Megatrends are the ponderous yet monumental intersections of a collection of smaller trends, resulting in significant shifts in the way our species goes about its business. Digital megatrends relate to network technologies, such as smartphones, robots, ‘internet of things’ (IoT) devices, computers and servers, each rising in relevance to almost every single component of business, government and citizen functionality.

As much as these shifts are driven by an effort to find contemporary solutions to age-old problems, they create a network of new challenges that must be addressed with careful and clever new inventions. CSIRO’s Data61 is focused on the biggest challenges facing society, challenges that have dominated the news headlines in 2018.

Privacy in a Data Driven world

A digital megatrend identified in a new Data61 report from our Strategic Insight team is the increased acquisition, storage and utilisation of data in businesses and government, with the hope of increasing revenue and efficiency, improving services and acquiring new insights into operation.

Much of this involves data that relates to human beings – specifically, highly personal information around a historical record of our behaviours, and inferred insights of personality, combined with demographic and spatial metadata.This data is incredibly useful, but it’s also incredibly sensitive. Breaches of the trust users place in those who rely on this data for their business are common in 2018, with the most obvious being Facebook’s ‘Cambridge Analytica’ scandal.

Data61 is focused on privacy preserving technologies that can balance the ability to draw insights from personal data with the need to comprehensively protect the privacy of individuals.These technologies are focused on enabling the sharing and linkage of data across parts of an organisation, or between second and third parties.

Security threats

In addition to privacy, malicious actors can seek to breach secure storage sites for sensitive information – a serious threat as digitisation becomes the norm across many segments of society. In 2018 alone, several major data breaches have dominated headlines, including Commonwealth Bank’s major data loss and the malicious hacking of a large-scale recruitment firm.

Data61’s cybersecurity focus looks at the development of technologies that help create trustworthy and resilient systems – a focus that will be vital in an increasingly digital world. In parallel to privacy, understanding the risks around cybersecurity, strengthing human and social dimensions and building new systems will play a big role in how the next digital decade plays out, particularly around citizen safety and the social sustainability of data-driven businesses.

Digital manipulation

In a new report, by Dr Stefan Hajkowicz and Dave Dawson from our Strategic Insights team, the theme of digital trickery is explored in the context of global megatrends. They write,

“In April, controversy erupted after former president Barack Obama was shown on camera using an epithet to describe US President Donald Trump—except it never happened. The script was read by comedian Jordan Peele and transposed onto a generated image of the former president. It wasn’t even the first time this has happened to Obama; the technology used to create these fake videos has emerged from a variety of sources—one at the heights of the tech revolution, and one at its depths. A google researcher used 14 hours of real footage to create a fake video of Obama for a TED talk, while reddit user Deepfakes pioneered a less sophisticated version of the same technology by collecting still images of celebrities and creating videos via an algorithm”

Data61‘s Richard Nock spoke with Sunrise on deepfakes – specifically, about the role of AI researchers in a complex and ethically-tinged environment. Understanding the trajectory of this particular application of artificial intelligence – trickery and manipulation – is key in protecting trust and informational security across the country. Read more about our research in AI and new capabilities.

Creating Solutions to new challenges

CSIRO, as Australia’s national science agency, is tasked with applying the best science and the best technology to society’s biggest challenges. Our work in AI, privacy, and cybersecurity illustrate our commitment to understanding the deeper context of a collection of rapidly shifting trends in the digital landscape. The intersection of these trends, megatrends, can be explored further in our new report, ‘Digital Megatrends‘, where you can also watch a great presentation from Dr Hajkowicz investigating these big changes, and illustrating our role in creating solutions for the new challenges these shifts bring about.