Blog icon

28 June 2017 Speech

Good morning and welcome! Thank you for being part of our second annual Data61+ LIVE event.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land that we're meeting on today, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.


Our past is so important. CSIRO has been around in one form or another for over a century now, and in that time we invented a cotton that would grow in Australia and has gone on to become one of the most grown seeds in the world; we invented the first long-wear contact lenses, now worn around the world; and we invented WiFi – and I think we all know how widely that's been taken up!

So our past shows us how we got to where we are, and if we look closely enough, it shows us where we'll go next.

That's really what today is all about. The theme for today Shift Happens is about harnessing all our resources together to seize the challenges around us and turn them into opportunities for future prosperity.

I'm glad to be here among our data scientists to discuss how we respond when SHIfT Happens. When I meet with our Energy scientists, we talk about what happens when SHIft Hits the Fan, and that gets pretty messy.


Now speaking about seizing opportunities, I'm sure you'll all be seizing various devices throughout the day and no doubt broadcasting your thoughts on Twitter.

We have a Hashtag for that!

Could you please use the tag #D61LIVE when you're tweeting, and you can help us seize the opportunity to trend on Twitter today.

This is the big national 140 character challenge we're focused on (joke).

The Future

So what does a scientist mean when they say they can use the past to look into the future?

I mentioned earlier than CSIRO's invented a few things in its time.

Australia was a very challenging place when CSIRO was formed, but our science reinvented those problems into solutions.

Cotton couldn't grow in Australia so we reinvented it, but we didn't stop there – not just to make it grow, rather to make it the best cotton in the world.

We still haven't stopped, every year we keep cotton uniquely competitive – but now we're also bringing our work in agriculture together with our work in climate science together with our work in data to develop digital tools that predict weather patterns and yield patterns, informing our farmers' decisions before they've even planted their first seeds of the season. It's called Yield Prophet.

Let's look at those extended wear contact lenses. We invented those in 1991 – 26 years ago – but just last year we invented a new diagnostic tool that health workers in remote communities can use to take high resolution images of patients' eyes, sending them directly to metropolitan eye specialists who can diagnose eye disease instantly. It saves money and time, and improves patient outcomes.

And I'll mention WiFi again – because when you invent something like WiFi you should mention it as often as possible! But I mention it because without WiFi, almost everything else we do today would not have the same impact. We certainly couldn't seize the opportunity to trend on Twitter today without it!

So when I say scientists can see into the future, it's because at CSIRO, we've been solving the nation's biggest challenges for over a century, so we know where to look for the answers. Over that century, we've worked hand-in-hand with industry to keep them competitive as the world innovates.

What's different today is we are actively creating market roadmaps – market visions to predict the challenges before they happen, and using those to steer our investment into science that can solve them before they hit us. You may have seen some of these – the future Electricity Grid roadmap, the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals or MTP Roadmap, the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services, or METS Roadmap, for example.


In recent years, we've been at the forefront of transforming many Australian industries away from exporting raw resources towards adding value – for example, instead of sending our titanium mineral sands offshore, we work with advanced manufacturing companies to custom-design pieces like medical implants, aerospace fixtures, and even individualised horseshoes for champion thoroughbreds.

The same can be said for our exploding data scene.

Data is the raw material, the world abounds in big data. Insight and analysis are the value creation we bring to the table, turning that commodity into something really unique and powerful.

The key to doing that – the magic – is when we created Data61 inside of CSIRO, it gave Data61 access to deep domain expertise in each market vertical across the entire depth and breadth of CSIRO from Agriculture to Health to Energy to Environment to Oceans and even into Space.

And it's that combination of the deep domain expertise in each market together with a world-class data experience – that's when you get the unique insights and that's when you really add the value.

It means we can deliver our customers – whether they're in government, industry, or the community – a whole product solution, not just a part of a solution, a whole system level solution.

You see that with an App for farmers to help them plan their crops, drawing on agricultural and environmental science, delivered with digital technology. You see it with a diagnostic tool to connect patients in remote area with specialists in the cities. And you'll see it in action at more than 100 booths today.

Safe pair of hands

There's one other element I'd like to note before I introduce our next speaker.

I said earlier that the world is full of big data; we're drowning in data.

Governments in particular know more about more of their people than ever before.

This has great potential for more efficient resource allocation, meeting hidden needs, customisation of services, saving money, and of course, national security.

These are complex issues – every new technological era brings its own minefield of challenges to navigate. When I was at university, we studied the works of American physicist Richard Feynman.

He said, "Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on."

People join CSIRO because they want to change the world – it's not enough just to invent, we take responsibility for delivering solutions from science, to make the world better.

We feel it's really incumbent on us as the national science agency to make sure this is done properly, fairly, ethically, and equitably.

We don't claim to have all the answers, but we will work closely with our government as they wield this new big data capability to deliver the best we can for our nation.

Gait analysis

Actually, I don't know if you've all heard about the research Data61 released last month into "gait analysis" – looking at the unique individual markers for the way a person walks.

I'm reminded of the importance of working closely with our government when we have powerful technology like this, because I learn from the past.

Without a strong ethical framework, John Cleese would say that given gait analysis technology, a government will develop a Ministry of Silly Walks.


But in all seriousness, I want to congratulate Data61 on its first birthday.

It was supported by the National Innovation and Science Agenda, our Prime Minister's first major policy initiative on coming into office, alongside our ON Accelerator and the $200M National Innovation Fund.

It's been a huge first year for Data61, so happy birthday to you all, and congratulations to Adrian for surviving the first year!

Now I'd like to welcome one of the other proud parents of Data61 to give his keynote.

Last time I was with Craig we climbed a Dish with the head of NASA, so I can honestly say he supports everything CSIRO stands for from Data to Space, and Science to Solutions

So without further ado, please welcome the Assistant Minister for Solutions from Science the Honourable Craig Laundy.

Contact us

Find out how we can help you and your business. Get in touch using the form below and our experts will get in contact soon!

CSIRO will handle your personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and our Privacy Policy.

First name must be filled in

Surname must be filled in

I am representing *

Please choose an option

Please provide a subject for the enquriy

0 / 100

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer

0 / 1900

You shouldn't be able to see this field. Please try again and leave the field blank.