DE­SIGN­ING THE FU­TURE

In a new se­ries, Vaughan Rowsell puts on a metaphor­i­cal bar­be­cue to talk about how we can make New Zealand the i nno­va­tion cen­tre of the world. In part one, he says the fu­ture i s all about the kids.

Idealog - - DESIGNING LIFE - Vaughan is the founder of Vend, a New Zealand high-growth tech suc­cess story, and co-founder of OMGTech! a char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tive to help kids into ca­reers with fu­ture tech­nol­ogy. He was EY's Tech En­tre­pre­neur of the Year in 2014 and is vicechair of the NZ

on the fu­ture, these two say­ings wrap it up nicely:

“Pre­dic­tion is haz­ardous, es­pe­cially about the fu­ture” – an old Dan­ish proverb. “The best way to pre­dict the fu­ture is to cre­ate it” – an Atari ad from 1982. My an­swer on pre­dic­tions is another ques­tion: what fu­ture do you want?

The rate of in­no­va­tion is clearly driv­ing us at a pace where ev­ery­thing we thought was science fiction over the last 100 years is now science fact. It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing, if that’s the fu­ture we want to make.

But we have some big choices ahead. When we’re able to hack the hu­man genome, what lines do we draw? Cur­ing dis­ease? Ab­so­lutely! What about an ex­tra pair of arms? Hmmm. And what about au­to­ma­tion and AI? There’s al­ways a bar­be­cue con­ver­sa­tion that pon­ders an apoc­a­lyp­tic fu­ture and most people lean to­wards the killer ro­bot sce­nario, what­ever that says about our col­lec­tive hopes. But what about: how would a dig­i­tal democ­racy work and could we vote on is­sues all the time? What about blockchain? How could it change the op­er­at­ing model for our econ­omy? Is that a strate­gic as­set we should build?

There is a lot to think about. The New Zealand Gov­ern­ment has re­cently and rightly been look­ing for a chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer to help us pon­der all this and steer us to­wards a bright fu­ture (hope­fully, without the killer ro­bots). Un­for­tu­nately, no one yet has fit the bill of what we’re look­ing for. This is a uni­corn who can give us a vi­sion, align the in­dus­try to help us achieve it, mod­ernise our in­sti­tu­tions in health and ed­u­ca­tion and be po­lit­i­cal enough to sway bu­reau­cracy, all the while in­spir­ing us all along the way. That search con­tin­ues, and we may now be look­ing off­shore for some­one to come tell us how to do it – some­thing we Ki­wis love.

In the mean­time, we cit­i­zens need to get crack­ing. Never wait on oth­ers for the change you want to make, I say. And so at Idea­log, we thought it would be good to start a con­ver­sa­tion – ac­tu­ally, a bar­be­cue chat – about the fu­ture. Then when the CTO takes their desk at the Bee­hive, we can hope­fully give them a great steer on where some of us would like New Zealand to go. The world’s best prob­lems are solved over a good bar­be­cue, I reckon. Grab a sausage! It’s all about the kids Our fu­ture is mas­sively de­pen­dent on our 10-year-olds to­day and their abil­ity to adapt with tech­nol­ogy. I truly be­lieve this, and is why I started the char­ity OMGTech! back in 2015 so we could start in­spir­ing girls and boys from all back­grounds to take apart de­vices and tech­nol­ogy, learn how it works and how to in­no­vate with it – ro­bots, drones, AR, VR, 3D print­ing and de­sign, plus what­ever the next wave of tech is. Why? Be­cause in another 10 years, they will be liv­ing and work­ing in a world driven by tech­nol­ogy and will need some new skills, even if we haven’t quite fig­ured out the ap­pli­ca­tions of it all just yet.

It’s not just about teach­ing them to write code. That’s im­por­tant, like al­ge­bra is. It’s a great skill to have, but it’s not the only an­swer. We need to teach kids how the tech­nol­ogy around them works. Where does the in­for­ma­tion go? Who owns it? How do you de­sign and cre­ate an end-to-end so­lu­tion, from idea to de­liv­ery? How do you think crit­i­cally, with team­work? How do you fail fast and try again, while think­ing about ethics? Most im­por­tantly, how do we think out­side of the small de­vice in the palms of our hands we are in­creas­ingly liv­ing in?

