Nine business bets for our emerging digital economy

Faster. Image sourced from Shutterstock.com

Marek Kowalkiewicz, Queensland University of Technology

Every year seems like an accelerated version of the previous one. Every year we think we have reached the peak and then following year comes, paling everything before it.

Will 2016 be the same? Every available sign suggests so. We might be worried about a potential new bubble burst or slowdown on stock markets, but this will not stop new ideas, business models, or new opportunities from emerging.

Here are my nine bets – what will change in 2016 in business, technology and social.

Doing the same thing over and over again will never take you to new places

In 2016, we will see more and more organisations focus on revenue resilience and look for new markets and opportunities. This will require oppositional thinking – looking for radically different ways of running business, for instance: paying your customers rather than charging them. Environmental sensing teams will be formed at many organisations with a goal of becoming aware and understanding the potential impact of new trends on their organisations.

Resolution for 2016: set up a team to do “environmental sensing”.

The gig economy train is not slowing down

Newly emerging business models will only get stronger in 2016. The gig economy will continue and will go well beyond house rentals and transportation. We will see at least one new global player following the Peers Inc. model – providing means for individuals to offer their products and services in an easier way. And the next dominant player will likely come from Asia, a market that has remained largely untapped.

Resolution for 2016: consider becoming a platform for the gig economy.

Delight your customers by predicting and meeting their needs ahead of time

We will see a rise in proactive organisations, that is, organisations that are able to offer products and services the moment the need for them arises often even before the customer realises there is a need.

We will see the first commercial examples of predictive delivery (“your product is at the doorstep, would you like to buy it, or shall we take it back?”). And after the easy ones are demonstrated and customers get used to it, other – often unexpected – players will follow: among others we will see the first truly proactive governments. All of it thanks to progress in digital identity.

Resolution for 2016: redefine your products and services, become a truly proactive organisation.

Welcome your digital personal assistant. One that really assists, not just pretends to

Digital identity will enable not only new organisational behaviour, but also facilitate evolution of other technologies. Digital personal assistants will continue to evolve. They will not only be able to tell you where the film you want to see is playing on the weekend or remind you about a doctor’s appointment, they will be able to pay your bills, switch electricity providers or truly support you in your work, like a real assistant (human-agent augmentation).

Resolution for 2016: get more things done by delegating to your digital PA.

If the world around you moves faster than you do, the end is near

Incumbents in asset-intensive industries will be challenged by technology advances even more than in previous years. The Janicki Omniprocessor will enable entire communities to go off the sewage and water grids. High capacity batteries in garages and self-driving cars will enable individuals to trade electricity outside of the grid. Telecommunication providers will see more and more pressure from meta providers. The cord-cutting movement affecting cable TV will spread to other industries.

Resolution for 2016: if you are an incumbent in your industry, focus on environmental sensing to avoid surprises.

Digital capital is an enabler of social good

Existing technologies will mature and be used in critical situations. Government agencies, emergency responders and disaster management will access Periscope and Facebook Mentions live streaming to gather intelligence. We will retain control of our digital selves and at the same time be able to “share our digital capital” whenever it may be helpful. This digital mindset will also be applied by organisations, looking for options to digitise idle assets using new technologies.

Resolution for 2016: have a close look at your assets. Can they deliver new value in the digital economy?

Hardware will become the new app

More and more individuals will find it easy to join the “maker culture”. Platforms like Arduino or Raspberry Pi will allow more people to rapidly prototype hardware solutions. We will see examples of Internet of Things applications that are finally compelling and useful to individuals. Environments like Apple’s HomeKit will only add to the momentum. On the other hand, platforms like Kickstarter will pave the way to efficient prototype-to-product processes.

Resolution for 2016: join and support a makerspace.

Build a community and a product (or service) will come

We will see more businesses starting in an unorthodox way: by first creating a community and only after that realising what product or service they could offer. Digital communities will become the new unfair advantage in every industry.

Resolution for 2016: identify and invest in your communities.

