Innovation flourishes when it is linked to purpose
Minister Megan Woods says the theme of this year’s Techweek, ‘innovation that is good for the world' is "all about finding local answers to global questions".
It could not be more relevant to New Zealand given the government's focus on how to “tackle big challenges facing our country, our world and our planet.”
“Innovation flourishes when it is linked to purpose,” says Woods, who was a keynote speaker at the launch of the week-long celebration organised by NZTech.
She adds that technology can help tackle “the wicked problems of our time,” such as climate change and decarbonisation.
“This government wants to create a modern New Zealand we can all be proud of, and a better New Zealand for this generation and the next," says Woods, the minister for government digital services and research, science, and innovation.
According to Woods, this goal requires measuring success in new ways, “going beyond GDP", to include the health of the environment, ensure people are well looked after and that businesses and regions are thriving.
“Our goal is to generate productive, sustainable, and inclusive growth.”
She says this is an ambitious goal and requires increased investments in programmes that will diversify the economy, create high value jobs, and help the transition to a lower carbon emissions economy.
The Techweek launch was held at the ASB Theatre in Auckland, and Woods notes that her appearance this year is “low tech.”
It was a reference to the 2018 event where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attended the launch as a hologram.
In her keynote this year, Woods says technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in the New Zealand economy, and singles out two emerging areas that present opportunities to introduce radical innovations - ‘cleantech’ and ‘creative tech’.
“The creative sector is hugely important to New Zealand as it generates significant cultural value and economic benefits,” she states, citing the work done by Weta.
“We are seeing a greater overlap between the creative industry and technology and this is opening new and exciting opportunities for us.”
At the same time, she says, New Zealand is seeing the growth in the games and augmented reality and virtual reality industry.
We have to support businesses and workers during this era of digitalisation and the transition to a lower emissions economy
“Cleantech is another emerging sector which the government sees as particularly important for the goals of an environmental and economic transition,” she states.
She notes that the recent Just Transitions summit in Taranaki explored how New Zealand can transition to a ‘carbon neutral economy’ that puts people at the centre.
Woods says that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the government’s commitment to develop an energy development centre, which will help create new businesses and jobs in Taranaki; while helping New Zealand move towards cleaner, affordable, and renewable energy.
The plan includes establishing platform for cutting edge energy technology such as organic photovoltaics, superconductors, nanotechnologies, and inductive power.
“Investing in cutting edge science that could have a global application is one of the best ways a country like New Zealand can contribute to the battle against climate change,” says Woods.
She points out that while New Zealand is looking at technologies to address global challenges, it also needs to ensure the country’s workforce is prepared for the future.
Woods says the Productivity Commission has already launched an inquiry on how New Zealand will manage the risks of disruptive technology and the impact on the workforce.
“We have to support businesses and workers during this era of digitalisation and the transition to a lower emissions economy”, she states.
Techweek is now on its third year, and has grown 10 times since then
“We need to ensure we have the right skills for our economy to support the rapidly developing tech sector and the digital revolution.”
“At the same time, New Zealand needs to have the right metrics to understand the impact of digitisation on the economy and well being.”
She reveals that the government will release the Digital Nation Domain Plan this week, which will provide the framework to measure New Zealand’s overall digital transformation. The metrics will include digital inclusion and digital security.
“We would like New Zealand to be known as a global innovation hub and a world-class generator of new ideas for a sustainable and productive future,” says Woods.
This, she stresses, “is a future that looks after our children, that creates jobs, and protects our environment and well-being, and transitions us to carbon neutrality.”
“Techweek is now on its third year, and has grown 10 times since then,” notes NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller.
He adds that, “Techweek is running in every single region in New Zealand, in more than 30 towns with more than 550 events in hundreds of locations, and Techweek TV is livestreaming many of these places.”
Into the 'circular economy'
Dr. Sean Simpson, co-founder and chief scientific officer of LanzaTech, continues the discussion on cleantech at the TechWeek launch in Auckland.
He shares that LanzaTech is built on the idea of turning waste into value. “How do you clean up pollution and make it commercially viable?”
“Can we take waste or pollution from industries, from agriculture? And can we recycle the materials we already have in our society in order to perpetuate the carbon we have in play today, and avoid the need for us to bring new carbon out of the ground to make the stuff for tomorrow?”
He explains how LanzaTech developed a technology to transform waste from industries into ethanol that can be used as fuel.
“We are now in a position to commercialise the technology into the world."
We need to be the key enabler in a truly circular economy… where we avoid the need for new fossil resources to be pulled out of the ground and combusted
Simpson says public awareness and public demand for change is needed to enable these initiatives to succeed.
“It is going to take legislation. Societies are going to need to demand different ways, and new and better ways instituted to provide services and products that are used today.”
“The consumer also needs to understand the power of choices they make at the store,” he states.
“Consumer demand for services, technologies, capabilities being developed, is fundamental to successful commercialisation of new cleantech approaches.”
He adds further that, “We need to be the key enabler in a truly circular economy, an economy where we avoid the need for new fossil resources to be pulled out of the ground and combusted. But rather, we are able to reuse the carbon we have in our society to make the things we need to make, and then remake it.”
‘Don’t be afraid to fail’
Aliesha Staples is managing director of Staples VR, New Zealand and Australia’s first VR equipment rental supplier and content creation company specialising in camera movement and custom applications.
“Technology and creative industry co-exist,” she states. “We have been part of this ecosystem across six years. We push the boundaries on what is possible.”
Her company creates VR and AR technologies for organisations, such as software applications for training. “We are taking maintenance training into a fun game.”
For instance, last year, they were approached if they could provide a fireproof camera. This was for an interactive game that would show children how fast a house could burn.
If you have a problem you are trying to solve, creativetech can be an option
She says they contacted camera manufacturers who told her there was no way it would work.
“We did not take no for an answer.”
After a trip to the hardware store and a destroyed barbeque, she declares that they invented the world’s first fireproof video camera.
“Rather than looking overseas to find a solution, look locally first,” she advises. “There is a lot of things going on locally.”
She adds: “Don’t be afraid to fail...To rapidly fail is also a success.
“If you have a problem you are trying to solve, potentially creative tech can be an option.”
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