Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson believes humans will become cyborgs and the fourth industrial revolution has already begun

Aussies have been urged to embrace certain subjects as a way of future-proofing their careers but one expert says we’ve been given the wrong advice.

Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson.Source:Supplied

Over the years many young Australians have been urged to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM for short — but one Sydney futurist has some very different advice.

With technology playing an increasing role in our lives, it’s not surprising that many in the industry and within government have urged young people to engage with the concepts that look set to change their lives.

Skills shortages in areas like cyber security, data and software development could also lead many to think they taking a smart path and training for jobs with a future.

However, futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson has a slightly different view.

For the last 13 years, Mr Sorman-Nilsson has consulted with some of the biggest companies in the world including Facebook, Apple and Mercedes Benz, helping them to understand how to future-proof their businesses.

When it comes to the jobs of the future, Mr Sorman-Nilsson said people should think deeply about the skills that would be needed.

“Don’t listen to the Government when it says to only learn code and STEM,” he told news.com.au.

“Computers can do logic and maths better than a human.”

Mr Sorman-Nilsson believes embracing technology is important but parents should be encouraging their children to also improve their skills in areas that computers weren’t good at, such as creativity and emotional intelligence.

“They’ve got to recognise that human and creative qualities really need to be nurtured to differentiate them in the future,” he said.

Re-engineering Australia (REA) executive chairman Dr Michael Myers agreed with Mr Sorman-Nilsson and said the focus of education should be on lifelong learning and how to use knowledge.

REA consults with industry and runs STEM programs in public and private schools around the country. Mr Myers said tools like Google have made it easy for people gain access to information and it was now about developing the skills to understand and apply that knowledge.

“It’s about analytical problem solving and communication,” he said.

“Kids still need to learn maths and science but only in context,” he said.

Mr Myer said industry was overwhelmingly asking for “soft” or “enterprise” skills.

“The skills that people want are about team work, collaboration, communication, problem solving and innovation.”

Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson.

Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson.Source:Supplied


It is Mr Sorman-Nilsson’s view that the world is already in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution described by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, as potentially challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

Mr Sorman-Nilsson believes we’ve lived through a third revolution marked by the rise of computers and is predicting the next change will merge physical, digital and biological worlds.

“In the years to come, the world will look like a hugely different place, where humanity and technology merge like never before,” Mr Sorman-Nilsson said.

“Science fiction is fast becoming science fact.”

Mr Sorman-Nilsson said people had already started to evolve into “cyborgs”, whose mental and physical abilities were being extended courtesy of technology like artificial limbs and the cochlear implant, a device that is surgically implanted into a person’s inner ear to help people hear better.

The development and popularity of these tech fixes will only continue to gather speed with some fascinating results.

Mr Sorman-Nilsson believes eventually we will embrace these technological enhancements so much we will evolve into “transhumans”.

In order to adapt to this new future, Mr Sorman-Nilsson believes people need to stop thinking of humans as humans, and robots as robots.

Getting rid of the “us versus them” mentality can make the changes feel less intimidating, and he believes this will allow people to focus on how technology is being developed by transhumans for transhumans.

This may sound like a wild idea, but Mr Sorman-Nilsson believes humans need to get used to concepts like this if they are going to thrive in the future.

Humans have already started evolving into cyborgs.

Humans have already started evolving into cyborgs.Source:istock


The integration of technological and physical systems will also be seen in our homes.

Samsung already has a $6000 smart fridge with built-in cameras that can be accessed remotely and a touchscreen that can be used for watching TV and ordering groceries. Nespresso has developed a coffee machine that can be controlled using a smartphone.

Eventually. fridges will be able to order milk automatically when supplies are running low, and coffee machines will be smart enough to start a morning brew after being alerted by someone’s wearable device they have woken early.

“It might seem futuristic but these things already exist in the world,” Mr Sorman-Nilsson said.

“It’s been said the future is already here, it’s just being distributed unevenly.”

These developments could have positive and negative consequences, and Mr Sorman-Nilsson said it was important to be aware of privacy settings and to change passwords frequently.

“Recently, a casino in the US was hacked and real money was lost because a hacker broke in using the internet connected fish tank,” he said.

A Samsung smart fridge. Picture: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News

A Samsung smart fridge. Picture: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg NewsSource:Bloomberg

Many worry that humans are headed for a dystopian future, but Mr Sorman-Nilsson said it could equally be a utopia for those who embraced it.

“In many ways this revolution could be very disruptive for individuals or companies not adapted to change,” he said.

