Digital chief hopes state doesn’t put handbrakes on the metaverse

By Anna Macdonald

April 28, 2022

digital country
Seven secular digital trends the public sector should be taking notice of. (ink drop/Adobe)

Fifteen days into the job, Queensland government chief customer and digital officer Chris McLaren outlined, during a session at the BiiG Network Public Sector Innovation Conference, what he called the seven secular digital trends that should be taken notice of in the public sector.

One of the trends mentioned by McLaren was what he labelled as ‘regionalisation’, naming the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine as factors putting globalisation ‘under heavy anesthesia’.

“We’re all seeing the need to repatriate call centres, supply chains, where we make our medicines, where we make our machines, where we make emergency supplies,” said McLaren.

He continued: “That presents a unique opportunity for us to say, well, okay, there was this seemingly unending push to go overseas for cost arbitrage. Now we’ve recognised the importance of prioritising resilience over efficiency. What does that mean for us? Where can we potentially, for example, establish some regional delivery centres?”

The remaining six trends were the transitioning people from offline to online, an increase of artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making, going from product to platform akin to the likes of Uber and AirBnb, tapping into what McLaren called ‘geeks’ in organisations, a shift to digital companies, and the emergence of Web 3.0 technologies such as the metaverse, which was brought into the mainstream following Facebook’s parent company renaming itself as Meta last year.

As the Internet is moving into a decentralised phase, McLaren said, the public sector shouldn’t slow down industry.

“I’m hoping that as a state, we just don’t automatically reflex into regulation mode and pull on the handbrake to slow industry down. I think there’s a role for us to look ahead and see what opportunity it creates for us and what opportunity we can play in making industry more successful, so that we attract those jobs and the talent to this great state,” he said.

A concern was raised by an audience member about issues surrounding transparency and accountability, particularly in relation to human rights, when AI is used in decision-making processes.

The discussion turned to the topic of big data, and the importance of sharing information across governmental silos. Queensland Department of Education assistant director-general Michael O’Leary posited that although every government agency has data, they have, including his own department, ‘bugger all intelligence’.

“We’re gonna rely on AI to do that work for us,” said O’Leary.

“Now, that’s a little bit tricky because we actually have to know what we’re looking for in the first place to program the algorithms, to do what we’re looking for them… We actually have to look about ethical use of algorithms.”

McLaren said a digital economy strategy plan for the Queensland government was in the process of being finalised, currently working through Queensland’s cabinet. McLaren hoped the plan would be published within the next couple of months.


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