2018 wrap-up – culture, tech news and Data61’s achievements

By Algorithm editorialFebruary 4th, 2019

2018 was a tumultuous year for global trends in technology. Here’s a quick wrap-up of the key media and news events that we noticed during the year:

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal

In a fascinating tale of political intrigue and secretive data-sharing practices, it was revealed that Facebook’s platform had granted access to third-party ‘quiz’ applications, one of which has been used by a researcher at Cambridge University to harvest information, which was later sold to political campaigns in the United States. You can read our previous Algorithm pieces on this here, or listen to privacy expert Dali Kaafar’s commentary on this here.

The implementation of GDPR

The European Union’s ‘General Data Protection Regulation’, or GDPR, came into effect in 2018, introducing a range of broad and significant changes to privacy law in an effort to protect information created and held by citizens in the EU. There were plenty of flow-on effects into other countries, like Australia, as large tech companies adjusted their systems to adhere to these laws. Check out the series below – a range of interviews with Data61’s CEO, Adrian Turner, on issues around privacy and regulation.

Apple becomes first $1t company

As reported in ABC news Australia, “Apple has became the first $1 trillion publicly listed US company, crowning a decade-long rise fuelled by its ubiquitous iPhone that transformed it from a niche player in personal computers into a global powerhouse spanning entertainment and communications”. The rapid growth of tech giants in the US lies in stark contrast to Australia’s perceived lag in seizing on the technology boom. Read CEO Adrian Turner’s latest in the Australian Financial Review, on Australia’s missed opportunities.

Uber’s fatal autonomous vehicle accident

A tragic incident in Arizona, in March 2018, saw an Uber-operated autonomous vehicle collide with and kill a pedestrian crossing a road. Though the incident is still under investigation, it was preliminary found that the test-driver of the car was distracted – watching TV Show ‘The Voice’ – during the testing of the vehicle. It was a stark reminder of what it means to engage in early tests of new technology, and how efforts to potentially reduce human injury and death through the equipping of vehicles with advanced sensors and reaction capabilities can itself bring about new risks that must be managed carefully.

Read about our work on the vision systems that help autonomous vehicles detect and classify objects here.

Amazon opens its first automated supermarket

A fascinating new style of supermarket trialled by Amazon in the US – with no checkouts, it uses cameras and sensors to track each customers, and to identify the items they’re selecting. Dig into Data61’s Insights Team leader, Stefan Hajkowicz, speaking on ABC’s The Drum in April about the future of work:

Data61 Highlights

At Data61, we’ve focused on high-impact science and technology research and funding, through our own staff and  our extensive research network. Here are a few highlights:


  • Contributed to research demonstrating different ways of visualising uncertainly and identifying targets for future monitoring and remediation of The Great Barrier Reef
  • We’ve visited Gabon in Africa to develop intelligent autonomous deterring systems to prevent vertebrate pests from ruining crops, we’ve conducted risk assessments aiming to reduce the population of malaria transmitting mosquitoes
  • We’ve won funding to revolutionise personalised medicine through wearable sensors
  • Commercialised Hovermap, after completing its first autonomous underground drone flight
  • We’ve partnered in completing successful clinical trials for the Bionic Vision Australia artificial eye project
  • Developed an app as part of a trial to explore the potential for blockchain technology to create ’smart money’, through using the case study of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS),
  • Won multiple awards for our natural hazards group bushfire modelling system, Spark
  • Provided invaluable drought insights for the country and farmers via Terria.
  • Helped uncover SPECTRE and Foreshadow, finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities and responsibly disclosing them. Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities (ranked #9 in Tech Republic’s top tech news of 2018 and #3 in Digital Trends)
  • We launched the Digital Innovation report, which quantified the digital innovation opportunity for Australia at $315 billion over the next decade, at the intersection of digital and domains.
  • We were appointed by the Commonwealth Government to develop the nation’s Artificial Intelligence Roadmap and Ethics Framework, and tasked by Treasury to advise on Consumer Data Standards, with an initial focus on open banking, as part of the Consumer Data Right legislation.
  • We led the creation of the Sixth Wave Alliance to advance Australia’s robotics and autonomous systems R&D