The net turns 30 in Australia and I walk

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I was determined that, after three months in hospital recovering from a terrible accident that left fractures of my nose, leg and many bones in between, I would walk into the recent gala dinner which celebrated 30 years of the Internet in Australia.

30th Anniversary of the Internet in Australia Gala Dinner 31 Oct 2019

Organised by Peter Coroneos, whom I had hired to run the former Internet Industry Association when I was Chairman, it was attended by many business, government and technical pioneers.

Phone like fridges

One of the interesting recollections was from Michele Levine, of Roy Morgan Research, about a 1981 Telstra Research Laboratories project which built an experimental telephone to trial with groups of business people. The phone had push-button (rather than circular) dialling, a microphone for hands-free calls, and single-touch buttons to redial the last three numbers – all in a device the size of a small fridge.

The reaction from the participants after the trial was that it was not that much use as, among other things, they could remember the numbers they needed to dial. A review of usage, however, showed that the average number of calls they made had in fact doubled during the trial period.

Fast-tracking new ideas

Michele’s point was not just how far we have progressed with modern devices, but also how difficult it is to project where technology might take us in the next 30 years.

My take on this is that we now live in a world where experiments don’t need to be restricted to hundreds of participants but where many ideas can be tried with millions of users who accept or reject them – and forge a new path of development quickly. Not only do we have instant labs but the ultra-broad base of technology means that incremental developments can be built on what has already been proven. We don’t have to start from scratch, which dramatically accelerates the rate of change, and cuts risk and waste.

More good or less bad?

Looking back over 30 years, and the battles we fought with governments over issues like pornography vs privacy and taxation vs economic growth (hasn’t changed much, has it?), the industry focus was mainly on achieving ‘good’ outcomes from Internet use.

Today the industry seems focussed more on stopping ‘bad’ outcomes, ranging from cyberattacks, cybercrime and cyberwarfare through to fake news.

From a business perspective, it is only going to get worse. All the rapid testing and incremental development environments are also being used by the bad guys. And the really bad guys are the most organised of them all! By that I mean the state actors – of which there are now many – who are not only using very sophisticated tools, but are selling them to anyone who can afford to buy them. Scary? You bet.

Challenge and excitement

It was energising to attend the dinner, to look back over 30 years and to look ahead. After 3 months of what some may call ‘rest’, I am excited to be contemplating the challenges ahead and how we will devise the solutions.