Top Australian scientific body shifts focus to future

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-06 15:06:25|Editor: Zhou Xin
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CANBERRA, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Australia's top scientific body has revealed its intentions to solve big-picture socioeconomic problem.

Larry Marshall, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), said the body's aim by 2020 is to become "Australia's innovation catalyst."

Shortly after taking over as CEO in 2015, Marshall convened the Australian National Outlook (ANO), a group of experts tasked with resolving issues surrounding economic growth and its impact on environmental sustainability.

"How do you take advantage of the opportunity but not stuff up the environment in the process?" Marshall told Australian media on Thursday.

"It really opened my eyes to the ability the organization had to basically use science to model the future."

In 2015, the CSIRO crowd-sourced ideas from 7,000 experts to shape the organization's "Strategy 2020."

One of the key objectives of the strategy is to compile roadmaps for all Australia's major industries.

On Thursday, the fifth part of the Industry Roadmap Series plotting the evolution of the nation's oil and gas industries was released.

More than 80 experts were consulted for the report which recommended that the industry focuses on technologies to reduce its impact on air and water and that it diversifies into higher-value products such as hydrogen.

"We are currently in a period of unprecedented technological disruption, and as global industries are shaped and formed through these advances, the oil and gas industry must keep pace," National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) CEO Miranda Taylor said in a media release.

"To capitalize on these opportunities, we must adopt bold thinking, challenge our beliefs around what makes us competitive and transform our approach to how we innovate."

The second ANO is set to convene late in 2018 with Marshall saying it would be far more comprehensive than the original.

"We're trying to look at multiple markets, how they interact with each other and how that will affect the whole country. It's essentially trying to map a path to prosperity through unprecedented global disruption," he said.

He said that long-term planning was essential given CSIRO modelling predicted that 40 percent of jobs would disappear within 15 years.

"Do you need to know how to program computers, or will the AI system be so smart that it'll take your insight and write the code for you? That's the kind of thing we're trying to unpick. What skills do you really need?" he asked.

"Our gut tells us that human creativity is where we'll see strong growth because computers can't do that."

Marshall's forward-thinking strategy has seen the CSIRO reverse the trend of downsizing for the first time in decades. Despite this, CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski said that the latest all-staff survey found the workforce's confidence in senior leadership and direction was "abysmally low."

"Larry Marshall and his team have been in place for over two years and a half," Popovski said.

"That's sufficient time to get buy-in from staff and to start to understand how they can contribute to the strategy. That's clearly still missing."

Kim Carr, the science spokesperson for the Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), said that while its objectives were admirable it remained to be seen whether the body could make a difference.

"There's a huge gap between the idealism presented in these reports and the political realities - the policies in which they have to operate," Carr said.

Despite the criticism, Marshall said there was no intention to change the organization's direction, identifying space exploration as a major growth area.

"We've been the bedrock of space communications. We built the ground stations. We did the Apollo missions; the Cassini mission (to Saturn); the mission to Pluto. We've been in space for about 75 years," he said.

"It's our strongest area."

The Australian government announced last month to begin to establish the country's national space agency.