Digital intelligence is the new black

Society will continue to learn how to deal with digital economy trends. We will move from digital literacy through digital behaviour to digital elegance. And we will see growing interest in cybersecurity, despite numerous governments trying to discourage citizens from using data encryption tools.

Resolution for 2016: invest in digital literacy and development.

The Conversation

Marek Kowalkiewicz, Professor and PwC Chair in Digital Economy, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Digital diagnosis: intelligent machines do a better job than humans

It takes time for a human to become good at diagnosing ailments, but that learning is lost when they retire. Shutterstock/Poproskiy Alexey

Ross Crawford, Queensland University of Technology; Anjali Jaiprakash, Queensland University of Technology, and Jonathan Roberts, Queensland University of Technology

Until now, medicine has been a prestigious and often extremely lucrative career choice. But in the near future, will we need as many doctors as we have now? Are we going to see significant medical unemployment in the coming decade?

Dr Saxon Smith, president of the Australian Medical Association NSW branch, said in a report late last year that the most common concerns he hears from doctors-in-training and medical students are, “what is the future of medicine?” and “will I have a job?”. The answers, he said, continue to elude him.

As Australian, British and American universities continue to graduate increasing numbers of medical students, the obvious question is where will these new doctors work in the future?

Will there be an expanded role for medical professionals due to our ageing populations? Or is pressure to reduce costs while improving outcomes likely to force the adoption of new technology, which will then likely erode the number of roles currently performed by doctors?

Driving down the costs

All governments, patients and doctors around the world know that healthcare costs will need to reduce if we are to treat more people. Some propose making patients pay more, but however we pay for it, it’s clear that driving the cost down is what needs to happen.

The use of medical robots to assist human surgeons is becoming more widespread but, so far, they are being used to try and improve patient outcomes and not to reduce the cost of surgery. Cost savings may come later when this robotic technology matures.

It is in the area of medical diagnostics where many people see possible significant cost reduction while improving accuracy by using technology instead of human doctors.

It is already common for blood tests and genetic testing (genomics) to be carried out automatically and very cost effectively by machines. They analyse the blood specimen and automatically produce a report.

The tests can be as simple as a haemoglobin level (blood count) through to tests of diabetes such as insulin or glucose levels. They can also be used for far more complicated tests such as looking at a person’s genetic makeup.

A good example is Thyrocare Technologies Ltd in Mumbai, India, where more than 100,000 diagnostic tests from around the country are done every evening, and the reports delivered within 24 hours of blood being taken from a patient.

Machines vs humans

If machines can read blood tests, what else can they do? Though many doctors will not like this thought, any test that requires pattern recognition will ultimately be done better by a machine than a human.

Many diseases need a pathological diagnosis, where a doctor looks at a sample of blood or tissue, to establish the exact disease: a blood test to diagnose an infection, a skin biopsy to determine if a lesion is a cancer or not and a tissue sample taken by a surgeon looking to make a diagnosis.

All of these examples, and in fact all pathological diagnoses are made by a doctor using pattern recognition to determine the diagnosis.

Artificial intelligence techniques using deep neural networks, which are a type of machine learning, can be used to train these diagnostic machines. Machines learn fast and we are not talking about a single machine, but a network of machines linked globally via the internet, using their pooled data to continue to improve.

It will not happen overnight – it will take some time to learn – but once trained the machine will only continue to get better. With time, an appropriately trained machine will be superior at pattern recognition than any human could ever be.

Pathology is now a matter of multi-million dollar laboratories relying on economies of scale. It takes around 15 years from leaving high school to train a pathologist to function independently. It probably takes another 15 years for the pathologist to be as good as they will ever be.

Some years after that, they will retire and all that knowledge and experience is lost. Surely, it would be better if that knowledge could be captured and used by future generations? A robotic pathologist would be able to do just that.

Radiology, X-rays and beyond

Radiological tests account for over AUS$2 billion of the annual Medicare spend. In a 2013 report, it was estimated that in the 2014-15 period, 33,600,000 radiological investigations would be performed in Australia. A radiologist would have to study every one of these and write a report.

