NZ Fry Up: A better place for teaching tech in NZ schools; What sparked NZ’s push to regulate autonomous weapons systems; Being a trending business, postpandemic

New Zealand IT, tech, and telco news and views from our editor in Auckland.

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A better place for teaching tech in NZ schools

Does the area of the school curriculum that tech sits under make a difference? If you worry about whether we can fill the IT skills gap with a pipeline of homegrown talent, it just might. Industry advocates such as IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews have long rallied against the idea that tech skills should sit with trades-orientated topics in secondary and tertiary education.

As Matthews noted last year in CIO New Zealand, he has been concerned those in charge of education reforms were basing their decisions on outdated classifications. “In 2006, it might have made sense to bundle tech and hairdressing together, but certainly not now,” he claimed then.

So, it must have been gratifying to see that among new subjects about to be introduced to the NCEA curriculum is something called applied mathematics (linear programming, networks, synthetic languages, logic, etc.) in Level 3, sitting under the maths learning area—not the technology area. And indeed, Matthews does seem pleased with the move.

“We strongly support the proposed changes as a whole, which sees digital technologies broaden into two technology subjects (designing and developing digital outcomes, and computational thinking), plus the introduction of some of the maths-related concepts formally into the applied mathematics curriculum,” he says.

But it’s not all rosy—people still have to be found to teach the subjects. “There will still be the issue of how, with limited numbers of teachers able to teach it. But we think the mix is about right,” he says.

What sparked NZ’s push to regulate autonomous weapons systems

Consultation on banning autonomous weapons systems continues at a reasonable pace, with Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Phil Twyford catching up with the AI Forum next week. He wants the local tech sector’s view on such things as whether the tech they are creating could be affected by regulation in this area and how to ensure tech developed in Aotearoa can’t be inadvertently used elsewhere to spread harm.

Ahead of that meeting, we gave Twyford a call, curious to know why autonomous weapons systems are on his mind. “The technology is developing exponentially, and there are a lot of commentators who believe that fully autonomous weapons could well become a part of modern warfare very soon. I don’t know that anyone knows exactly when that will happen, but if the international community doesn’t come together to regulate [automated weapons systems] now, it may be too late,” he says.

Yikes. And it’s not just the big military powers (which he declined to name) developing this stuff either. Terrorist groups could also be investing in this technology.

As to who would listen to New Zealand on this, he pointed out that “New Zealand does exercise a lot more influence than you might imagine a country our size would.” He notes the country’s long history of antinuclear protest and the contribution to the international treaty banning land mines in the 1990s.

Twyford rejected the suggestion that New Zealand’s membership in the Five Eyes alliance was useful when progressing an autonomous-weapons-systems policy. “Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing arrangement, not a forum for discussion on these issues,” he says. But he did note that “we already are in conversation with those countries on those issues, but just not in the framework of the Five Eyes.”

As for companies involved in New Zealand’s burgeoning space industry that have ties to the military here and overseas, Twyford says they could be involved in the consultation process. “The aerospace sector is one that is developing very rapidly, and New Zealand is very happy to have some of the most innovative companies in this space developing technologies in New Zealand. We will be keen to include those companies in the conversations and consultations that we will be doing as we take this forward.”

Twyford also acknowledges that the issue has complexities: “The use of AI is integral to the development of some of these new technologies. And so many of the technologies are dual use—they might have civilian and military application. But the thrust of what we are doing with this policy development around [autonomous weapons systems] is not about disrupting or trying to ban the technology, it’s trying to regulate the use of that technology in the battlefield.”

Being a trending business, postpandemic

Who isn’t keen on a listicle? So, when Accenture New Zealand managing director Ben Morgan promised to give us four trends that will define the local market postpandemic, you bet we took notice. They are:

  1. Looking for growth in new business lines rather than new markets (given travel restrictions).
  2. Building an ecosystem of partners rather than doing everything yourself—with Morgan noting that Accenture’s research shows “60% of executives are now trying to drive growth through ecosystems.”
  3. Using hard data to inform decisions, “Accenture research found companies that successfully scale data and artificial intelligence achieve nearly three times the return on investment and a 30% premium on key financial valuation metrics.”
  4. Ethical considerations becoming critical as consumers look for companies to prove they are adhering to sustainable practices in their own businesses, as well as in their supply chains.

One local organisation definitely on trend is ImpactLab, whose CEO Maria English was named Hi Tech Young Achiever at the 2021 Hi Tech Awards. Her business is about using data and analytics to help charities make better decisions for the benefit of their clients, as Computerworld New Zealand has profiled.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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