communications technology


Want your kids to learn another language? Teach them code

9:20AM | Tuesday, 22 September

Among Malcolm Turnbull’s first words as the newly elected leader of the Liberal Party, and hence heading for the Prime Minister’s job, were: “The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.”   And near the heart of the matter is the code literacy movement. This is a movement to introduce all school children to the concepts of coding computers, starting in primary school.   One full year after the computing curriculum was introduced by the UK government, a survey there found that six out of ten parents want their kids to learn a computer language instead of French.   The language of code   The language comparison is interesting because computer languages are first and foremost, languages. They are analogous to the written versions of human languages but simpler, requiring expressions without ambiguity.   They have a defining grammar. They come with equivalent dictionaries of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs; with prepositions and phrase patterns, conjunctions, conditionals and clauses. Of course the dictionaries are less extensive than those of human languages, but the pattern rendering nature of the grammars have much the same purpose.   Kids that code gain a good appreciation of computational thinking and logical thought, that helps them develop good critical thinking skills. I’ve sometimes heard the term “language lawyer” used as a euphemism for a pedantic programmer. Code literacy is good for their life skills kit, never mind their career prospects.   Scratch is one of a new generation of block programming languages aimed at teaching novices and kids as young as eight or nine to write code.     The Scratch language uses coloured blocks to represent the set of language constructs in its grammar. A novice programmer can build up a new program by dragging-and-dropping from a palette of these blocks onto a blank canvas or workspace.   The individual shapes of the blocks are puzzle-like, such that only certain pieces can interlock. This visually enforces the grammar, allowing the coder to concentrate on the creativeness of their whole program.   The Scratch language (and its derivatives) are embedded in a number of different tools and websites, each dedicated to a particular niche of novice programmers. The website is a prime example and has a series of exercises using the block language to teach the fundamentals of computer science. is a non-profit used by 6 million students, 43% of whom are female. It runs the Hour of Code events each year, a global effort to get novices to try to do at least an hour of code.   For a week in May this year, Microsoft Australia partnered with to run the #WeSpeakCode event, teaching coding to more than 7,000 young Australians. My local primary school in Belgrave South in Victoria is using successfully with grade 5 and 6 students.   Unlike prose in a human language, computer programs are most often interactive. In the screenshot of the Scratch example (above) it has graphics from the popular Plants vs Zombies game, one that most kids have already played. They get to program some basic mechanics of what looks a little like the game.     But has a ‘Show Code’ button that reveals the JavaScript code generated behind the coloured blocks (see above). This shows novices what they created in tiles, translated into the formal syntax of a programming language widely used in industry.   It’s not all about the ICT industry   Both parents and politicians with an eye to the future see the best jobs as the creative ones. Digging up rocks, importing, consuming and servicing is not all that should be done in a forward-thinking nation.   But teaching kids to code is not all about careers in computer programming, science and software engineering. Introducing young minds to the process of instructing a computer allows them to go from “I swiped this” to “I made this”. From watching YouTube stars, to showing schoolyard peers how they made their pet cat photo meow.   It opens up young minds to the creative aspects of programming. Not only widening the possible cohort who may well study computer science or some other information and communications technology (ICT) professions, but also in design and the creative arts, and other fields of endeavour yet to transpire or be disrupted.   For most kids, teaching them to code is about opening their mind to a means to an end, not necessarily the end in itself.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

