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The Times they are a Changing

The Times they are a Changing: How a rally with a robot opened my eyes.

In a rare moment with nothing to do, I decided to take a look at YouTube and came across a table tennis match between a robot and a human male. You would be wrong if you think this leads to a robotish joke. The robot won a lengthy and compelling rally, and my mind wandered into thoughts about the future.

If this robot could respond to every unpredictable shot of the human and then discern when to hit the winning shot, what else could it do? Of course, science is well ahead of my simple apprehensions, and I understand that we are in another technical revolution. It’s here, it’s now. It’s happening.

However, when I saw the robotic table tennis player, it was like the reality of the age had hit me. Of course, at nearly 83, it shouldn’t be of much concern. It is, but will it lead us, this artificial intelligence, to a better world?

Along with my awakening was the release of the Intergeneration Report that takes a peek into the next 40 years of our history and what it holds in store. It was released by Treasurer Jim Chalmers with all the guile of a man who knew his stuff. A treasurer who could hold the crying baby while drying the dishes. A big-picture treasurer in the mould of Keating.

In a sarcastic response, the Shadow Opposition Treasurer, Angus Taylor, suggested that Chalmers should be more concerned with the next 40 days, not the next 40 years.

His reply was that of the Conservative Luddite, who knew naught about the future and even less about the hurdles along the way.

Firstly, let’s look at the science that will guide the future, and here I’m drawing from the Accenture web page, which has much to say about the “digit years” or the world of digital technology that lies ahead.

“For digityears, the guiding pillar of enterprise innovation has been taking processes, even whole parts of the organisation, and digitising them. And while we’ve built a rich and meaningful digital world, we haven’t reconciled it with the physical one.”

The world conditioned itself to the Age of Enlightenment, where the world’s thinking was turned on its head. And secondly, the Industrial Revolution. Now, we are confronted by yet another step in our progress.

“Our Technology Vision last year called out the Metaverse Continuum as the next big step after digital transformation. The metaverse is a watershed moment for the convergence of atoms and bits, accelerating the path to a singular shared reality.”

“We’ve arrived at an exciting frontier of technology innovation for businesses, where we’re not just digitising but putting that digital foundation to work. But it’s also critical to realise that while metaverse, digital twins, augmented reality and robotics are potent ways to get started, they’re just the beginning.

Fusing digital and physical is not only generating new products and services; it’s the force behind a new era of scientific research. Leaders are creating the next set of tools and disruptions to rewrite how the world works. And what’s become clear is that when atoms and bits collide, truly new possibilities emerge.”

Our entry into this new world will carry challenges we have never faced before.

The most objectionable feature of a conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge, science in other words, because it dislikes some of the consequences that may flow from it. Yes, there are known facts in the world.

The Enlightenment advocated reason as:

“… a means to establish an authoritative system of aesthetics, ethics, and government, allowing human beings to obtain objective truth about the whole of reality.”

As we move into another period of significant change, we must ask ourselves what we take and leave behind. Should we make our ethics more robust? What political philosophy is best suited to instigate change? Many questions will arise.

The value of the Intergenerational Report is that it gives the government a view of the future. It tells us what we will face and what is necessary to coexist with a bigger, hotter Australia. The ticking time bomb of an ageing population. Will the young of the time have to pay more tax to accommodate them?

It raises the question of the purpose of tax and how it should be reformed. It questions other means of raising tax; perhaps it is our assets, not our earnings. Our productivity comes into question. Future migration. What we won’t be able to afford is the support we give to the rich now. Capital gains, for example.

Can the budget afford it? Spending increases in health, aged care, and the NDIS reflect the impact of the aging population on the economy. A more egalitarian society will have to evolve, or the less well-off will revolt. Will there be a fragmentation in the global order? Work will undergo fundamental change. Fertility rates will continue to fall.

Do we have plans to confront the fact that we have moved past the date for living safely with climate change? What about the next pandemic, global economic downturn or the current wave of mental illness? Driverless cars and a plethora of new technology, much of which has yet to be invented.

The Intergenerational Report should become a fixture now, with a department headed by a “Minister for the Future”. The fusion of the digital and physical world will happen, and our leaders must be a force behind these enormous technological advances.

“Fusing digital and physical is not only generating new products and services; it’s the force behind a new era of scientific research. Leaders are creating the next set of tools and disruptions to rewrite how the world works.”

In another age of enlightenment, there is no place for negativity.

Continued next week: What should we take with us into this new world?

My thought for the day

Will we ever grow intellectually to the point where we can discern and understand the potential for the good within us?


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  1. New England Cocky

    Interesting thoughts John Lord.

