With a little more empathy, the technology industry might actually fulfill its promise to make the world a better place, according to Dan Hon. Hon is former lawyer and co-founder of Six to Start, an award winning creative company, and is currently content director for Code for America and delivered the final keynote address at Web Directions South in Sydney on Thursday night. "I'm really excited and optimistic about the future. But I'm also really really angry about the present," Hon says. "Over the last 40 years computing and communications technology has gotten cheaper, and faster and smaller, and now when we talk about the internet of things, we anticipate a future where everything can have an IP address and touch the network. "And yet all this excitement about a connected future is against the background of a shift in the world. A change in the way that Silicon Valley and the rest of the world is building and bringing the new products that are chaining our lives and the ways established business are operating, and the way governments are deciding to interact with us." Hon says there is an inescapable fact, while we might be building an Internet of Things, right now there is still seven billion people who are going to using that internet. "We should be building an internet for humans as well. And I worry that there's a gap in empathy between those organisations and us as people, as audiences, as citizens, as consumers, as users. "That there is a big gap between what we do when we build these services and how these are actually used. "I think designing an Internet of Things or just designing an internet, or making stuff that goes on it and lives out in the world, means we need to understand what that empathy gap is." The empathy gap is a the lack of understanding between an organisation and its audience. Hon gives numerous examples; whether it be AT&T asking their users to write a letter in order to opt out of certain terms and conditions, an American food stamps program having 50 pages worth of online forms to fill out, or Apple putting an entire U2 album on their customers phones. "I mean being able to place yourself in other people's situation and being able to empathise and sympathise what other people are going through, and use that, and use reason to make their situation better where you can," he says. Hon is worried the world is heading towards a dystopian future where inflexible software is eating the world. Not the money-making Marc Andreessen type of software, but the kind that lacks empathy. “I mean the idea that bad services, bad product and bad communication, increasingly demonstrated few a perceived failure to understand another person's situation,” he says. “In other words, a chronic failing of user understanding and research.” A new service that lets people with bad credit get cars, and if they miss a payment, the software immobilises the car. “Which is great, until your 4-year-old has a 102 degree fever and you need to get to the hospital, and you swear that you’ve made that payment and you can’t get through to anyone, and the car just doesn't start,” Hon says. “If we’re going to connect everything, if the network is the new electricity, which I do think it is, then I want a network for people, not just of things. “Every time we’re asked to design something, every time we’re asked to make something it’s an opportunity for us to remember that there are people out there using what we’re building to get a job done. “If they have a need, if they have a task to get done then it’s our job to value their time and respect them, and to treat them as people. And get that job done as quickly and simply and easily as possible. “If we’re supposed to believe, still that the web is, can be, and should be egalitarian, then we should use it to make the world that way too.”
Recently, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, spent time at the Fishburners co-working space in Sydney, where he spoke with Fishburners general manager Murray Hurps, Head of Engineering at Google Australia Alan Noble and a number of startups. Here are five things he took away from his visit: 1. The importance of STEM education “Alan Noble and I discussed how Australia’s education system needs to better support students studying STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to help develop Australia’s tech sector. “Alan said that we need to look at how our education system can allow students to grow their ability in, as he phrased it, ‘computational thinking’.” 2. Employee share ownership schemes matter “Attracting and retaining talented staff is a potential ‘blocker’ to the success of start-ups. As I noted in a recent speech, employee share ownership plans and share options are a key tool used to attract staff, widely used in the tech sector in the US and other countries. “Today our tax settings mean that Australian start-ups – and indeed later stage companies – cannot match the equity and option offerings of tech firms overseas, including the US. “This issue is being looked at by the taskforce which is working on the National Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda: the taskforce will report to the Prime Minister later this year.” 3. Capital is key “Raising capital is a key issue for start-ups in Australia. The government is considering a recent report from an advisory committee on corporations law, which makes recommendations about ‘crowdfunding’ – that is, how could we streamline the regulations governing the raising of investment capital to facilitate the use of the internet to raise small sums of money from large numbers of people.” 4. Startups create jobs “I was reminded during the visit to Fishburners that the high-tech sector can play an important role in new job creation. A recent report from America’s Kauffman Foundation found that new business formation was 23 per cent more likely in the high-tech sector of the US economy than in the private sector as a whole. “Adding to that, in information and communications technology (a sub-set of the broader high-tech sector) it was 48 per cent more likely. The report also found that new and young firms in the high-tech sector are more robust job-creators than such firms in the broader economy. “The OECD reports in its most recent Science, Technology and Innovation Report that one third of job creation in the business sector comes from young firms with fewer than 50 employees – even though these make up only 11 per cent of total employment.” 5. Technology will disrupt major sectors of the nation’s economy “Looking at the innovative new technologies under development at Fishburners, I was reminded of how digital disruption is impacting all sectors of Australia’s economy. A recent report from Deloitte Digital found that almost one-third of the Australian economy faces imminent and major disruption due to the transformative power of the digital economy. “The sectors most likely to be affected include some of Australia’s biggest employers, such as retail and professional services. “As the recent StartupAus ‘Crossroads’ report argued, startups have a key role to play in this disruptive environment, noting: ‘As a nation we need to take immediate and far-reaching steps to address market failures that are impeding the maturation and growth of our startup ecosystem.’” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Tech start-ups are set to benefit from the launch of a new $6 million “innovation laboratory”, opened by the Victorian Government, as the state seeks to rival NSW in the ICT innovation stakes.
Start-ups specialising in information and communications technology have until August 10 to apply for a $30,000 grant from the Information Society Innovation Fund.
A range of entrepreneurial speakers are set to take to the stage at TEDxSydney 2012 this weekend, including Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and chief executive of social enterprise Purpose.com.
Taking an information and communications technology (ICT) company from start-up phase to market leader is no easy task – particularly if you come from a non-technical background – but Maree Adshead made it happen.
Oricom International, an Australian company specialising in communications technology, recently acquired Babysense, a technology that monitors the movements associated with a baby’s breathing.
Twenty-nine companies, entrepreneurs and inventors will share in more than $13 million to commercialise their technologies as part of Commercialisation Australia.
The Victorian Government has made $3 million available to small businesses as part of its Competitive Business Fund, designed to help start-ups improve their competitiveness, productivity and export potential.
Start-ups are set to be crucial in reviving Australia’s flagging software sector, according to a senior industry figure.
The NSW Government will attempt to make it reduce the red tape and costs associated with selling IT goods and services to government by amending an agreement known as Procure IT.