Tuesday, 24 September, 2019


What can we see today that suggests what the future will look like? How might new technologies change the way that we live, work and play? How can we prepare for this future? These questions have been investigated in a multi-year study, with the findings to be shared in Newcastle early next month.

Lead researcher in this effort, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz is director of CSIRO's Data61 Insight Team and author of Global Megatrends: Seven patterns of change shaping our future. He will deliver a keynote address at this year's Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium hosted in Newcastle by the HRF Centre.

Returning for its second year, the Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium will take place from October 10 to 11. Delegates will join a range of expert speakers to debate and analyse what it means to achieve sustainable development in major non-capital cities here and abroad.

The concept of a 'megatrend' was introduced in 1982 by academic John Naisbitt. It is intended to suggest a narrative about the future addressing environmental, economic and social conditions. In this domain of strategic foresight, Dr Hajkowicz is a leading scholar and a valuable addition to the symposium program.

Dr Hajkowicz's CSIRO's Data61 Insights Team has completed numerous research consultancies and hundreds of briefings, seminars and workshops on megatrends. Their report, Our Future World, launched in June of this year, identifies eight megatrends reshaping the global business landscape. They are:

  • More from less - increasing demand for limited natural resources
  • Planetary pushback - from global to microbial scales, we face a range of challenges from superbugs to climate change
  • The Silk Highway - rapid economic growth and urbanisation in Asia and the developing world
  • On the move - more mobility than ever before - now is a good time to think about transport and logistics
  • Forever young - an ageing population, new patterns of chronic illness and rising healthcare expenditure
  • Digital immersion - technology reshaping retail and office precincts, city design and function, and labour markets
  • Intelligent machines - artificial intelligence is on the rise as we move to a world of autonomous machines, and
  • Keeping it real - in a virtual world, the marginal value of the 'real' world will grow - keep sight of the human dimension.

The forces that create megatrends develop over decades. When they do come to fruition, however, they can hit with explosive force. Consider the disruption of the taxi industry by the ride-sharing app phenomenon, an example pointed to by Dr Hajkowicz. Preparing for such dramatic changes before they hit is incumbent on businesses and government, Dr Hajkowicz argues.

"The change heralded by megatrends lies beyond our direct control but not beyond our influence," he says. "By getting a picture of how the world is changing and what these megatrends are, we can alter our destiny."

What global megatrends are we facing in the Hunter?

Regional cities are moving away from the traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries that powered their growth over the 20th century toward more professional and service-based economies. For example, the largest employment sector in this region is health and social services. The likely effects of these global megatrends on non-capital cities, like ours, will be explored by symposium delegates.

Today's era of increasingly-rapid change in the digital world sees "opportunity and threat coming together," according to Dr Hajkowicz. CSIRO's Data61's initiative is seeking to equip Australian industry and society with the most advanced technologies in artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics and informatics that can power our industrial productivity and competitiveness over the next decade.

The output of Data61 is wide ranging and with some potentially significant developments. The effort includes soil mapping for farmers to better understand potential profitability; a solution for detecting and monitoring black lung disease; flood modelling systems; and Hovermap technology, which achieved the first autonomous out-of-sight and underground drone flight. On the environmental front, they have developed habitat-protecting robots in the Amazon and collected data on nitrogen levels in the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Hajkowicz develops decision models - designed to help government, business and communities to make smarter decisions about the future. These models have guided investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for example, informing federal and state governments on critical policy choices.

Dr Hajkowicz will deliver his keynote address, Global megatrends reshaping the way we live, work and play, on Thursday October 10. He will also host a clinic at the symposium:Strategic imperatives for the Hunter from megatrends to practical solutions.Register now.

This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 21 September 2019