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Robots are already better than the best experts in some fields, says Telstra Chief Technology Officer

12 Apr 2017

Robots are now better at reading x-rays than the best x-ray experts, and most other professions can be “half robotised”, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer told the most recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event.

The event, Understanding the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Impacts of disruption and opportunities for economic growth, also discussed the ideal employee skills for the future, and what the government plans to do with copious amounts of data.

It was the first in CEDA’s 2017 Innovation and Disruption series, which is supported by The Business School.

The conference heard from ANZ’s Chief Data Officer, Emma Gray, NSW Data Analytics Chief Executive and Chief Data Scientist, Dr Ian Oppermann, and IBM Client Innovation Centre Lead, Steve Davies.

According to Ms Gray, high IQs and EQs, creativity, and managing and coaching abilities are just some of the skills the future workforce will need as businesses become more fused with technology.

“The fourth industrial revolution will see human jobs much more ably assisted,” said Ms Gray, referencing a McKinsey study which found 40% – 60% of future healthcare services could be automated.

Ms Gray also noted that there will be a focus on “highly trained” jobs, and also on jobs which require an understanding of human emotion.

The same McKinsey study found automation in the workplace could lead to an exacerbation of a skills gap, advancing the already growing divide between high-skill workers and low-mid skill workers.

Steve Davies of IBM is looking at ways to deal with this growing gap, through “new collar jobs”, which will require “capabilities over credentials”.

Skills from P-tech, an industry supported pathway to a science, technology, engineering and mathematics related diplomas, advanced diplomas or associate degrees, such as coding, will be the in demand skill sets of the future, according to Davies, along with "equally important” soft skills, including creativity, tenacity and problem solving.

“Today, robots are better at reading x-rays than the best x-ray experts. Everybody can be half robotised in their profession, regardless of what you do. So we have to think about what that means,” said HÃ¥kan Eriksson, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer. “They will probably not replace us, but we have to work with them.”

Data was also a hot topic.

“We can get data from anywhere we choose to turn our attention,” said NSW Data Analytics Chief, Dr Ian Opperman. According to Opperman, the government is using data for a wide variety of projections, including helping to shape urban planning by analysing “who lives where with whom”.

“I think we’ve got more data than we can frankly use,” said Gray. She called for an increase in ‘really available’ data.

“Available doesn’t mean it’s in a vault somewhere, it means it’s useable in a form that’s user friendly to a whole bunch of people who grew up using their phone,” said Gray. “I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not just on the data sources, but on the nature of how available they are depending on what you’re trying to do with it.”

“The asset to have is data,” said Eriksson. “If you own the data, you have the power.”

“So is it good or bad?” asked Eriksson. “We will basically lose all our privacy. But we will at least have a very personalised experience.”

“It will also have the chance to make things better for us. Things will be better. It’s not about the technology – technology is always the easy part. The tough part is how we use it,” said Eriksson.

Professor John Shields, Deputy Dean of the Business School, chaired the event.

“We are delighted to have been able to partner with CEDA for this particular speaker series,” said Professor Shields.

“A speaker forum of this type affords us a great opportunity to work through the pressing issues, strategic choices and policy options that this Fourth – and most transformative – of all technological revolutions has thrust before us,” said Professor Shields.

“Business Schools like ours would be incredibly remiss if we didn’t seek to be a prominent voice in today’s conversation about technological innovation, about digital disruption, about the forces transforming the nature of business, the nature of learning, and the responsibilities that we have as educators,” said Professor Shields.