NZ’s future rests on children managing technology today

The future of New Zealand’s success rests largely on the importance of how school children manage technology today, one of New Zealand’s leading tech experts says.

Graeme Muller, chief executive of NZTech, the voice of the tech sector in New Zealand, told the New Zealand ULearn education conference in Rotorua today that New Zealand has to focus on making today’s children creators rather than users. 

“Anything that has information technology applied to it starts to grow exponentially. But this is incredibly difficult for us humans to comprehend.
For thousands of years our brains have only had to deal with linear.  The amygdala at the top of our brain stem manages how we see threats but has never had to deal with exponential changes.

“It is so hard for us to spot these changes that even the experts keep getting it wrong. In the 1980s McKinsey told AT&T (a US tele-communications company) to stay away from the cell phone predicting only 900,000 subscribers within 20 years. They said the phones were too heavy, had poor coverage, and cost too much. 

“But within 20 years there were over 100 million subscribers. This year a quarter of the world’s people are carrying smartphones which have more computer power than the US had when it put man on the moon in 1969. By 2020, at this rate most of the people in the world will have a smartphone.

“So within a few years, information will be almost unlimited. But how do we power these devices? Solar power technology is also growing exponentially and is now cheaper than coal and gas. At this rate power is predicted to be effectively free by 2035.

“So with unlimited access to information and energy we can suddenly do so much more. In health, fully autonomous robotic surgery became a reality this year, and it’s safer and more effective.  Genetic sequencing which not so long ago cost billions can now be done for as little as $1000 and is predicted to be cents by 2020. The students in school now may have the power to create by the time they enter the workforce.  Are they ready for that responsibility? 

“How about the autonomous car? While you are debating whether it will happen its already here. My six-year-old daughter will never have to drive a car. 
This November in Tauranga the first driverless cars in NZ will be road tested. Yet this technology has been around for 20 years improving exponentially every year.

“So while we debate about whether autonomous cars will happen, guess what, the autonomous drone arrived this year. Within 20 years our kids will be debating whether these will go mainstream as their robot cars take them to work. That's the thing about technology evolution, it doesn’t slow down. And it does have an impact.

“If your glass is half full like mine you see the wonder of it all. Like New Zealander Peter Beck who used 3D carbon fibre printing to reinvent the rocket.
Rocketlabs can now send a satellite into space from Gisborne for as little as $US70,000. Five years ago this would have cost $US50million. This year we will become only the 10th nation to send a rocket into space. 

“But there will be a down side. Technology will change the way we work. That's why we need to develop a generation of creators not users. Creativity won’t be as easy to displace. Millions of people will lose their jobs as robots take over, and it won’t just be factory workers.

“IBM Watson is now displacing lawyers. Xero is displacing accountants. And while artificial intelligence is really only beginning it is predicted to create the single biggest displacement of jobs in the history of mankind.

“This is why we need to prepare the next generation. Traditional jobs will disappear while our children are at school.  We need to make sure they are able to do jobs not yet invented. 

“Our biggest industry is also under threat. A US startup has worked out how to make animal free milk in mass production.
Just like brewing beer. What will this mean for our economy? Again, we need to prepare our kids for a very different world.

“These changes are reinforcing why we feel that digital technology is now as important as English and maths. Digital technology should have its own learning group or something equivalent to ensure there is sufficient focus and support for this critical new subject matter.

We have an opportunity with the new curricula to prepare our students for a crazy future. As a country we must ensure we work together to make sure this happens,” Muller says.