Using the XR factor responsibly

In Australia there are opportunities to move from an innovation-ready nation to an innovation-led nation. The latter involves constant reinvention by embracing risk and emphasising innovation – starting at the top of government and extending down to businesses and individuals, writes EDMUND GARDNER.

This year, the CSIRO released its Australian National Outlook 2060 report and outlined that emerging technologies will play a key role in the growth of the nation and that Australian companies need to be aware of the opportunities and challenges they will create. In pursuit of the X Factor, the public service has found the extended reality (XR) Factor which attempts to emulate a physical world through the means of a digital or simulated work, thereby creating a sense of immersion. XR uses haptics, holograms and an expanding range of tools that heighten our capabilities of seeing, hearing and touching – completely supercharging our senses and experiences. Across many sectors we’re seeing an appetite to find new ways to address social, economic and environmental challenges facing communities through innovative solutions.

In the next five to ten years, the growing penetration of XR technologies will blur the boundaries between the real and the virtual – in the marketplace, the workplace and society. The proliferation of cloud computing and 5G networks will see the profound integration of these technologiesinto every aspect of our lives, transforming how we learn, make decisions and interact with the physical world.  The public sector will play a pivotal role in using XR to empower citizens, businesses and individuals through education and training, e-services, public safety, smart cities, emergency services, asset management and maintenance and tourism.

Virtual Education

The emotional nature of front-line work can take a large toll on even the most seasoned worker. With the ability to create immersive and ultra-realistic environments tailored to experiential learning, XR has shown incredible potential to enhance and accelerate training. This is a crucial tool in situations where on-the-job learning is simply not possible.

A child care worker as an example, has only minutes to determine whether a child is safe. No amount of research can adequately prepare workers for the potentially traumatic situations they may face at any time.  Caseworkers must be equipped with deep insight and confidence to make evidence-based decisions.

The power of XR can be leveraged to refine child caseworkers’ skills. Through immersive storytelling and interactive scenarios, caseworkers can practice important data-gathering and decision-making skills in real-time. It has the potential to empower caseworkers to quickly assess foreign environments, pinpoint warning signs and make informed decisions, even in heartbreaking emotional circumstances.

More broadly, XR also promises to enhance confidence and efficiencies across other government services. For example, the technology has recently been employed as a tool for the Australian Defence Force’s recruitment. Using Virtual Reality, candidates’ skills were put to the test and job recommendations were provided based upon performance.

XR is also being used in health applications to enhance patient care and to minimise the costs associated with unnecessary procedures. Simulated surgery and AR enabled medical tests can place medical practitioners in rich learning environments, while applications such as VRHealth use non-invasive virtual reality solutions to create customised patient treatment plans.

 Sensing Risk and Ensuring Responsibility

 The intimacy of XR technology raises questions more broadly about risk and highlights the importance of ensuring responsibility throughout development and deployment. These technologies can alter our experiences in the real world as much as they offer incredible value within virtual spaces. However key risks we will all need to grapple with include: misuse of personal data; fake experiences; cybersecurity; tech addiction; antisocial behaviour; and unequal access to technology creating economic and social divides. Technologies must be designed ethically and with new phenomena and risk in mind. This requires a collaborative approach to XR’s development and use.

The potential of XR means that everyone – from public service leaders, business leaders, policy makers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and the technology sector need to take responsible and confident steps as they imagine, create and deploy a new world. Responsibility must be designed into the way we build and deploy the technologies—from the start.

But the potential benefits of creating such a dynamic ecosystem is impressive. XR promises to empower workers with incredible skills that may otherwise take many years to develop, increasing their productivity as well as creativity. Leaders, users and developers alike must instil a culture of responsibility where leaders and employees work across silos to habitually ask forward-looking questions. This will ensure that the necessary safeguard mechanisms are in place so that the full potential of XR can be fully realised.

We once relied on policy and investment incentives to drive the adoption of technology across the public and private sector. For decades we have successfully used R&D to introduce and explore new technologies, but we are now seeing technology leading the disruption and the role of government has shifted to catching up. It’s important to spend time exploring challenges and priorities – this is critical if we are to take inspiration through to rapid and predictable deployment. The incredible investment and interest in XR, the falling costs and the consumer interest is an incredible advantage.

Australia has an opportunity to be an innovation-led nation powered by XR, and our competitiveness will come from our ability as a nation to encourage its use across all sectors and manage its responsible use. This will be our X Factor.

*Edmund Gardner is Innovation Lead, Health and Public Sector, Accenture Asia Pacific, Africa, and Middle East.


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