    Perhaps you could turn your mind to the taxation reform debate and the present long standing practice of discussing how to INCREASE or change (or both) the revenue stream WITHOUT reviewing the expenditure stream of government gifts to corporations and high income individuals. For example, the Fossil Fuel industry receives a reported $65 BILLION in gifts, allowances, rebates & other government handouts when this is an industry that the world is attempting to minimise, if not eliminate.
    Then there are some of the old chestnuts like over-funding private schools, which allows the development of real estate portfolios as happened in Tudor England before the reformation and naturally the hoarding of cash funds for the benefit of the churches (that are registered charities and so pay little/no taxation themselves).

  2. David Stakes

    And still this Government insists on going ahead with the Stage 3 tax cuts. Cowering in fear at the electoral backlash. Sorry Jim, hardly the mould of Keating. Who did what was unpopular for the greater good. Sure was not too keen at the 16% interest rates at the time. But where would we be, if compulsory super was at the level he wanted it to be now. Medicare was funded correctly. LNP have alot to answer for in their Luddite view of the world.

  3. Anthony Judge

    The reference to table tennis can be provocatively compared to the Yes-or-No Voice discourse — verbal table tennis. How would an AI engage in such debate — given the skills indicated? A related point can be made with respect to football — when will the robot players in development be comparable to humans? The focus of football is on 2-sided teams — whether male or female, with the latter the focus of opportunisitic government. What of “LGBTQ” football? Or 3-sided football as played elsewhere, notably in Australia? ( And how about 2 teams of women playing across 2 teams of men — 2 balls, 4 goals? In the case of table tennis, the University of Wollongong promotes Triples Table Tennis (3 teams of 2 across a circular table) — with Wollongong priding itself as being the “City of Innovation” ( When will they involve AI players? Instead of government investing in “facilities for women”, as in the “Yes” campaign, how about investing in game innovation in anticipation of AI involvement and its proposals for more complex games?

  4. Terence Mills

    The ticking time bomb of an ageing population….

    I really dislike that term and I realize that it’s not yours , John.

    We have a wealth of experience and some unique talents in our older folk and many are ready, willing and able to share those talents.

    I recall some years ago at an aboriginal community in the Gulf country, an old bloke who had been a builder in his working life was devoting his talents and experience to teaching young indigenous lads basic carpentry and block laying so that they could build and refurbish their own community houses ; this was despite his dodgy back.
    Somebody asked him if he knew anything about submersible pumps as a pump delivering bore water to the community had not been working for weeks and nobody had any idea how to fix it. He said ” I’ll have a look at it after smoko” which he did and he fixed it and it’s still working now although I hear the quality of the water has deteriorated.

    That’s a true story, the old codger has since passed on : nobody fixes up the dilapidated houses
    anymore and they’ve started trucking in rainwater tanks made in Townsville !

  5. Canguro

    Timely essay, John. Two comments: Firstly… re. “Now, we are confronted by yet another step in our progress.”… I think it would have been useful to put the word ‘progress’ in single quotes. I say this because I’m a bit of a stickler for appropriate use of language, given that it conveys meaning. A quick check of the dictionary furnishes the following generally accepted meanings of that word;

    Noun: (1) Gradual improvement, growth or development, (2) The act of moving forward (as toward a goal), (3) A movement forward.
    Verb: (1) Make progress in knowledge or status, (2) Move forward, also in the metaphorical sense, (3) Form or accumulate steadily.

    Playing devil’s advocate, are we really facing improvement for all people in this context of the emergence of the Digital Age?

    And secondly…

    re. your thought for the day, ‘Will we ever grow intellectually…, I’d reframe that to query will we ever grow emotionally to the point where we can discern and understand the potential for the good within us? The reasoning behind that is that we can have all the intellectual knowledge in the world but without emotional wisdom it isn’t worth a hill of beans. Examples of misguided use of intellectual knowledge are myriad and have been since the year dot. The powerhouse behind human activity is the emotional centre, and unless it is able to mature and allow the consequent development of wisdom – as opposed to mere knowledge – we’re no better off today than we were ten thousand years ago when we lived in caves and clubbed animals to death and foraged for wild produce for our foods. George Gurdjieff, one of the more significant observers of human behaviour and a master teacher of personal development made the observation close to a hundred years ago that unless we marry the knowledge of the west with the wisdom of the east we’re pretty well screwed.

    Subsequent developments across the planet would tend to confirm his bleak pronouncement. It’s all very well to steam ahead with technological advances but if the opportunity cost of that is the exclusion of millions of people from active engagement in productive activity and meaningful lives… is it worth it? The challenges facing mankind are extraordinary. Much of the planet’s human herd act in the belief that we are outside of nature and can somehow or other control the forces that exist within the natural realm. Current evidence vis-a-vis climate change and global warming tend to suggest otherwise. We can’t provide enough food, clothing, housing, employment for the current global population of around 8 billion, but we’re projected to grow to around 10 billion within the next 30 to 50 years. Natural disasters are ramping up in frequency & intensity. Potable water supplies are diminishing. Internecine conflicts within & between countries are on the rise. Superpower wrangling for alpha position seems full steam ahead.

