Below is CSIRO’s Data61 CEO Adrian Turner’s latest op-ed in the Australian Financial Review, which looks at how Australia’s love of cities might translate into new digital exports.


Australia’s love of city-dwelling could become an export strength

Israeli philosopher and author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, posited that humans succeeded as a species because of our ability to collaborate, and desire to become closer to one another. Over time, we have evolved from social groups with a natural cap of 150 people, to sprawling cities. According to the United Nations, 3.5 billion people – half of the world’s population – live in cities today. By 2050, the urban population is expected to reach 6.5 billion, including 43 megacities capturing 10 million residents each. It’s a massive global shift, forcing new approaches by governments, including more extensive use of artificial intelligence.

Australia has been at the forefront of urbanisation. Today, 86 per cent of our 24.9 million citizens live in just 0.22 per cent of our land area and 85 per cent live within 50 kilometres of the coast. As our cities have grown, they have become living, breathing entities in their own right.

Our cities are not homogenous. They are an amalgam of cultures and underlying infrastructure, utilities and services – transport, water, energy, communications and climate monitoring. Cities include services created by citizens, communities, corporates and city governments. Yet these systems have traditionally been operated independently of one another, an outlook that is beginning to change, breaking open new possibilities for public-private data exchange and partnerships. This will lead to solutions to important issues such as energy consumption, which can affect living conditions and the environment. Cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land but account for 60 to 80 per cent of the energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions. It’s a high-impact place to focus and has potential for experimentation across different geographies, existing industries and as the underpinning for new industries.

According to IDC’s Smart Cities Spending Guide, spending on smart cities technology will reach $80 billion by 2021 across nine regions including the US, Europe and Latin America. This includes everything from hardware and software through to services and connectivity. Australia has already become a leader in aspects of this. The NSW Government is one party bringing science fiction into reality with the ambitious plan to create a ‘digital twin’ of the entire state. It will become a four-dimensional model that captures the buildings, roads, infrastructure (both above and below ground), and live transport data searchable over time. The project, already partially complete, enables urban planners and government officials to make decisions across infrastructure, urban planning, transport policies and major city renewal projects to improve liveability.Advertisement

Read the full piece at the Australian Financial Review.