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By Alison Donnellan 4 March 2020 6 min read

‘The only way you can predict the future is to build it.’ - Dr Alan Kay, American computer scientist and world-leader in personal computing and human-computer interface development.

CSIRO’s Data61 is at the forefront of data and technology science, delivering ground-breaking research and technologies in machine learning, artificial intelligence, privacy preservation, cyber security, regulatory technology, blockchain, and robotics.  

As we move into 2020, we asked our experts to share their insights on what is top of mind in their areas of expertise and how emerging technologies and trends will shape the coming year. 

What does 2020 hold for:

Prof Richard Nock

Machine Learning

In 2020, machine learning (ML) will keep expanding its reach at an increased pace throughout all industrial fields. A revolution came in 2012, with ML disruptions and breakthroughs in computer vision, and we’re seeing a similar trend in natural language processing now. The technology behind voice assistants is significantly and rapidly improving, and we can expect other markets to open rapidly beyond Alexa’s.  

Regulation will play a more important role in ML, as it proves to be competitive or better than experts in highly-regulation fields, such as medicine. Expect rising tensions within these disciplines. 

With browser cookies given a forecasted end of two years, we will see a rapid push for machine learning to replace this area of ad revenue, particularly non-GAFAM (a term to describe Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft companies).  

Expect fairness, privacy and possible constraints as we move to the next level of machine learning in society. We’ll see more attempts at using deep fakes to disrupt the democratic process, and never-seen-before attempts to use ML in other areas of cybersecurity at large.  

  • Prof Richard Nock, Group Leader of Data61’s Machine Learning team  


Dr Mark Staples


The next Bitcoin “halvening” (reduction by half of the block mining reward) will happen in May.  Transaction fees may increase slightly to compensate, and aggregate mining hash-rate might decrease as some miners stop.  It’s unclear what impact there will be on the price, but don’t expect to see a significant impact on the viability of Bitcoin from this change.

Ethereum 2.0 may enter production in parallel to ongoing operation of Ethereum 1.0. The new platform will have a more energy-efficient “proof of stake” mechanism, with faster transactions.  But it is also more complex for users and miners, both technically and economically, so the introduction of the new platform might not be a smooth process. 

Production developments of enterprise and consortium blockchain and distributed ledge technology (DLT) will continue, and more will emerge to be publicly visible. But many production deployments will continue to be invisible backend infrastructure.

We'll likely to see continued experimentation on blockchain for CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currencies) by banks globally. It is possible that a country/currency may issue a CBDC. 

Although, there will be continued development and deployment of blockchain for supply chain, the majority of usage will likely continue to be only for vertically controlled supply chains or for narrow aspects. 

  • Dr Mark Staples, Senior Principal Researcher and Group Leader of Regtech Technology Program and Blockchain 


Dr Lucy Cameron

Strategic Insights

Climate change response will play a significant role in 2020. The installation of renewable energy infrastructure offers Australia a considerable opportunity to become a world leader in alternative and renewable energy. Electric and hydrogen vehicles, new models of electricity grid management, carbon-capture technologies and low-carbon fuels will be increasingly adopted by organisations wishing to promote their reputational standing, while accurate carbon account and auditing will be employed to ensure ‘the label matches the product’.  

2020, and indeed the next decade, will see artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing enhance the speed at which vaccines are created and help us overcome the antibiotic resistance. Cost savings measures in health may include far more home-based care, robotics, precision and personalised medicine, improved diagnostics, gene therapies, and increased assistance with lifestyle measures to prevent disease occurring. 

People got very excited about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies when they entered into a speculative investment bubble in late 2017, and while their values crashed in early 2018, since then the market has changed in ways that reduce the price volatility and create better longer-term prospects for blockchain-based value-transfer. Keep an eye on ‘stablecoins’, cryptocurrency tokens that are pegged against other cryptocurrencies, fiat (or national) currencies, or commodities – particularly gold or silver.  This also meant that these stabilised the entire cryptocurrency market.   

Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics the Internet-of-Things (IoT), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), and quantum computing (separately and in combinations with each other) are likely to re-organise economic structures and power the next wave of industrial change - often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.   

The industrial impacts of these new technologies have begun and will intensify over the coming decade. Australia will need to catch this wave of transformation to stay economically competitive, particularly in comparison to other growing economies in the Asia Pacific region.

  • Dr Lucy Cameron with Dr Stefan Hajkowicz and Dr Claire Naughtin of Data61’s Strategic Insights team 


Privacy and Cybersecurity

Dali Kaafar
Professor Dali Kaafar


A disturbing trend of major data breaches has questioned the concept of implicit and explicit trust consumers have placed in companies, with data privacy now front of mind for users and organisations.  

Companies have realised the need to differentiate themselves by providing more and more features that aim to please consumers, with the concept of data collection used to inform personalisation being replaced by the need to ethically collect, use and protect private information.  

Many countries are now strengthening their privacy laws and regulation to force these companies that collect user data to comply to new world standards, and what this has created is a very global trend in developing businesses that do care about data privacy.  

Despite this, the monetisation and sharing of user data will not be halted any time soon, with the technology used to extract insights becoming more powerful, available, and cost-effective.  

As this trend accelerates in 2020 and beyond, the data privacy of citizens will become a matter of increasing concern from a national security aspect, as governments invest in preventing data from being exported overseas. 

With this in mind, we will see huge tension between organisations, regulators and the expectations of consumers. Businesses will need to invest in privacy preserving technologies in order to gain value from the information collected from their consumers, comply with regulation, and ensure their users’ data is being kept private and secure. 

  •  Prof Dali Kaafar, Information Security and Privacy Research Group Leader. 

Dr Sue Keay

Robotics and Autonomous Systems

In 2020, people will become more aware of the influence robotics is having in logistics, and we will also start to see a greater variety of robotic platforms available in the marketplace and, hopefully, more affordable educational robotics kits. 

Over the next decade, I look forward to Australia regaining its crown as the world leader in field robotics, as demonstrated by the exceptional performance of the CSIRO Data61 team in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, using mainly Australian robot platforms and demonstrating the most accurate positioning systems.

This year, Data61's Robotics and Autonomous Systems team are contributing to the emerging field of construction tech and advanced manufacturing and branching out into retail and health tech. However, we will continue our strengths developing technology that you can use outdoors in a range of applications, environmental monitoring and protections, wildlife and animal tracking, defence, resources, and infrastructure.

We are also working to build a more visible and coordinated robotics industry. We have great talent and create really useful technologies here in Australia and we need to celebrate our achievements and grow our capability in this area to support Australia to adapt to the fast pace of technological change.

  • Dr Sue Keay, Research Director of Cyber-Physical Systems.

Interested in more insights?  Our Insight Team analyse emerging trends, drivers and scenarios, and apply modelling approaches to generate insights and inform future strategy and policy decisions. Click here to learn more.

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