people working in and around the tech sector all over the country.

I've sat in virtually on sessions this week about our fledgling Web3 scene and the perils of AI projects going off the rails. I learned more about what's going on in our deep tech start-ups and the role tech will play in the future of energy.

ITP Chief Executive Victoria MacLennan took up the mic yesterday to host a busy slate of events with skills and knowledge and digital transformation as the key themes. If you missed Techweek, a number of the session are available on-demand on the Techweek website for playback and are worth checking out.

My Techweek was conducted, for yet another year, at arm's length, via video streams and Zoom webinars. There were plenty of physical events to get to. But as I'm about to embark on my first overseas trip in over two years, I didn't want to risk Covid derailing my plans. After I've written this, I'll take a rapid antigen test, observed by Charlotte, a nurse from Ora Aotearoa Health NZ, who will be watching via Zoom, as I swab my nose and test myself for the virus. 

If a single red line appears beside the 'C' on the test, I'll be on my way, out into the wide world once again. Part of my trip will take me to New York to visit the quantum computing labs of IBM, where scientists are working on the next generation of high-performance computers, which draw on the mind-boggling characteristics of quantum physics. I'll report back on that next week.

Techweek kicked off with an announcement of $20 million to fund initiatives in the Digital Industry Transformation Plan, including funding to support companies in the SaaS (software as a Service), some SaaS-related digital skills training and a marketing effort to tell our tech story locally and to the world.

Budget squeeze

We were hoping for more on Budget day, but it's clear that with an unprecedented $11.1 billion investment in healthcare and $2.9 billion to tackle climate change emissions, there wasn't much in the kitty to boost the digital economy. A scattering of initiatives saw money earmarked for digital platforms in the reformed health sector, a tiny cybersecurity top-up for CERT and a handful of other tech-related things. It was good to see rural broadband projects receive a boost and the previously flagged $57 million allocation for Maori radio spectrum rights was included.

But with the payments to ease the cost of living pressure on the "squeezed middle", it felt like a tactical budget from Grant Robertson aimed at getting us through uncertain, inflationary times and patching up neglected infrastructure and institutions. That was certainly necessary. 

But here's hoping for more strategic budgets in the coming years that inject funding into initiatives that will grow the economy, lift wages, improve digital inclusion and speed our transition away from carbon-intensive industries. 

That, after all, is the intention of the Digital ITP and the Government's digital strategy. Those ambitions must be backed with adequate funding soon. In the meantime, as Techweek illustrates, our tech sector isn't standing still. It is doing deals, building great products and innovating in exactly the ways Kiwis are famous for. 


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