Understanding emerging technologies

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A range of emerging technologies are forecast to change and improve many fundamental tasks and interactions in the coming years, including how we work, travel, and communicate with each other. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing present significant opportunities for people, businesses and the broader economy.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a broad term used to describe a collection of technologies that can solve problems and perform tasks to achieve defined objectives without explicit human guidance.

Central to AI are automation and machine learning that underpin applications such as natural language processing (Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa), computer vision (Tesla Autopilot), and optimisation and decision support (Google Maps).

AI has the potential to automate repetitive or dangerous tasks, increase productivity and allow the development of innovative consumer products. It is forecast to add trillions of dollars to the global economy in the coming decades. Examples include:

  • Using advanced data analytics techniques to diagnose diseases at earlier and more treatable stages
  • Using automated machines for hauling and drilling on mine sites, increasing productivity and reducing risks to workers
  • Enabling greater use of smart forms that can tailor legal information to assist individuals to draft a will or settle financial arrangements following a break-up
  • Tailoring content on entertainment platforms to meet user preferences

There is considerable effort, both in Australia and internationally, focused on ensuring that AI is applied ethically and delivers broad societal benefits.


Blockchain is a digital platform that records, verifies and stores transactions shared across a network of computers according to an agreed set of rules. This removes the need for verification by a central authority, such as a bank.

Cryptography is used to keep transactions secure, and costs are shared among network participants. The fact the transaction history is viewable and verifiable by all network participants allows for much higher levels of transparency and auditability than is otherwise possible.

Although blockchain is still an emerging technology, it can be applied across a wide range of industries and to almost any transaction that involves a value, including:

  • Financial transactions
    • Faster clearing and settlement times could reduce credit risk and capital requirements, lowering transaction costs across the board. This could have practical benefits for real estate transactions
    • Significantly reduced contracting, compliance and enforcement costs can make low-value transactions economically viable through use of auto-executed ‘smart contracts’. This would allow for faster and easier transfer of royalties from digital platforms to digital content creators, such as musicians, writers and vloggers.
  • Government services
    • Validating the identity of a person without revealing personal information
    • Allowing for government to reduce fraud, corruption, errors and the cost of paper-intensive processes.
  • Tracing the history of a product
    • Tracking the provenance and trade of digital and physical goods. This would help ensure consumers are receiving genuine items that are otherwise susceptible to fraud, such as ethically sourced diamonds and luxury food items.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the increasing use of sensors that record thing such as sounds, touch, movement, temperature and even chemical composition that are being used to automatically collect data about people, the environment and objects and transmit this information over the Internet.

The increasing application of this technology has been made possible by the availability of cheaper and better sensors, the wide availability of internet connectivity and increased computing power.

Examples of how IoT is delivering benefits to the community include:

  • Smart health care devices that can monitor patients and alert medical authorities if required
  • Sensors in energy and water infrastructure that enable providers to better track and manage maintenance
  • Sensors in the soil that can measure moisture levels and help farmers better manage water use and improve harvest.

Quantum computing

Quantum computing is an emerging technology that would exponentially increase available computing power to help us solve problems that we cannot tackle with existing computers. Quantum computers, will be able to crack codes easily and they have the potential to disrupt existing security methods that use encrypted data, such as in banking and other industries. Quantum computers also have applications in scientific fields and could help answer questions that have baffled scientists for generations.

Australia is recognised as a world leader in silicon-based quantum computing research, which is one of the most promising pathways to developing a commercially viable quantum computer.

As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Government invested $25 million in the Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd venture, in partnership with leading academic institutions and businesses.