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We all want to know what the future holds. Three young Australian experts are making the future their career. To mark SBS Radio's 40th anniversary, we held a forum to hear their insights. How do these experts feel about the future?
Wolfgang Mueller / SBS Radio

SBS Radio
8 Dec 2015 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 22 Dec 2015 - 2:32 PM

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CSIRO Futures is the strategies advisory arm of Australia's premier research institution.  They provide foresight and advice on opportunities and challenges caused by long-term economic, environmental, social and technological trends. 

Senior Consultant Vivek Srinivasan is helping to forecast how Australia's industries and the economy will change over the next 20 years and where new jobs will be created.

"I think I'm a bit of an optimist. I see a whole bunch of opportunities being created through science and technology.  So for example in manufacturing and 3D printing or additive manufacturing, creating a whole new range of jobs that we could use to compete overseas quite competitively."

Digital technologies are already helping Australia's traditional economic sectors to increase their productivity and create wealth.

"In terms of mining, at the moment at least, there's still a need for resources and there is still a large amount of global demand. I think technology again can allow the industry as a whole to become more automated and digitised and all of that together can make the sector become more competitive and viable into the future."

Vivek says that the application of new technologies is also reviving agriculture in Australia, driving the development of high-value produce for the growing world population. He encourages young people to get involved in agricultural science.

"There's a long legacy of agriculture in the country.  We've got a lot of knowledge and I think we do need a new type of farmer that uses digital technologies to enable more automated handling of produce but also using new technologies to improve soil quality, improve the way that we grow food and protect it and improve the way that it is resistant to diseases and pests and whatnot."

Australia's economic future is tied to what happens overseas, particularly in Asia. Our biggest trading partner is China which is involved in a fierce rivalry with our closest ally, the U.S.   That leaves Australia in an uncomfortable position, highlighted by recent comments by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who said that Australia's growing economic dependence on China is a mistake.

Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, UNSW Lecturer in International Relations and Development, rejects these concerns.

"China is not always popular especially with local communities this includes in South East Asia and Australia as well and there is certainly a fear that China's influence is too extensive. Having said that though, the Chinese government has invested heavily into enhancing its soft power appeal within the region as well. So in the foreseeable future, one might actually see a change in the tide of public opinion towards China."

Dr Yeophantong says global political tensions impact on the everyday lives of people in many countries.

"Sometimes powerlessness about how can they actually adapt to all these changes taking place - it's that sense of bewilderment to realise that it is changing so much - the politics, the social dynamics. And looking ahead into the future it is really about how families will be able to factor these challenges into their consideration when they think about planning for their families and for their kids' futures and so on."

Dr Yeophantong says it's easy to be pessimistic about the future but it's not helpful.

"It doesn't do much good to always be fearful, to always be pessimistic. And I think we need to think like the young people - they tend to be very optimistic and that is where we will get meaningful change."

When SBS Radio was founded, 40 years ago, digital mobile communication and the internet did not exist.   Today and even more so in the future, these technologies will shape every aspect of our lives.   Paul Rimba is an Associate Researcher with Data61, a business unit of CSIRO. He has recently submitted his Ph.D. thesis which looks at how developers can build more secure applications.

Paul acknowledges that frequent incidents of hacking and data theft have eroded much of the public's confidence into the safety of electronic communications.  However, he says it's too often consumer choices that make security breaches possible.

"If you connect to a public Wi-Fi for example or any website, you have this small box that says click here that shows that I have accepted and read the terms and conditions - we just click that and we accept. We're liars, we never read that. There is research that did that - I think it was London airport - that says in their terms: If you are accepting this, we have the right to claim your first-born - and people says yes go ahead."

Paul says digital security starts by not agreeing to allow providers to harvest personal data from a mobile device - but he admits that most of his own friends don't care. He warns that the rapid spread of ever smarter communication devices makes breaches of our privacy, even more, likely.

"Depends on how much you are willing to trade off - convenience versus security. All these interconnected or smart things - we use the term 'internet of things' are often produced by start-ups and also other companies. What they usually want to do in product development they want to push out the product as fast as possible, of course quality checks but security is usually the second thing that they look at or the last thing or the third thing. It's usually not their main focus."

Paul says that careless users are making it too easy for hackers to intrude into their devices and steal their data and identities. He remains optimistic that with better consumer education, the 'internet of things' will live up to its promise to unlock opportunities.

"I have an optimistic view of security. I think, in the end, once people are more aware of security, I think we can move towards a better catalyst, a better future towards digital."

Explore the next 40 years in SBS Radio's Future Features at