Para­dox­i­cally, to teach all this, we also need to change how we teach. If we want to em­power our kids to make mas­sive trans­for­ma­tive changes, we need to make mas­sive trans­for­ma­tive changes in ed­u­ca­tion, but do we know how? Strangely, we get paral­ysed by the thought of chang­ing the 100-year old sys­tems we live by. I know those of us over 30 will find it hard to keep up in the fu­ture (I’m as­sum­ing I will never un­der­stand blockchain) but we can make sure that our kids are ready for a dif­fer­ent world. That’s kind of our jobs as the grown-ups around here. We may have all walked five miles to school bare­foot in the snow build­ing char­ac­ter, but how we lived and learned decades ago is not our kids’ fu­ture.

The fo­cus on kids and ed­u­ca­tion is crit­i­cal be­cause there is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity ahead for New Zealand – and it’s pretty cool. You fin­ished that

sausage rather quick! Grab a beer.

What if New Zealand was the in­no­va­tion cen­tre for the rest of the world? Ditch your tall poppy syn­drome for a bit and hear me out. What if we are con­sid­ered the place to bring big ideas and our trade­mark in­ge­nu­ity is used to solve prob­lems? Au­to­ma­tion will have dis­rupted most in­dus­tries glob­ally but in­no­va­tion and the abil­ity to take a vague idea and turn it into a re­al­ity is now the most in de­mand skill-set world­wide.

What if our in­dus­tries are all lined up to solve the big prob­lems? We send stuff into space, we have clean en­ergy in­no­va­tion, lead in ed­u­ca­tion, we have the best IP for syn­thetic food pro­duc­tion and we are open­ing democ­racy us­ing tech­nol­ogy. We’ll be solv­ing the best prob­lems the rest of the world cares deeply about.

What if our people are the most con­nected to tech­nol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion on the planet? This ac­cess en­ables us all to be­come life­long learn­ers, as well as be par­tic­i­pants in a dig­i­tal democ­racy.

What if daily, we tell sto­ries of our pi­o­neers of in­no­va­tion – the girl in the garage, or the global com­pany based in New Zealand, or of how we send rock­ets to Mars and cure dis­eases? Bet­ter yet, we change our na­tional psy­che to be­lieve we can do it – we can change the world. Or bet­ter yet, no­tice that we have been do­ing it since Ernie split the atom.

What if our kids are learn­ing in new ways with those new skills that will be in de­mand by the world and are in­spired by the sto­ries we tell of our in­no­va­tion heroes? They want to grow up to be like her! They learn any­where and ev­ery­where, with world-class con­nec­tiv­ity. The jobs they will have are the ones where our in­dus­tries are solv­ing those big world prob­lems, not just cre­at­ing another cryp­tocur­rency.

Other na­tions would be fool­ish not to have this mas­ter plan al­ready, and, well, they do. The UK, South Korea, Sin­ga­pore, Is­rael, Canada and Uruguay have a plan, for starters. With New Zealand, they make up the D7, which sounds a bit like a rock band but is a group of seven dig­i­tal na­tions all with a sim­i­lar vi­sion. We all have ideas and poli­cies we can share and adopt, but we have a se­cret weapon: our people. We are tena­cious and have al­ways been great at do­ing things with not much ex­cept for a bit of fenc­ing wire, a few lines of code and some hus­tle. We’re ex­perts at solv­ing prob­lems and have never been afraid to take on some­thing big­ger than us. We’re hon­est and trusted, plus we have a cool coun­try to live in, far away from the crazy of the rest of the world, with clean, cheap en­ergy, low cor­rup­tion, ease of do­ing busi­ness, fer­tile lands, fi­bre, a small, self-con­tained test mar­ket and ridicu­lously smart people.

Us­ing all our as­sets, we can set up our 10-year-olds to be­come the best in­no­va­tors the world has ever seen. I like that fu­ture. There are other parts to the plan to build an in­no­va­tion nation: hav­ing univer­sal ac­cess to con­nec­tiv­ity and on­line ser­vices, lin­ing up in­dus­try to help solve the im­por­tant prob­lems cre­at­ing new jobs, en­abling path­ways for life­long learn­ing, cel­e­brat­ing our sto­ries of suc­cess. These are all crit­i­cal planks to build upon.

For now, the potato salad is mint, so crack into that and in the com­ing is­sues of Idea­log, we will dig in a lit­tle deeper on each of these top­ics and ex­plore how we can all do our bit to help make New Zealand the in­no­va­tion cen­tre for the world. It’s go­ing to be awe­some.

What if daily, we tell sto­ries of our pi­o­neers of Zealand, or of how we send rock­ets to Mars and cured

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