How new technologies are shaking up health care

9:27AM | Thursday, 3 September

 New tests and drugs have impacted health care for many decades. But we’re now seeing the emergence of completely different kinds of technologies that will radically alter how health care is both accessed and delivered.   In the past, patient and doctor, or other clinician, would generally meet in person. The clinician would employ the traditional process of seeking a history, undertaking physical examination and perhaps organising tests, to obtain details of the patient’s health-care needs and preferences.   The clinician would then relate this information to current knowledge of disease, prognosis and therapeutics, hopefully involving the patient, and together they would make decisions about a management plan.   A changing world The internet has changed all that. Health professionals or not, we already share similar access to vast amounts of information about disease processes and their management. Much of this is readily available so that patients can be, and often are, highly knowledgeable about their health and care options.   A growing number of health apps – of varying quality – are available to support patients' decisions about those options. And social media provide an instant network of peers with whom to share health concerns and experiences.     Wearable devides can monitor physiological processes, and sync with phones and social media. BTNHD Production/flickr, CC BY   Biosensitive wearable technologies now monitor basic physiological processes, such as pulse rate and physical activity, permitting analysis and interpretation in real time. Future wearables and home-based sensors will track a growing range of measures, providing data for increasingly sophisticated assessment of the wearer’s current health status, and decision support for their care.   Many pharmacies and other primary health-care facilities offer point-of-care testing for use on site or at home. Right now such tests are largely limited to simple biological measures, such as blood glucose or cholesterol. But the range and number of possible tests are expanding rapidly, and coming down in price.   Soon it will be possible not only to diagnose a specific infection, but to accurately predict which anti-infective (if any) would be most effective for its treatment. All this will be done within minutes, and often without the need for a doctor, nurse or other health-care professional to examine, test and prescribe.   At the same time, advances in human genomics are providing the basis for redefining and reclassifying diseases. These advances enable increasingly accurate prediction of risk; new opportunities for effective prevention; and rapid confirmation of a growing number of diagnoses, clarifying the patient’s likely prognosis as well as informing treatment selection.   This is the basis of personalised medicine, which seeks to match health-management advice to the individual and not just to their disease. Parallel developments in genetic analysis of tumours and of the pathogens that cause infections are further refining the possibilities for matching the treatment to the patient and their disease.   Mental health too It’s not just physical health care that’s being affected; information and communication technologies are transforming psychological care. Psychologists and psychiatrists rarely examine patients physically, so video-consultations are becoming more common.     Video consults are becoming more common, allowing patients to communicate with their clinicians remotely. Mike Blake/Reuters   A growing number of websites provide online psychological assessment and advice for the user. These range from straightforward screening for common mental problems to sophisticated measurements of cognitive and emotional functioning, which can predict responsiveness to specific therapies.   Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural and mindfulness interventions, are readily available online. There is strong evidence for their effectiveness when used appropriately.   Communications technology can also enable real-time monitoring of patients’ adherence to prescribed medical treatment: this has obvious applications in the care, for example, of people with dementia. And smart dispensers can help all of us remember to take our medicines.   These developments remove the need for patients and their clinicians to meet in person, or even to communicate synchronously, unless physical interaction such as surgery is required. The array of generic and patient-specific information, and of electronic decision support aids that both patients and clinicians can access, are redefining the role of the clinician.   Doctors will increasingly play a role as expert guides to available resources, facilitating patients' choices and decision making. Physical infrastructure for emergency management, surgical intervention and care of the very sick will still be needed. But information technology’s ability to collapse time and space will increasingly alter how health care is accessed and delivered in the community, enabling the right care every time, and at the patient’s convenience.   The implications for health service planning and policy, and for health professional education, are profound. Key considerations will include enabling equity of access to the potential benefits of information technology and ensuring that this enhances rather than distracts from the human connection we all need when we feel ill or fearful about our health.   Tim Usherwood is Professor of General Practice at University of Sydney This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The case for more empathy in tech

10:32PM | Thursday, 30 October

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.”

Govt MP visits Fishburners, calls for urgent action to help grow Australia’s startup ecosystem

8:44AM | Wednesday, 27 August

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.

Victorian Government launches $6 million tech innovation lab

9:13PM | Wednesday, 12 September

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.

$30,000 grants up for grabs for ICT start-ups – plus a trip to Azerbaijan!

8:24AM | Friday, 3 August

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.

TEDxSydney 2012 unveils entrepreneurial speaker line-up

5:04AM | Monday, 21 May

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

From tech newbie to industry advocate

5:05AM | Friday, 18 May

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.

Parent market makes perfect Babysense

5:39AM | Monday, 30 May

Oricom International, an Australian company specialising in communications technology, recently acquired Babysense, a technology that monitors the movements associated with a baby’s breathing.

Commercialisation Australia pledges $13m to innovators

5:02AM | Thursday, 19 May

Twenty-nine companies, entrepreneurs and inventors will share in more than $13 million to commercialise their technologies as part of Commercialisation Australia.

$3 million fund opened for Victorian SMEs

3:03PM | Tuesday, 15 March

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 the key for software industry

1:41AM | Tuesday, 18 January

Start-ups are set to be crucial in reviving Australia’s flagging software sector, according to a senior industry figure.

NSW to make it easier for IT firms to sell to government

12:14PM | Sunday, 12 December

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.