    Of course the technocrats and smarty-pants will dismiss all of this and continue their rollout of digital, robotic and AI technologies… why?… because they make money out of these developments and money is the new god in this materialistic world. But those technologies are as naught in the face of ecosystems collapse, the march of the Anthropocene and unprecedented extinction rates, along with the as yet unsolved challenges for equitable provision for food, fibre, housing, education and health care, to name just a few of the essential items that many take for granted but for a significant majority, are utterly lacking in their lives.

  6. John Lord

    Thanks Conjuro. Excellent advice.
    New England Cocky. My mind is turned. The downturn in the Chinese economy if frightening for us.
    The 75 billion we now give to the rich and privileged has to be reversed, so to the tax cuts.
    Terence Mills. The ticking time bomb will also keep Labor in power or help to.

  7. Douglas Pritchard

    i tend to trust scientists, because I relate to it.
    So about 2 years ago a map was being circulated showing the high water mark at 1degree of warming, and 2 and 3 degrees, for the area that I live in.
    At 1.5 degrees i will be in the kitchen wearing gum boots, but that degree of warming appears to get the tick, and the shock/horror scenario has moved to 3+.
    While i do listen to all the financial stuff from Chalmers it difficult to get past the immediate indifference to the frequency of catastrophic events worldwide.

  8. Ross

    Hate to be a stickler on tax reform John but taxes pay for nothing. Taxes destroy currency.
    The federal government has no money of its own, it instructs the Reserve Bank to create the funds it needs, essentially out of thin air.
    The balanced budget that they rant on about is when the funds created by the RBA are matched by the amount of taxes levied. There is no government bank account flush with tax money that is the only amount available for government to spend. Tax monies are just binned not spent.
    It’s an accountant’s wet dream.
    When you create currency out of nothing you to have a way to take that currency out of circulation otherwise you’re up to your eyeballs in dollars, which become worthless, in extra quick time.
    The RBA website states that if the government wants more money than budgeted they have to sell government bonds to the private sector. The private sector of course has to use the dosh the RBA has already created, out of thin air. The government then gets belted by the main stream media for being “in debt”.
    Tax reform is a balancing act. Finding ways to make budget minus tax take equal zero.
    You begin to see why economists are such a strange set of individuals.

  9. Clakka

    Thanks John Lord, beautifully framed.

    And the subsequent comments all worthy of the article.

    I particularly relate to Will we ever grow intellectually [and / or emotionally] to the point where we can discern and understand the potential for the good within us? Should that we be availed or avail ourselves of the time and place to converse and observe so as to arrive at that understanding. Yet I am also mindful of Sartre’s proposition of living via ‘magic’ and the vicissitudes of fear, angst and wonder.

    I don’t ascribe my faith to Gods, yet I enjoy reading of them, and do not deny others their faith in them. I am more disposed to faith in the epistemology and rigours of science, yet also observe that some practitioners can and apparently do sell out to bidders in a world entangled with alternate ethics.

    John, where you ask,Will there be a fragmentation in the global order?, it appears to me it has been again recognisably coming for say the last twenty years, and is now nearing its perilous peak before collapse. Will it collapse into a shemozzle, a heap of destructive dysfunction, or will we, in this modernity of knowingness and instantaneous communication, be able to deconstruct it?

    When futurizing, contemplating progression and taking action, a few matters come to mind:

    Whether it’s families, tribes, states, nations or corporations we can understand that cooperation can lead to more efficient and affective outcomes, however, when those efficient and effective outcomes have run their course, the next usual recourse is to competition. And competition at its most absolute can eventuate to elimination of opposition … to what end? Often the stupidity of unilateralism. It may be that rules are fashioned to make play between cooperation and competition, but luddites and smart-arses will find a way to go straight to the end game – kaput.

    Was it James Lovelock that proposed humans had a built-in fatal flaw; that they predict events via a lineal projection, rather than an exponential projection (as actually occurs in nature and the now proven mathematics)? After years as a practitioner in this field I can vouch for the latter. The flaw gives rise to complacency, “She’ll be right, mate”, and fatal inaction or brinkmanship.

    Will these idiosyncrasies ever see us understanding the good and achieving it, or will we be forever burdened (by luddites and smart-arses) in a wasteful cycle of wreckage and repair?

  10. Canguro

    Douglas Pritchard, your comment on the future possibility of wearing the gum boots in the kitchen brought to mind a conversation Phillip Adams had on RN’s Late Night Live more than decade ago. An American psychologist with a particular interest in environmental issues said it was his belief that in regard to the question of global warming and polar ice melts, nothing would be done until water was lapping at the doorsteps of affected homes. Prescient observation, when viewed within the frame of the subsequent years and the lack of substantive action?

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