“But it could also be the greatest time to be alive if you are adapted, willing to change and evolve to a new reality.”

Some potential advantages of the technological changes include allowing businesses to be able to “be global from day one”.

Factories of the future could use virtual reality to predict potential problems on production lines and avoid accidents. Autonomous cars could also reduce deaths due to human error.

If your car breaks down, rather than waiting three weeks for a new part to be shipped from overseas, it may be possible to 3D print a new part. The rise of 3D printing could also lead to organs being printed using human stem cells.

In every industry Mr Sorman-Nilsson said people should get curious about the humanising impact of technologies.

He’s noticed the more his clients learn about new products, the more excited they become about the potential.

“I think one of the first things we should do is to learn about technology and not be worried about it,” he told news.com.au.

Even just watching a few sci-fi movies might help to get people used to concepts around artificial intelligence. Playing with technologies can also help.

“It’s hard to learn to think about a computer without ever having used a computer,” he said.

“Go to an Apple store, attend a workshop and find out how consumer technologies can improve your life. Experiment.

“Get serious about technology and learn more about it.”


Be open to unlearning everything you know

Shift from a reactive mindset to a proactive one. Analyse how automation and technology will impact your industry. This can lead to simple corrections, such as business owners changing the types of training staff are doing.

Stop thinking of humans as humans, and robots as robots

By understanding that people have already started to evolve into cyborgs, whose mental and physical abilities are being improved through technology and artificial limbs etc, the transition can be less intimidating.

Think more about the past to change the future

New technologies have the potential to fix issues that have posed a problem in the past. For example, 3D printing can allow car parts to be printed at lower cost, and companies like Ford are already using this technology. People and companies should be reassessing whether problems they have struggled with in the past can now be fixed and to start realising that every company is now a technology company.


3 vital skills for the age of disruption

Kid Creativity Education Concept, Child Learning Art Mathematics Formula, School Boy Ideas on Black Chalk Board
Continuous learning is vital to avoid a fixed mindset.                    Image: inarik – stock.adobe.com

The human race has seen more social and technological change in the past two decades than in all previous centuries combined. Things are changing so fast that we barely have time to steady ourselves after one technological wave, before another washes up on deck and sweeps us off our feet again.

It’s easy to see why this is happening when we look at technological development in historical terms. Older technologies, like the telephone and the car, were adopted by consumers gradually, over time, sometimes over decades. Newer technologies, like the cell phone and social media, spread seemingly overnight, taking almost no time to go from invention to universal use.

Today, each new technology scales with bewildering speed. It is no longer an adoption curve; it’s an adoption rocket. With AI, genetic engineering and robotics on the anvil, this pace is unlikely to let up anytime soon. It’s disrupting political, economic and social systems as well as cultural norms and social roles.

It is also taking a toll on each of us psychologically and emotionally.

Disruption: in business, education, and everyday life

Examples of this disruption abound. The impact of social media on the Brexit election and across the world has yet to be completely understood and poses the question: Are free and fair elections still possible? Even the creators of these digital technologies have limited understanding of them and in some cases lose control when AI algorithms take over, as with the awkward situation that arose when the recent Notre-Dame fire was algorithmically and inappropriately classified with a very different kind of conflagration, the 9/11 attacks.

As an educator, I’ve seen schools stockpile technology and then struggle to bring it to life in a meaningful way to improve learning. The money spent hasn’t translated into large-scale value creation. It reminds us of author Peter Drucker’s words: “Do not confuse motion with progress.”

During a recent car ride (Lyft) in Manhattan, I learnt from the driver that one of his friends is filing personal bankruptcy because he acquired two New York City cab medallions for $800K about a decade ago, and now with ride-share services gaining popularity the medallions are worth a fraction of the price he paid. Disruption can happen fast and hit us in the face. With self-driving cars just round the corner, even the Uber/Lyft drivers will soon be facing disruption.

The above three examples from different settings highlight the forces of disruption and the need for us to recast our political, educational, and economic systems. Creating change on one dimension is a daunting task. Imagine doing that on multiple dimensions.

If we don’t change ourselves, it will be impossible to change the systems and institutions that govern and enable us. Rapid learning and rapid execution are keys to staying ahead.

Three key skills

There are three key attributes that I’m convinced we must cultivate in order to take on the challenges the fast-paced disruptive world throws at us: learning agility, resilience, and grounded optimism.