Radiologists are already reading, on average, more than seven times the number of studies per day than they were five years ago. These reports, like those written by pathologists, are based on pattern recognition.

Currently, many radiological tests performed in Australia are being read by radiologists in other countries, such as the UK. Rather than having an expert in Australia get out of bed at 3am to read a brain scan of an injured patient, the image can be digitally sent to a doctor in any appropriate time zone and be reported on almost instantly.

What if machines were taught to read X-rays working at first with, and ultimately instead of, human radiologists? Would we still need human radiologists? Probably. Improved imaging, such as MRI and CT scans, will allow radiologists to perform some procedures that surgeons now undertake.

The field of diagnostic radiology is rapidly expanding. In this field, radiologists are able to diagnose and treat conditions such as bleeding blood vessels. This is done using minimally invasive techniques, passing wires through larger vessels to reach the point of bleeding.

So the radiologists may end up doing procedures that are currently done by vascular and cardiac surgeons. The increased use of robotic assisted surgery will mean this is more likely than not.

There is a lot more to diagnosing a skin lesion, rash or growth than simply looking at it. But much of the diagnosis is based on the dermatologist recognising the lesion (again, pattern recognition).

If the diagnosis remains unclear then some tissue (a biopsy) is sent to the laboratory for a pathological diagnosis. We have already established that a machine can read the latter. The same principle applies to the recognition of the skin lesion.

Once recognised and learnt, the lesion will be able to be recognised again. Mobile phones with high-quality cameras will be able to link to a global database that will, like any other database with learning capability, continue to improve.

It’s not if, but when

These changes will not happen overnight, but they are inevitable. Though many doctors will see these changes as a threat, the chance for global good is unprecedented.

An X-ray taken in equatorial Africa could be read with the same reliability as one taken in an Australian centre of excellence. An infectious rash could be uploaded to a phone and the diagnosis given instantly. Many lives will be saved and the cost of health care to the world’s poor can be minimal and, in many cases, free.

For this to become a reality, it will take experts to work with machines and help them learn. Initially, the machines may be asked to do more straightforward tests but gradually they will be taught, just as humans learn most things in life.

The medical profession should grasp these opportunities for change, and our future young doctors should think carefully where the medical jobs of the future will lie. It is almost certain that the medical employment landscape in 15 years will not look like the one we see today.

The Conversation

Ross Crawford, Professor of Orthopaedic Research, Queensland University of Technology; Anjali Jaiprakash, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Medical Robotics, Queensland University of Technology, and Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A fine balance: saving Australia’s unique wildlife in a contested land

A golden-tailed gecko – one of the inhabitants of the Brigalow Belt. Eric Vanderduys, Author provided.

Rocio Ponce-Reyes, CSIRO; Danial Stratford, CSIRO; Iadine Chadès, CSIRO; Jennifer Firn, Queensland University of Technology; Josie Carwardine, CSIRO; Sam Nicol, CSIRO; Stuart Whitten, CSIRO, and Tara Martin, CSIRO

The Brigalow Belt in Queensland is a national hotspot for wildlife, especially for birds and reptiles. Many of these, such as the black-throated finch, golden-tailed gecko and brigalow scaly-foot are found nowhere else in the world.

But the region is also one of the most transformed and contested areas in Australia. People want to use the Brigalow for many different things: conservation, grazing, agricultural production, mineral and gas extraction. This region also overlaps with the country’s largest reserves of coal and coal seam gas.

Together, the economic activities in the region bring land clearing, changes to water sources, invasion of exotic species and changed fire patterns, which threaten the region’s unique biodiversity.

Currently, at least 179 species of plants and animals are known to be threatened in the region. In research published today we look at the best way to conserve these species, attempting to balance the competing uses of this region.

The Brigalow Belt in Queensland.

Meet the locals

The Brigalow Belt bioregion takes its name from the Aboriginal word “brigalow” that describes the region’s dominant tree species (Acacia harpophylla). Brigalow trees can grow up to 25 metres in height and are characterised by their silver foliage.

