They Gave a Glimpse into the Future. Where Are They Now? The technologies and the technologists

Since 1996, the Warren Centre’s Innovation Lecture Series has put forward successful Australian innovators into the public spotlight, showcasing innovation across a range of engineering and digital technologies. In this Lecture Series, we highlight Australian achievers that are making great accomplishments in innovation—breaking out of the laboratory into the market not just of 25 million Australians but the market of 7 billion people globally.  Past lectures revealed the state of innovation across a wide variety of themes including creativity in engineering, cutting edge robotics, engineering ethics, AI and automation, space exploration, automotive advancements, genomics, mining, GPS mapping, and more. Over the last twenty years, previous speakers included Tristan Carfrae, Dr. Chris Nicol, Marita Cheng, Denis Hanley, Evan Thornley, Peter Fogarty, and many other innovation leaders. 

2000 – Catherine Livingston

Building an Innovative Australia

When Catherine Livingstone took the stage at TWC’s Innovation Lecture Series nearly twenty years ago, she was the CEO of Cochlear Limited. Immediately at the opening of her presentation, she addressed the struggles of building an innovative Australia. 

“The world is looking for solutions and technologies. It is an area in which Australia could take a lead with enormous economic rewards, if we are able to make it our knowledge and technologies that are sought out. It would produce an innovation yield the likes of which we have never seen before. But it needs to be articulated at the national leadership level, and there needs to be a greater alertness in government and boardrooms to the power of science.”  

Over the last twenty years, Australians like Catherine Livingston have been innovating in a variety of different industries.  In 2000 Cochlear shares traded at just under $9 per share. Today, the company trades just over $200 per share, with market capital around AUD$12billion.  In 2017, the company joined Tim Cook of Apple to launch the first cochlear implant integrated into a smart phone including streaming of music and a “find my processor” app for patient’s who’ve misplaced their hearing device.  In the years following 2000, the company continued the innovation trajectory set by Livingston’s leadership vision. And where did Catherine Livingston’s path lead? From Cochlear, Livingston moved to Telstra, first as Managing Director and later as Chair.  She also chaired CSIRO and was the President of Business Council of Australia. Today, she is the Chair of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

The power of innovation to build the national economy has been told and re-told for three decades in the Warren Centre’s Innovation Lecture.  Through cycles of industrial emergence and cycles of technological disruption, the common theme of the power of new technology to deliver prosperity has been consistent.

What other stories have been told?  What technological breakthroughs were revealed or foretold over the last 30 years?  Here is a look back at how technologies and industries have evolved since our speakers took the stage. 

TWC’s Past Innovation Speakers: Then vs. Now

2004 – Keith Williams:

“I think it is quite helpful to be headquartered apart from the big markets because it forces one to have a global perspective. Possibly the most important attribute for a company with global ambitions is to have a truly global perspective and the flexibility to act in the light of that perspective. From Sydney we view the world strategically in a way that our US managers have trouble understanding. They find it difficult to look beyond the US, especially towards Asia.”

Keith Williams championed the importance of a global perspective in market placement, predicting the rise of a booming tech market outside the US. Since his Innovation Lecture, Proteome Systems Limited was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and was later renamed Tyrian Diagnostics Limited. Williams was heavily engaged in new business development in biotech, e-health, and other emerging biotechnologies. Recently, he has dedicated his time to addressing tick-borne illness in Australia, serving as CEO to the Karl McManus Institute (2018) and DiagnostIQ Pty Ltd. (present). 

And how about the biotechnology revolution promised in 2004?  The role of proteins in understanding human health has expanded remarkably.  Combined with the rapid evolution of genomics technology, the field evolved in leaps and bounds in the fifteen years since Dr. Williams delivered his Innovation Lecture.  From personalised medicine to new pharmaceuticals, the field has expanded to embrace data analytics alongside fundamental protein and genomic biomolecular understand. Broadly, biomolecular innovation continues to reshape the practice of medicine, agriculture, sustainability and many other future industries.

2009 – Dr. Lars Rasmussen

“You can do more than you think. Innovation happens outside your comfort zone. Jens and I spend much of our time pushing, prodding, and cajoling our team to reach further than they feel comfortable.”

Dr. Lars Rasmussen is one of the main characters in a globally renowned Silicon Valley fairy tale: Google Maps. His journey, which he detailed in his 2009 Innovation Lecture took him from redundant tech employee to Google star employee with a product acquisition agreement for their mapping company “Where 2 Technologies”, as well as backing for Google Wave (his brother Jens’s brainchild project, remember that?) 

Over the past decade, programmers and researchers have dramatically expanded applications for geospatial data in a variety of industries. As computers have rapidly increased in power and speed, GIS has evolved from a few clunky platforms with protected data sourcing to boundless commercial GIS software with open source code.