1. Learning agility: This is the ability and willingness to learn and then apply that learning effectively to prevail even in unfamiliar situations. The seeds of lifelong learning come from curiosity. Curiosity is the innate urge to know, the spark that drives us to explore, discover, invent and reinvent. Today, as we get older, most of us don’t make a point of nurturing our curiosity. But we will have to do it and get better at it. If we don’t learn, how will we evolve? If we end up with a fixed mindset, it will be harder to adapt, evolve and excel.

As Alvin Toffler predicted: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

How can one develop learning agility?

• Be curious – start by asking “why?” Do it continually.

• Explore. Try new things and engage with different types of people.

• Reflect. Cultivate self-awareness. Make yourself do this. Actively seek feedback and help. See failure as learning.

A Harvard Business Review article on “Improve your ability to learn” calls out Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking as key learning ability enablers.

2. Resilience: This is the quality that enables one to bounce back when knocked down by life. It helps us to endure and thrive. In a disruptive world, coping with stress and catastrophe are vital, as adversity and new challenges become mainstays of life.

Resilience is important in personal life and business. Take a quick test to see where you stand on three key attributes of resilience: challenge, control and commitment.

How can you build resilience?

• Practice cognitive reframing. Learn to make the mental shifts necessary to identify the upsides and not just the downsides of a difficult situation.

• Avoid the victimization mindset (“Why is this happening to me?”) It’s not helpful.

• Meditate.

3. Grounded optimism: Optimism is the propensity to anticipate the best possible outcome. Grounded optimism is where that optimism has a healthy dose of realism and pessimism blended in with it. Grounded optimists are wired to take the positive emotion and convert that into tangible action leading to realistic solutions.

Optimism can be learned. Martin Seligman, who is considered the father of positive psychology, introduced the concept of learned optimism based on his research on learned helplessness. Stanford has a survey based on Martin’s research to analyse one’s mindset – the pessimist-optimist spectrum.

How to build grounded optimism?

• Focus on the positive.

• Read about optimists and keep company with people who have both an optimistic and realistic outlook.

• Be mindful. Mindfulness is a skill, and there’s a lot to it. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you cultivate it.

As we dive deeper into the 21st century (shorter product life cycles, breaking business models, competing against machines), IQ alone will not be sufficient to help us adapt. A healthy dose of EQ (emotional intelligence) and RQ (resilience quotient) are critical as we chart our courses.

Today, we live in a “VUCA” world, characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In this world, it isn’t how hard you fall or how many times you fall, but how fast you get up that matters. Are you ready to unleash the VUCA warrior in you?


Communications technology and education push Australia down digital rankings

The future of the economy and work is digital, but in a global ranking of digital competitiveness Australia has fallen one place to 14th in a study of 63 countries.

A woman, face unseen typing on a computer keyboard at a deskPHOTO: Australia is well below average in technical education and communications technology. (ABC News: Matt Eaton)

Key points:

  • Australia ranks only 54th out of 63 nations in communications technology and 38th for internet speeds
  • The nation is 44th for employee training and 53rd in graduating scientists
  • The US topped the digital competitiveness rankings, followed by Singapore and Sweden

The slide is comprehensive: in 2015 Australia was ninth. When the report compares countries with a similar population, Australia fell from 3rd to 5th, and for those in the Asia-Pacific region from 2nd to 5th: Australia has spent the past few years sliding down the ladder.

“It doesn’t surprise me. It’s as predictable as gravity,” said digital strategist Rowena Martin, who works with universities and major companies to help them compete in the new business age.

“The investment in digital literacy skills really hasn’t been there. From the federal government there’s been cuts and a lack of support for universities.

“The main thing is there’s going to be a really rude surprise: Australian businesses are going to lose profitability.”

Contributing to the fall are poor showings in the fields of business agility, tech skills and communications.

The World Digital Competitiveness rankings are collated by Swiss business school International Institute for Management Development (IMD).

Australia’s communications technology ranking is a woeful 54th out of the 63 nations surveyed. In internet bandwidth and speed Australia ranks 38th.

The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released the results, and chief executive Melinda Cilento said it showed the need for companies and governments to invest if they want the Australian economy to keep up with its neighbours.

“The direction of change is what we should be focussed on,” she said.

“We risk being caught short because other countries are racing up the ladder.”

In the most recent rankings, Hong Kong and South Korea have entered the top 10. China has jumped from 30th to 22nd and Taiwan leap-frogged Australia, rising from 16th to 13th position.

