Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the website and has published seven books.

May 032016

In the last fifteen years of blogging I’ve rarely missed a day and in over last five years I haven’t missed one regardless of whether it has been on a friend’s couch, in an airport lounge or on a train.

Tonight, in Las Vegas, it’s been tough as I’ve been slammed with many ideas and tips that have made it had to get a sensible blog post together.

Roll on Friday.

May 022016
walking the shop floor is important to business management

Anna Weiner writes a great piece on the brutal realities of working for tech startups. The food might be good but they are an anxious and stressful place to work. This story is worth a read for anyone considering working for one.

May 012016

Breaking with the company’s tradition of the Sergi, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai writes this year’s founders letter laying out how the search engine giant is focusing of artificial intelligence and the machine learning.

Pichai’s view of the world seems to tie in very closely with founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin with him laying out a vision of making the internet and computers accessible to all.

The challenge for Google is the shift away from personal computers, something that the company is struggling with and a factor that Pichai acknowledges.

Today’s proliferation of “screens” goes well beyond phones, desktops, and tablets. Already, there are exciting developments as screens extend to your car, like Android Auto, or your wrist, like Android Wear. Virtual reality is also showing incredible promise—Google Cardboard has introduced more than 5 million people to the incredible, immersive and educational possibilities of VR.

Whether Google can execute on that vision and manages to diversify its revenues away from depending almost exclusively upon web advertising will be what defines Pichai’s time as the company’s CEO. He has a challenging task ahead.

Apr 302016
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

One of the key features of modern western nations is how stable politics is with very few major parties being less than fifty years old and many boasting a history lasting back a century or more.

Now in the US and Australia we’re seeing the slow motion implosion of the established parties of the reactionary side of politics – it would be misleading to describe the schoolboy ideologies of most American Republicans or Australian Liberals as being ‘right wing’.

Tony Wright in the London School of Economics blog asks What Comes After the Political Party?

Wright’s view is political parties are doomed to extinction as their memberships dwindle and this is an opinion shared by many watching the declining participation in formal politics over the last fifty years.

One result of that declining participation has been the steady increase in power of the machine apparatchiks who’ve increasingly replaced boots on the ground with corporate funding.

The consequence of that increase in power has been a steady disconnect between the concerns of the electorate and the priorities of the party leadership.

In the US that disconnect resulted in the Republicans blindsided by the rise of Donald Trump and the Australian Liberal Prime Minister increasingly looking like Grandpa Simpson as his party shuffles towards what increasingly looks to be a ballot box disaster.

Both parties are likely to rip themselves apart as the contradictions of the modern reactionary movement – dismantling public services while increasing government powers – come home to roost with the ideologues and pragmatists within the organisation fighting bitterly.

The truth is political parties are no more permanent than businesses, or indeed nations, and in a time of economic change it isn’t surprising old parties die and new ones are formed.

While political parties won’t cease to exist, the new political parties that will rise from the wreckage of today’s will be different in both their philosophies, organisation and membership.

Parties that were formed in the horse and carriage days or the early era of newspapers and radios are always going to find the internet era to be a challenge, that they are being run by men whose political theories haven’t moved for fifty years only guarantees their demise.

In many ways, what’s changing politics is exactly what’s changing business. However the politicians and their supporter seems far more oblivious to change than their commercial counterparts.

Apr 292016

A good example of the technology transition effect is the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) where a decade ago relatively cheap hard disk drives started to displace videotape, CD and DVD players.

During that period Tivo was the giant of the PVR industry but it wasn’t to last as the plummeting price of hardware made the devices a commodity while the rise of streaming media changes the industry’s dynamics.

Now Tivo is no more as it is bought out by entertainment company Rovi, a victim of the transition effect.

Apr 282016

It seems Facebook has found its river of gold with the company’s quarterly stock market statement reporting a 57% increase in revenues and a stunning 195% in net profits.

Particularly impressive was mobile sales made over 8o% of the company’s advertising revenue, up from just short of three quarters in the previous years.

For other online services, particularly Google, Facebook’s success on mobile must be galling as they struggle with the shift to smartphones.

How long that growth can continue remains to be seen. For the moment though, Facebook is showing how to make money on the mobile web.

Apr 272016

Tracking environmental changes across the oceans a huge undertaking. To deal with the scale of the task Australian researchers have started equipping seals marine animals with a maritime equivalent of a fitbit to monitor the effects of our changing planet.

One of the interesting case studies that came across my desk in recent weeks was the IMOS animal tracking program. The Integrated Marine Observing System is a consortium of research institutions lead by the University of Tasmania that collects data for the Australian marine and climate science community and its international collaborators.

The data is collected from ten different technology platforms including floats, ships, autonomous vehicles such as gliders and deep ocean probes, and by fitting tracking devices onto animals.

Along with sharks and fish, seals are one of the animals IMOS use to track water conditions, one of the benefits of using seals is they can transmit data to a satellite when they return to the surface to breath and they never get stuck under ice.

The tags themselves are made by a Scottish company and are designed to gather information on the depth, temperature, salinity of the seas the animals travel in. They are also useful for tracking the behaviour of the animals.

Along with research into conditions across the vast Southern Ocean, IMOS is also being used to monitor the effects of port development in the mining regions of Western Australia and other areas where environments are undergoing dramatic change.

Once the data is collected it’s open to use by the research community in their understanding the effects of a warming planet, that open data and the cloud storage it is based upon are critical to the program’s success as there’s little point in collecting the data.

We have the devices to collect a tremendous amount of data on our environment, whether it’s our personal fitbits, financial records or information on agriculture or wild animals. The challenge though is to use that data effectively.

In the case of a changing environment, understanding what is happening and the effects could be a matter of our survival. While the idea of a fitbit for seals seems cute, the data they collect could prove critical.