Making our high-tech future

I’m a triple graduate of ANU. I’m one of the ones that escaped into the wild.

I’ve spent 15 years working in other places, and now I’m back – largely because I’m impelled by a deep conviction that the engineering and computing disciplines have something very profound to contribute to ANU delivering on its contemporary mission as the national university.

Those of us in universities spend a lot of time talking about being places of research, education and societal impact. That’s true, but it doesn’t answer the right question.

We need to ask ourselves, ‘what is the central promise that a university makes?’ I contend that universities promise a better future. On top of that, ANU is the embodiment of Australia’s hopes and dreams of a better future for our nation.

I want to take a look here at how ANU is going at delivering on that promise right now and then I’ll play the tape forward and take a look into the middle of the 21st century.

First, let’s look at macro trends globally. Countries and consortia of economies recognise there isn’t an inherent need to trade off economic prosperity and sustainability or prosperity and societal improvement.

But they understand that they need to connect their research and innovation base much more effectively to their economies if they want to avoid that tradeoff. There are massive global workforce shortages, particularly in engineering and computing.

Urbanisation is a huge issue and will get bigger – more than 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in an urban environment now and that is predicted to hit six billion people by 2040.

Everyone is thinking about climate change. Everyone is worried about software destroying whole economies, and the economic and societal turbulence that may ensue during the transition period. People are also worried about killer robots escaping into the wild.

Universities are reorienting towards those macro trends. They are encouraging problem-inspired research, transferable skills and interdisciplinary activities.

They are doubling down on their engineering and computing operations – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Put simply, engineering and computing are essential to a university achieving impact in the world.So it’s clear that a significant and strategic intervention is required – right now – if ANU is to have any hope of delivering on its promise to bring a better future to Australia.