‘Needs to be a focus on tech skills’

The survey has parallels with recent CEDA research that found business leaders placed a much higher priority on technology investment and research and development (R&D) than the general public.

“Business is investing in tech and see it as really important, but the community don’t,” Ms Cilento said.

“We need to have a serious conversation about education … there really needs to be a focus on tech skills.”

Interestingly, Australia’s digital slide is not due to a lack of appetite from regular Australians. When it comes to the national uptake of tablets and smartphones, Australia ranks third and ninth respectively.

Australia is on top when it comes to the amount of international students it takes in to educate. But when it comes to educating Australians, the nation ranks just 44th in employee training and a dismal 53rd in graduating scientists.

Ms Murray said Australia’s continual slide down the rankings had an impact that was being felt now on “the amount of tax paid, what people are earning”, and that would get worse.

“There will be mass redundancies as companies are forced to evolve,” she warned.

“But the problem will be, after that, finding people who have those [digital] skills that are needed.”

The top five most digitally competitive countries have not changed in this year’s survey. The United States retains the title, followed by Singapore, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland.


Are You Developing Skills That Won’t Be Automated?


The future of work looks grim for many people. A recent study from Forresterestimated that 10% of U.S. jobs would be automated this year, and another from McKinsey estimates that close to half of all U.S. jobs may be automated in the next decade.

The jobs that are likely to be automated are repetitive and routine. They range from reading X-rays (human radiologists may soon have much more limited roles), to truck driving, to stocking a warehouse. While much has been written about the sorts of jobs that are likely to be eliminated, another perspective that has not been examined in as much detail is to ask not which jobs will be eliminated but rather which aspects of surviving jobs will be replaced by machines.

For example, consider the job of being a physician: It is clear that diagnosing illnesses will soon (if not already) be accomplished better by machines than humans. Machine learning is spectacularly effective when data sets are available for training and testing, which is the case for a wide range of diseases and ailments. However, what about sitting with a family to discuss treatment options? This is far less likely to be automated in the foreseeable future.


Now consider a profession at the other end of the status spectrum: barista. In San Francisco, Cafe X has replaced all baristas with industrial robot arms, which entertain customers with their antics as they make hot beverages. However, even Cafe X employs a human, who shows customers how to use the technology to order their drinks and troubleshoots problems that arise with the robot barista.

Contrast being a barista with being a bartender. People often strike up a conversation with the bartender. This job clearly is about more than just mixing drinks. Like the physician, we can easily parse this job into two components: the repetitive and routine one (actually mixing and serving the drinks) and the more interactive, unpredictable one that involves listening to and talking with customers.

After reflecting on characteristics of numerous jobs and professions, two non-routine kinds of work seem to me to be particularly common, and difficult to automate:

First, emotion. Emotion plays an important role in human communication (think about that physician sitting with the family, or that bartender interacting with customers). It is critically involved in virtually all forms of nonverbal communication and in empathy. But more than that, it is also plays a role in helping us to prioritize what we do, for example helping us decide what needs to be attended to right now as opposed to later in the evening. Emotion is not only complex and nuanced, it also interacts with many of our decision processes. The functioning of emotion has proven challenging to understand scientifically (although there has been progress), and is difficult to build into an automated system.

Second, context. Humans can easily take context into account when making decisions or having interactions with others. Context is particularly interesting because it is open ended — for instance, every time there’s a news story, it changes the context (large or small) in which we operate. Moreover, changes in context (e.g., the election of a maverick President) can change not just how factors interact with each other, but can introduce new factors and reconfigure the organization of factors in fundamental ways. This is a problem for machine learning, which operates on data sets that by definition were created previously, in a different context. Thus, taking context into account (as a congenial bartender can do effortlessly) is a challenge for automation.

Our ability to manage and utilize emotion and to take into account the effects of context are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgment. It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit.

And in fact, these are the very skills that employers across industries consistently report seeking in job candidates. For example, in one survey, 93% of employers reported that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”  In addition, employers seek candidates who have other sorts of “soft skills,” such as being able to learn adaptively, to make good decisions and to work well with others. These sought-after abilities, of course, fit perfectly with the sorts of things that people can do well, but are and will continue to be difficult to automate.

All of this suggests that our educational systems should concentrate not simply on how people interact with technology (e.g., by teaching students to code), but also how they can do the things that technology will not be doing soon. This is a new approach to characterizing the underlying nature of “soft skills,” which are probably misnamed: These are the skills that are hardest to understand and systematize, and the skills that give — and will continue to give —humans an edge over robots.