Brigalow trees – a relative of the golden wattle, Australia’s national floral emblem.
Rocio Ponce-Reyes, Author provided

Brigalow ecosystems once formed extensive open-forest woodlands that covered 30% of the region, but since the mid-19th century about 95% of their original extent has been cleared, mostly for farming. The remaining 600,000 hectares of relatively small, isolated and fragmented remnants of brigalow forest are now protected as an endangered ecological community. The Semi-Evergreen Vine Thicket, or bottle tree scrub, is also listed.

Mammals are the most threatened group of the region. Eight species are already extinct, some of them locally (such as the eastern quoll and northern bettong) and others globally (such as the Darling Downs hopping mouse).

Other iconic mammals in the region include the bridled nail-tail wallaby and the northern hairy-nosed wombat. Both are listed as endangered at federal and state levels.

Long history of transformation

Traditional owners managed the region, including through burning practices, until the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1840s. Since then, management practices have changed markedly, especially with the establishment of the Brigalow and Other Lands Development Scheme in the 1950s.

This scheme provided new settlers, including many soldiers returning from the second world war, with infrastructure, financial assistance and a block of bushland. In return, they were expected to clear their land and establish a farm within 15 years to support the growing Queensland population.

Since then, the rate of clearing of Brigalow has varied in response to changes in legislation through time.

The black-throated finches of the Brigalow are regarded as endangered.
Eric Vanderduys, Author provided

The Brigalow’s silver lining

There are many ways of dealing with the threats facing the Brigalow’s biodiversity. But which gives us the most bang for our buck?

We worked with 40 key stakeholders from the region to answer this question.

You might think there’s a simple answer: stop development. However, native plants and animals in the Brigalow region are threatened by an accumulation of past, current and future land uses, and all need to be addressed to save these species.

Stakeholders focused on the strategies they believed to be the most feasible and achievable for minimising negative impacts and managing threats arising from all land uses in the region. The strategies, listed below, target several threats posed by industries in the region, such as agriculture, grazing, coal mining and coal seam gas.

  1. Protect remnant vegetation
  2. Protect important regrowth vegetation
  3. Establish key biodiversity areas, such as identify and manage areas of critical habitat
  4. Restore key habitats
  5. Manage pest animals such as feral cats, pigs and noisy miners
  6. Manage invasive plants
  7. Manage fire
  8. Manage grazing
  9. Manage water
  10. Manage pollution
  11. Build a common vision

The stakeholders included a strategy to “build a common vision” because they saw this as vital to achieving the other strategies. This common vision would be built by stakeholders to identify shared goals that balance environmental, social and economic considerations, such as the extent and nature of future developments.

Not a snake, but a legless lizard: the Brigalow scaly foot.
Eric Vanderduys, Author provided

We discovered that managing fire and invasive plant species would provide the best bang for our buck in terms of protecting the Brigalow Belt’s threatened plants and animals. Protecting remaining stands of vegetation offered high benefits to native wildlife, but came at high economic costs. We also discovered that building a common vision will improve the effectiveness of the other management strategies.

Experts estimated that it would cost about A$57.5 million each year to implement all 11 proposed management strategies in the Brigalow Belt. This is around A$1.60 per hectare each year.

If we don’t make this investment, it’s likely 21 species will disappear from the region over the next 50 years. But if we implement the 11 strategies, 12 of these species will likely survive (including the regent honeyeater, northern quoll and bridled nail-tail wallaby) and the outlook of many other species will improve. Species-specific recovery plans may help stop the other nine species (such as the northern-hairy nosed wombat and the swift parrot) from being lost from the region.

When it comes to saving species, working together with a common vision to balance the needs of wildlife and people will deliver the best outcomes in this contested region.

The Conversation

Rocio Ponce-Reyes, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CSIRO; Danial Stratford, Senior experimental scientist, CSIRO; Iadine Chadès, Senior research scientist, CSIRO; Jennifer Firn, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology; Josie Carwardine, Research Scientist, Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO; Sam Nicol, Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO; Stuart Whitten, Group Leader, Economics and Future Pathways, CSIRO, and Tara Martin, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.