Some potential future applications being explored include a 3D GIS application, location-based virtual reality, navigations for self-driving cars, and indoor environment mapping. Could a real-time mapping solution be in our future? Only time (and space) will tell. 

2010 – Hugh Durrant Whyte

“We have only just begun the journey that will see robotics becoming a major Australian industry… In the past fifteen years Australia has come to lead the world in the development and application of robotics in large-scale outdoor field applications. Robotics and autonomous systems will be one of the most important and transformational technologies in the future of this country. It is an exciting future with enormous opportunities.”

Indeed, robotics is still rapidly growing—both domestically and internationally. When Hugh Durrant-Whyte spoke at the 2010 Innovation Lecture, he was serving as the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems and of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR). The use of aerial drones and ground-based robots has gone from theoretical to common place. According to a British intelligence analyst by 2025, there will be more robots engaged in defence than humans. Since 2017, the US military has employed more drone pilots than traditional pilots. 

Australia is carving out its own role in the global robotics sector. In 2018, Australia published the Robotics Roadmap to utilise robots to “unlock human potential, modernise the economy, and build national health, well-being and sustainability.” Additionally, CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics Innovation Centre announced goals for leading Australia’s robotics industry, a field estimated to be worth $23 billion globally by 2025.

Meanwhile, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte moved from academia to lead NICTA, the National Information and Communications Technology Australia research agency.  He later founded the Centre for Translational Data Science at University of Sydney before returning to the UK as the Chief Scientific Adviser at Whitehall to the UK Ministry of Defence.  In 2018, Durrant-Whyte was appointed the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer where he repeats the recurring of this Innovation Lecture Series. At Government House last November, he said: “So, again, as Chief Scientist, one of the big things I’ve started …is what I’m talking about as the prosperity agenda and this is something that, again, I saw overseas. It’s where Chief Scientists and the science community and academia and everyone are concerned not just about the science of the problem but also how that science gets translated into outcomes, whether that’s through a business outcome, whether that’s through a societal outcome, whether that’s through any other form of engagement. I have to say, we are not good at that in Australia. We think our job is done when we’ve written the paper and we’ve graduated the student, but our job has only just started. We really need to be creating prosperity outcome, creating the future for this country in terms of the types of jobs, the types of roles, the types of thinking that we should do.”  Well spoken.

2014 – Enrico Palermo

“I believe we are at a pivotal point in our history, an inflection point, when humankind’s presence in space will grow rapidly, grow exponentially and importantly grow permanently. We are entering a period when it will be relatively common for all of us to know someone who has gone to space to do business (in markets that don’t even exist today), to travel, to do research and to explore.

Space travel is a bold venture. When Enrico Palermo’s Innovation Lecture predicted the increase in the development of private spacecraft, the general population was still sceptical. However, as Palermo foretold, the exponential increase in private space industry development by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic has been phenomenal. 

The space industry has learned a lot since 2014, Virgin Galactic’s explosion of Spaceship OE1 due to human error and a lack of inherent safety design measures was a tragic blow to the company. Since Palermo’s rise to the President of The Space Company, the Australian government now has invested heavily in the industry. In 2014, when Palermo toured the ANU Institute for Space laboratory facilities with the Warren Centre Executive Director and COO, ANU staff whispered, “We are not allowed to talk about an Australian Space Agency.  It’s strictly forbidden.” Fast-forward to 2019, and that has all changed. Today, Australia aims to “triple the size of the Australian space sector from $3.9 billion to $12 billion and double the size of the Australian space workforce from 10,000 to 20,000 jobs by 2030”.  As Palermo said in 2014, ““Australia has a number of natural advantages. The climate is good, there is open space, and we have the intellectual brain power to build it.” It took some time to catch up, but now we are building it.

What’s Next?

Innovation is not a linear process. The development of new technologies is continuous, and as innovators improve existing products and services, the race for new and exciting technologies continues. Just as cochlear implants, Google Maps, and space exploration have leapt forward, society adapts to technology just as the technology adapts to us. Machine learning and artificial intelligence were once the foundation for science fiction, but now like Google Maps and the host of map-enabled apps, ML and AI are a fundamental part of modern daily life. Without even realising it, consumers utilise applications and products fuelled by machine learning and AI every day. Technology from this year’s Innovation Lecture story of Appen is probably in your pocket or in your purse. 

Appen’s work underpins speech recognition technologies for government and commercial applications such as Skype Translator which connects friends and businesses around the globe.  The company creates training datasets that enable chatbots to interact with humans. Appen helps the world’s leading vehicle makers develop hands-free, voice-activated systems for safer driving, and they help leading search and social media companies deliver relevant content and news to their users.

Translation technology connects people across borders in a global society. Harnessing the latest technologies grows Australian opportunities for business and solidifies Australia as a global innovation powerhouse. 

Join us at the 2019 Innovation Lecture with former Warren Centre Chair, Chris Vonwiller and learn more about Artificial Intelligence that is Changing the World.

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