Securing Australia’s digital future

Securing Australia's digital future

Australia is falling behind when it comes to digital transformation, according to a new report. Now, scientists are calling on industry and researchers to work together to help position Australia as a “forward-thinking digital nation”.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the Australian Academy of Science launched their plan, Preparing for Australia’s Digital Future, last Wednesday to help best place Australia to realise and capitalise on opportunities in digital technology.

While the plan recognises Australia’s success stories in digital technology, such as Atlassian, Technology One, Vitalcare, VPI Photonics and Aconex, it concedes that digital technology research investment is only a “tiny fraction” of its potential contribution to Australia’s future prosperity.

Academy of Technology and Engineering Fellow and co-chair of the steering committee that drew up the plan, Professor Glenn Wightwick FTSE, said: “Digital transformations are continuously and rapidly evolving, driven by aggressive technology progress and accelerating uptake — and Australia is not driving.

“It is essential that, through strategic actions outlined in this plan, we are able to chart our own course.”

NBN Co Chairman and RMIT University Chancellor Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO FAA FTSE is optimistic about the plan’s ability to help the country do just that.

“I’m confident this plan can position Australia as a successful, forward-thinking digital nation — one with an enhanced ability to translate our public and private sector ICT research into skills, innovation, public benefit, careers and jobs, and commercial success.”

The plan includes 32 recommendations grouped under five priority areas: encouraging digital leadership in industry; fostering research and industry partnerships for our digital future; safeguarding and strengthening our digital workforce and capability pipeline; ensuring whole-of-government action for our digital future; and delivering research sector reforms.

Primary recommendations include: industry identification of and leadership in key digital transformation opportunities, with industry initiating strategies for collaboration with appropriate research agencies; increased visibility of publicly funded research; shifting university and publicly funded research agencies’ culture to put higher emphasis on industry experience, placements and collaborations in hiring, promoting and research funding; completion of a national future-readiness review for Australian digital research sectors and development of a position statement on intellectual property (IP) across Australian universities and publicly funded agencies to remove IP as a barrier to research update by industry.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/peshkova


Ai Group welcomes focus on VET to drive economy

“Senator Michaelia Cash has today drawn a welcome line in the sand in placing vocational education and training on the same footing as higher education,” Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

“Australian industry is acutely aware that our transforming economy needs workers with the skills and capabilities developed through both sectors if we are to compete globally.

“Senator Cash’s speech at the National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference recognises that the VET system is critical to ensuring industry has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and to compete internationally. It provides the technicians, the tradespeople, the supervisors and the para-professionals that are needed in an Australian workforce adapting to new technologies and higher-level skills and capabilities.

“Digitalisation is transforming the economy and disrupting skill needs. Employers are facing significant skills shortages, particularly for technicians and trades with STEM capabilities, reflecting the changing tasks and jobs being created as new technologies enter all industry sectors. As with higher education, VET is under pressure to develop people with higher order STEM skills and broad enterprise skills for the digital economy. At the same time, it must develop the workers for occupations with innate people skills, such as the growing Community and Personal Services sector.

“Equally welcome is Senator Cash’s call for the VET system to better connect with industry and to have clear, consistent funding. Ai Group maintains that industry must have a stronger role at all levels to work through the current challenges dogging the system. We have previously highlighted that the funding of the VET system is inadequate, in terms of both the level and composition and its resourcing relative to both the higher education and school sectors.

“Ai Group has welcomed the recommendations of the Joyce Review, notably the implementation of a National Skills Commission, the National Careers Institute, apprenticeship reform and the pilot Skills Organisations. All these reforms strengthen VET, ensuring that industry is at the heart of the system that will be vital to develop skills for our future workforce.

“While we welcome the Government’s $525 million skills and training package, seeking amongst other measures to create up to 80,000 new apprentices, Ai Group is keen to work with the Government to implement broader reform. More can and must be done to:

  • align skills from education and training outcomes with industry needs through improved skills forecasting;
  • address critical workforce STEM skills shortages through education and skills training and funding for initiatives that enhance the VET sector’s role in filling these gaps, such as Ai Group’s Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships;
  • review apprenticeship incentives, placing greater priority on high-skill occupations that will play key roles in the digital economy. In particular we call on the Government to extend the doubling of Commonwealth Employers Incentives to the engineering trades to ensure adequate trade skill development for the large defence procurement and ship building program and the supply chain;
  • support industry to develop workforce plans around their digital strategies, assess existing workers’ capabilities and train when necessary;
  • improve the foundational language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills of entrants to the workforce;
  • increase work-based and work integrated learning models underpinned by closer partnerships between industry and the education and training sector.

