Emerging Tech – It’s moving fast & we need to too

By Professor Sarah Pearson  (University of Queensland)

Entropy, the inclination towards disorder, we just can’t beat it. No matter how hard we try to control the world we inhabit, we will never win. Industrial, environmental & social opportunities and challenges, life itself, just seems to become more and more VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

Alongside this rush to the unknown, scientific and technological (S&T) advances are taking on exponential growth, providing humans with incredible opportunities to adjust, adapt and even thrive.

The need for many eyes and minds to work through this is clear. The only way we can possibly keep up, maintain our immensely privileged position on this planet, adapt to the VUCA world and enjoy the benefits of S&T progress is through collaboration.

If we want emerging industries to flourish; if we want to make changes fast enough to avoid extreme and life limiting climate change; if we want to build social structures that work for our children and our children’s children; if we want to make sure no one gets left behind, we need to embrace S&T advances and work together.

In my talk for ASCILITE 2021 I will go through some of the trends I am seeing in the work I am engaged in, from Venture Capital (VC) to companies and regional development, engagement in innovation ecosystems, inclusivity and poverty alleviation, ending up with a few words on EdTech.

In the world of VC I am thrilled to see many current and new funds raising capital and investing successfully, with an increasing push towards earlier stage investment, the building of Ventures from the germ of a science idea, tackling big challenges such as how to feed a billion people and decarbonise the economy. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) approaches are becoming more and more important, demonstrating that investors want to support solving these big challenges, moving towards the investment helix of Risk, Return and Impact.

Industry has to adapt to new realities – hybrid working arrangements, customers demanding online services, uncertainty in supply chains, and threatening new business models and products built on emerging S&T (fuelled by VC in many but not all cases). Individual companies are reaching out for new ideas, access to talent and potential partners/acquisitions. Alongside this, whole regions are seeing the need to transition to new economies. The only way to do this successfully is through mass collaboration – or better still, partnership across capital, research, entrepreneurs, schools, business big and small, and government. Regions such as the ACT have been doing this successfully for 7 years – just recently Canberra has been ranked third most innovative city in the world, after Paris and Washington DC.

In all of this, we can’t leave anyone behind. The divide between those that have so much versus those who have nothing is increasing. And women are getting left further and further behind. We can’t let the new economy exaggerate this. Entities such as the Paul Ramsay Foundation in Australia are working hard to tackle this. Even the VC world is jumping in, with the Global Innovation Fund investing in entities helping people who live on less than USD5 a day.

In many of these instances, startups are achieving much more than has been thought possible, such as 40K Plus delivering personalised education to kids in Cambodian villages with no internet – we can and should be doing this on Australia.  In fact, again, the VC world has been stepping in, with a whopping $16.1Bn of global EdTech VC having been invested in 2020. Australia can boast many of these EdTech startups that have fast become scaleups – such as Practera and the Queensland Unicorn Go1.

In all of this, tertiary educators must adapt – to deliver to new customer demands and expectations, to improve knowledge translation and learning outcomes, and to help build the talent and jobs we need for a sustainable and prosperous future. All at a rapid pace. Exciting times to be in the EdTech sector as the tech and market moves so fast – It’s moving fast & we need to too.

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