Australia Is Adapting Fast to a Generative AI World

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Generative AI has been the talk of the business and technology world since the explosion of ChatGPT onto the market in late 2022. In Australia, there’s been a frantic whole-of-nation effort to understand the implications for business, government, workforces and communities.

IT professionals are at the centre of the storm. We find Australia balancing a combined potential AU $115 billion (US $74 billion) opportunity with significant risks, including data privacy and security. IT leaders are advised to educate stakeholders and be guided by business goals as they create processes for exploring and realising AI use cases.

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What are the potential benefits of AI for the Australian economy?

The Australian economy is well positioned to gain from generative AI technology. The Tech Council of Australia has predicted generative AI could deliver between AU $45 billion (US $28.9 billion) and AU $115 billion (US $74 billion) in value to the Australian economy by 2030.

In its Australia’s Generative AI Opportunity report in collaboration with Microsoft, it predicted:

  • Up to AU $80 billion (US $51.5 billion) in value could come from increased productivity as workers use AI for some existing tasks to complete more work in less time.
  • Additional value would come from the increased quality of work outputs as well as from creating new jobs and businesses — such as software exports — across the economy.

Healthcare, manufacturing, retail and financial services have been nominated as industries that could significantly benefit. Australia’s large existing tech talent pool, relatively high levels of cloud adoption and investments in digital infrastructure are expected to support AI’s growth (Figure A).

Figure A

The Australian economy could benefit from generative AI. Image: Tech Council of Australia

What risks does generative AI bring for the Australian economy?

One of generative AI’s better-understood risks is workforce disruption, as it may require large numbers of employees to either learn new skills or retrain. In Generation AI: Ready or not, here we come! Deloitte claimed 26% of jobs already faced “significant and imminent” disruption:

  • Administration and operations roles have been identified as most vulnerable to the new technology, while sales, IT, human resources and talent roles will be impacted in select industries.
  • The industries facing higher levels of disruption in the shorter term include financial services, information and communication technologies and media, professional services, education and wholesale trade.

Putting existential risks aside, Australian Government research also named a number of “contextual and social risks” and “systemic social and economic risks,” ranging from the use of AI in high stakes contexts like health to the erosion of public discourse or more inequality.

What are the risks and challenges facing Australian business AI users?

Australian business and IT leaders, as well as employees, agree the deployment of generative AI tools comes with significant risks. According to Deloitte’s survey, three quarters of respondents (75%) were concerned about leaks of personal, confidential or sensitive information, and a similar number (73%) were concerned about factual errors or hallucinations (Figure B). Other concerns included regulatory uncertainty, copyright infringement and racial or gender bias.

Figure B

Businesses and employees are concerned about some AI risks. Image: Deloitte

The consensus seems to be that business approaches to the use of generative AI have been lagging behind adoption, leaving a “gap” that is introducing risks and that could hold businesses back from capitalising on opportunities. For example, Deloitte’s report found 70% of employers had yet to take action to prepare themselves and their employees for generative AI, while GetApp’s survey found only about half (52%) of employers had policies in place to govern their use.

Senior IT leaders have their own technical and ethical concerns with generative AI. A Salesforce survey of IT leaders found 79% had concerns about the creation of security risks and 73% with bias. Other concerns raised included:

  • Generative AI would not integrate into the current tech stack (60%).
  • Employees did not have the skills to leverage it successfully (66%).
  • IT leaders had no unified data strategy (59%).
  • Generative AI would increase the company’s carbon footprint (71%).

Australian businesses are already embracing generative AI in some form

Despite some of the concerns surrounding generative AI, businesses of all sizes have been enthusiastic experimenters with generative AI tools.

A recent Datacom survey of 318 business leaders in Australian companies with 200 or more employees found 72% of businesses are already utilising AI in some form. The survey also found the vast majority expected AI to bring significant changes to their organisation, with 86% of leaders believing AI integration will impact operations and workplace structures.

However, the formal adoption of generative AI has been more tentative in some larger businesses, as they experiment with the potential while weighing up or guarding against the risks. Of the businesses with over 200 employees Deloitte surveyed for Generation AI: Ready or not, here we come! only 9.5% had officially adopted AI in their businesses.

SEE: Boost your AI knowledge with our artificial intelligence cheat sheet.

Whether or not it is official, businesses are using AI organically through their employees. One survey found that two-thirds (67%) of Australian employees frequently use generative AI tools at work at least a few times a week. Another survey from software firm Salesforce found that 90% of employees were using AI tools, including 68% who were using generative AI tools.

