IIMS 92 contents
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Opening Address

Susan Oliver
Managing Director
Australia's Commission for the Future

In order to address, in a deliberate way, a better set of directions for human kind on this earth, we need good information, we need informed population and we need intelligent and wise decision makers responding to well planned incentives for their performances.

It is apparent that this is much more easily said than done. It makes great demands on the information and communications industries, but it goes far wider than technology alone.

The demands are:

1. Information quality

2. Informed populations

The nature of the papers for this symposium provide assurance that this concept is well understood. There are very important demands that information providers become better at working with the media, and in the style that groups in our society want. Technology now provides our society with golden opportunities for informing the population of important issues with critical consequence for the present and future lives of these people. For example little of the real potential of television has been achieved through the current structures. The personal computer perhaps provides a first stage of an alternative model where I draw the parallel between the television station and the EDP Departments behind the castellated walls of yore.

The Commission for the Future itself makes some strenuous efforts in providing information and at this stage has found that some pretty mature technologies are ample for our needs, and that there is still opportunity for innovation with these mature technologies.

For example, the Commission's publication 21.C - old stuff - printed media, photographs and drawings, some use of computer graphics but it tends to be expensive. However 21.C is successful. It is considered innovative, it uses a traditional medium but the content is serious and important, the information is otherwise not easily available and often very unattractively packaged and possibly not marketed at all.

21 C presents this sort of world view, important information in a bright, well designed, up market publication which is very importantly attracting the readership of young adults.

A further example is ASTEFIX - the Australian Science, Technology, Environment and Futures Information Exchange. This is an electronic library service devised by the Commission for the Future currently trialing in Victoria. For a nominal charge schools and public libraries will have computer access to information from a wide range of sources held in a large data base.

The purpose is to provide current, topical information from industry, research and special interest groups, via modem link to schools, particularly to support year 11 and 12 and tertiary level students. Nothing new about the technology but the concept is creating quite a stir of interest and the demand for the information is being expressed very clearly.

Imagine what we could do once we have embraced the opportunities of interactive multimedia. It's a challenge we will take up.

3. Wise decision makers

This goes well beyond my brief today but I'd like to note that it is also an area of interest to my organisation and in order to support decision making in Australia we undertake studies and provide briefings to parliaments and industry.

I suggest that in these three areas there is enormous scope for greater effectiveness and real innovation, only some of which will involve new technologies, but many of which will ask us to use existing technologies in new ways using new structures for ownership and control.

In recent years I've had the fascinating experience of developing information and Communication Technology Strategies for some major organisations, as well as looking at the feasibility of business start-up of some information and communication technologies and products.

This experience enables me to observe that:

  1. The cleverness of the scientists and their technologies is wonderful, unbelievable. I have little grasp on how it is being done, but I saw demonstrations of the latest computer graphics capabilities for simulation - walk through the home or change the timber veneer on the furniture you've designed; I talked with scientists blending skills - psychology and computing developing 3 dimensional object recognition; looked at commercial application of artificial intelligence; I am in awe of the creative genius behind these technologies.

  2. Companies in the business of using and commercialising information and Communication Technologies are not in close regular contact with the researchers and scientists, and the converse is obviously true, that the researchers are not seeking regular contact with their market place.

  3. If there is a gap between leading edge research and business, there is an even greater gap where the individual consumer is concerned.

    Wendy Harmer wrote very truthfully in the Spring edition of our magazine 21.C:

    "Let's face it, most human beings reached their peak of understanding of technology in Ancient Egypt. In those days, most of us understood that if you hit things with a stick they broke, if you put a flame under them they burnt and if you pushed them they moved. A certain elite were acquainted with the principles of the pulley and the lever, but these boffins were considered the brains of the outfit. By the time the button, the dial and the switch came on the scene, the majority of the population had totally lost the plot. In fact as the 20th century draws to a close, 99.9 per cent of human beings cannot explain the scientific principle behind even the most humble of human inventions. Ask most folk to explain how a toaster works and they will be dumbfounded... and I'm talking pre popup here.

    'Um, well, the toast goes in the toaster and electricity comes in from a wire, which you plug into the wall and it cooks the toast'. Currents, filaments, wattage, ampage... no idea. Silicon chips, programs, bytes, laser discs, memory ... you've lost me. Rocks, sticks, flames ... I may must about be able to help you on this one.

    Yet the demand for sticks and rocks has fallen considerably through the ages while the demand for the digital readout rages unabated."

    Wendy discusses future archeologists describing today's "tribe" of people on earth:
    "How will you explain a tribe which sent the Humble telescope to gaze on the plains of Mars yet needed instructions on a box of matches? A civilisation which could perform laser surgery on a foetus in the womb yet needed road signs which read: 'Form two lanes'? A society which split the atom yet put serving suggestions on cans of baked beans".
  4. The information and Communication Technologies being put into commercial and social applications today are by and large very mature technologies compared with the leading edge of research.

    Whether this merely suggests that the path from research lab to the market place is long and thus the leading edge research has already begun to make its way along this path, leading inevitably to a commercial conclusion; or

    That the leading edge research has little to do with market demands or pressures of today, or indications would suggest, the near future.

  5. Many I.T. users are still viewing Information and Communication Technologies as a means of supporting their current business - doing the same thing cheaper, quicker, more accurately.

    The potential of the technology to define new products or processes, to be integrally part of that business, product or service is not a well thought through concept, and very unexploited.

For me it represents one of the really exciting potentials for the future - using technologies to, enable us to do things we have never thought of before, or never before been able to do.

This sounds very promising but where does one start to find such ideas? Being so much in awe of the scientists and technologists I quite comfortably begin from the premise that anything in the area of science and technology is possible, so I don't start with any constraints there.

I start with human social needs, not of today, but of the future.

I'd like to play around with what some of those future needs maybe, particularly in the wonderful world, this symposium is exploring - the potential for our exciting technologies and media to be applied to education, to information and its conversion to knowledge.

Author: Susan Oliver, Managing Director
Australian Commission For The Future Limited
98 Drummond Street
PO Box 115, Carlton Victoria 3053
Telephone +61 3 663 3281 Fax +61 3 663 3620
ACN 052 348 419

Please cite as: Oliver, S. (1992). Opening address. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 9-14. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/oliver.html

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