In the first of our series of opinion pieces from Science meets Parliament sponsors, Alex Lynch of Google discusses how Australia’s contribution to the global community could include technology that reflects our values of egalitarianism, fairness, open communication and respect for one another’s rights.
We are renowned around the world as open, welcoming people. As our Prime Ministers have often reminded us, Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation. Oxford Economics’ Global Diversity Report ranks our workforce as the fourth most diverse in the world.
A full 30 per cent of the people living in Australia were born overseas, and we are only at the beginning of a long journey to recognise the wisdom of this land’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions and cultures. People arrive in Australia from nations across Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America looking for a new life, and bringing with them new perspectives and networks that connect us to the world.
As an island nation we have long been isolated, but in this current age, able to reach our friends and family around the world at the press of a button, we are certainly not alone.
Google is responsible for building tools that work for people in the real world, and working at Google, the real world we deal with is global, interconnected and incredibly diverse…
Just like this country we call home.
But as we progress into this century of technology investment and digitisation, and our neighbourhood grows in economic weight and influence with the rise of nations like Indonesia, India and Taiwan, we are a long way from where we need to be.
In 2018 research from AlphaBeta found that large Australian enterprises were investing in productivity enhancing technology at half the rate of nations we consider peers in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). CSIRO’s Data 61 subsequently found that Australia was capturing the benefits of digital investment at a rate 34 per cent below the OECD average.
We can also see from OECD data that the Australian Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector’s share of value added to Australia’s economy declined by 37 per cent between 1990 and 2018, while across the rest of the OECD it increased by an average of about 32 per cent.
Although these trends are concerning, there are bright sparks across this country, from international digital success stories in the corporate sector like Atlassian and Canva, through ground breaking research being developed in Australia’s universities and at the CSIRO, to centres of policy excellence emerging in Australia’s Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
We have a long journey ahead of us, and much more to aspire towards and achieve.
Supporting our national capability in science and technology, and its throughput to the real economy, is not only an opportunity to grow our wealth and standard of living, which in turn supports our ability to invest in health and education for all Australians. It is also an opportunity to ensure our future is founded upon the values we hold dear.
Technology products, including Artificial Intelligence, are shaped by data about the world around us, and that data invariably reflects the biases present in the world in which it was collected. Australia’s diversity and unique connection to the global community presents an opportunity to have the values of those communities reflected in the products we develop.
In 2020, perceptions research undertaken by BAV Group and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, surveying 20,000 people from across the globe, found that Australia was rated as one of the top five best nations in the world. Most influential were the perceived attributes of our citizenship.
Australia’s contribution to the global community could include technology that reflects our values of egalitarianism, fairness, open communication and respect for one another’s rights.
These are values that people around our region and the world already see in Australia, and these are the values that should be reflected in our technology.
Putting our economy in a position where we can build technology that shapes the global commons will take work, from the economic policy level to that of culture and entrepreneurship, and the change will take time, sustained investment and renewed trust.
We stand ready to work with partners across the country to achieve that vision.
Alex Lynch is Manager, Government Affairs & Public Policy of Google Australia. This piece is published as part of a series from sponsors of this year’s Science meets Parliament.