“Many of the challenges facing the VET sector are equally those that higher education faces. Ai Group believes there can be greater coherence between VET and higher education which would benefit the nation. Ai Group’s position paper, Realising Potential: solving Australia’s tertiary education, identifies the challenges and makes recommendations for post-secondary education in Australia.

“If the Australian economy is to continue to prosper and remain internationally competitive, it is vital to have access to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. With the rapid advance of technology and digitalisation, a higher level of skills for the workforce is more important than ever,” Mr Willox said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Australia is using AI to ‘catch up’ rather than to get ahead: Deloitte

New report says 49% of Australian businesses that are early adopters of the tech have indicated a ‘major to extreme AI skills gap’ in the country.

Deloitte has released a report on the state of artificial intelligence (AI) around the world, indicating that Australian businesses are primarily using AI to “catch up” to competitors rather than to “leapfrog ahead”.

The report, titled State of AI in the Enterprise, surveyed 1,900 IT executives that have already implemented or prototyped AI solutions for their companies to better understand how early adopters of AI are using the technology.

The top challenges faced by early adopter IT executives include integrating AI into roles and functions, data issues, implementation struggles, cost, and measuring the value of AI implementations.

“AI success depends on getting the execution right. Organisations often must excel at a wide range of practices to ensure AI success, including developing a strategy, pursuing the right use cases, building a data foundation, and cultivating a strong ability to experiment,” Deloitte said.

According to the survey, 41% of Australian executives reported that their company either completely lacks an AI strategy or has only disparate departmental strategies, compared to 30% of executives globally.

In addition, 49% of executives in Australia believe there is a “major to extreme AI skills gap” in the country, more than any other country surveyed, with the top three roles that require filling being AI researchers, business leaders, and software developers.

This is despite the growing realisation of AI’s ability to provide a competitive advantage or improve work conditions, with 57% of executives globally believing that AI will substantially transform their respective companies within the next three years.

Executives believe industry will be slower to adopt AI, however, with only 38% of executives globally reporting that AI would provide the same impact for industry during the same time frame. The perceived slower industry shift, Deloitte said, represents a window of opportunity for early adopters of AI to get ahead of competitors before the use of AI becomes an industry norm.

Among early adopters of AI from Australia, 56% of executives believe the use of AI is critically important to the current success of a company, with that figure rising to 79% when asked about AI’s importance within two years’ time.

Yet 50% of Australian executives reported that AI is only being used to “catch up” or “keep on par” with competition rather than to establish a distinct advantage, which is the highest rate of all the countries surveyed.

(Image: Deloitte Insights)

The report also said 17% of Australian companies that have already implemented AI solutions are “seasoned” users of the technology, which is a lower rate than the United States, which had the highest figure of 24%.

According to a report [PDF] published in 2018 by AustCyber, Australia is set to lose around AU$400 million in revenue and wages due to the skills shortage. The report also said that 17,600 additional cybersecurity professionals would be needed by 2026 to fulfill the nation’s cybersecurity needs.

AI investment, meanwhile, is set to increase around the world, as 51% of early adopters globally expect to increase their AI investment by at least 10% over the next fiscal year. The primary benefits of investing in AI, according to surveyed executives, are that it improves products and services, and optimises internal business operations.

On the risk front, executives around the world have flagged having major or extreme concerns about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, with 49% of them labelling it as a top-three concern. This was followed by the risk of making the wrong decisions based on AI recommendations, at 44%.

While there is not yet a dedicated national AI strategy, the Australian government has promised a National Skills Commission, if elected, to oversee the AU$2.8 billion annual investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET). The commission would drive “research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure the VET system addresses national labour market priorities including those arising from developing technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence”.

The federal opposition, meanwhile, announced that it would create a AU$3 million National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Excellence in Melbourne, a AU$2 million cybersecurity training centre, and a human eye over any Commonwealth data-matching activity in the lead up to the federal election.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) last month also highlighted a need for development of AI in Australia to be wrapped with a sufficient framework to ensure nothing is set onto citizens without appropriate ethical consideration.

“Australia’s colloquial motto is a ‘fair go’ for all. Ensuring fairness across the many different groups in Australian society will be challenging, but this cuts right to the heart of ethical AI,” CSIRO wrote.