Generative AI is expected to become a standard resource for businesses the more it is embedded into the products they use. In the marketing domain, for example, design software firm Adobe recently made its productised generative AI tool, Firefly, generally available, while competitor Canva has introduced image and text generation as well as translation within its products (Figure C).

Figure C

Users of Adobe will benefit from the new generative AI tool Firefly. Image: Adobe

What are Australian businesses using generative AI for?

There have been an abundance of use cases identified for generative AI. Global research from McKinsey early this year explored 63 use cases across 16 business functions where the application of the tools can produce one or more measurable outcomes. However, much of the initial interest in generative AI in larger organisations is focused on the areas of marketing and sales, product and service development, service operations and software engineering.

In marketing and sales, top use cases include generating the first drafts of documents or presentations, personalising marketing and summarising documents. In product development, generative AI is used in identifying trends in customer needs, drafting technical documents and even generating new product designs. The potential to utilise it in customer service for chatbots is a popular use case, while its ability to write code is being explored in software development.

One of Australia’s largest banks, Commonwealth Bank, is a pioneering big business user of new generative AI technologies. In May, it was reported that the bank was already using it in call centres to answer complex questions by finding answers from 4,500 documents’ worth of bank policies in real time. Generative AI was also helping the bank’s 7,000 software engineers write code, improve its apps and create more tailored offerings for its customers.

Generative AI guidance has been provided to public sector agencies in Australia

Public sector agencies have been provided with high-level guidance. Prepared by the Digital Transformation Agency and the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, it suggests agencies only deploy AI responsibly in low-risk situations while keeping in mind known problems like inaccuracy, the nature and potential bias of training data, data privacy and security, and the importance of transparency and explainability in decision making.

Practically, the guidance suggested implementing an enrolment mechanism to register and approve staff user accounts to access AI — with appropriate approval processes through CISOs and CIOs — as well as establishing avenues for staff to report exceptions. It warned agencies off high-risk use cases, like coding outputs being used in government systems. It also suggested agencies move to commercial arrangements for AI solutions as soon as possible.

Australian Government is taking steps to ensure ethical use of generative AI

The Australian Government commissioned the production of a Generative AI Rapid Research Information Report in early 2023 to assess the opportunities and risks of generative AI models. This was followed by the release of a public discussion paper, Safe and Responsible AI In Australia, which invited submissions and feedback from businesses and the community.

The Government also committed AU $41.2 million (US $26.53 million) to support the responsible deployment of AI in the national economy as part of its 2023-24 Federal Budget. This included funding for the National Artificial Intelligence Centre to support the Responsible AI Network, a significant collaboration aimed at uplifting the practice of responsible AI across the commercial sector.

Aside from urgent recent action to ban AI-generated child abuse material in search engine results, the government has been working with stakeholders, including tech firms, to evaluate how to approach any AI regulation. Australia’s set of existing laws is expected to cover many possible AI scenarios, though gaps may exist that new regulation will need to fill.

What should IT leaders do to capitalise on generative AI?

Analysis from Gartner suggests the ongoing shift to digital in Australia will drive increasing investment in generative AI technologies in 2024, with a particular focus on tools for software development and code generation. However, Gartner also notes that generative AI and foundation models have reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations in Gartner’s 2023 Hype Cycle, which foreshadows a potential Trough of Disillusionment coming in the future.

At Gartner’s recent Symposium/Xpo on Australia’s Gold Coast, Distinguished VP Analyst Arun Chandrasekaran told IT leaders they were likely to encounter “…a host of trust, risk, security, privacy and ethical questions” with generative AI, and they would need to “…balance business value with risks.”

Chandrasekaran said leaders should consider creating a position paper outlining the benefits, risks, opportunities and deployment roadmap, as well as ensure strategy and use cases align with business goals, with clear assigned ownership and business metrics for measurement.

Chandrasekaran suggested IT create “tiger teams” that could work with business units on ideation, prototyping and demonstration of the value of generative AI. These teams could also be tasked with monitoring industry developments and sharing valuable lessons learned from pilots across the company.

However, Chandrasekaran warned IT would also need to foster responsible AI practices throughout to promote the ethical and safe use of generative AI. Employees should be prepared for this period of upheaval through skills retraining, career mapping and emotional support resources.

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Does Australia Have an Issue With Tech Monopolies?

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Image: Andrii/Adobe Stock

Last month, the Australian government took firm steps to explore whether Australia has an issue with monopolies in technology. It’s likely that they will find that the nation does, with uncompetitive environments stymying innovation and slowing international competition.

In August, Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Assistant Minister for Competition Andrew Leigh announced a two-year review by the new Treasury Competition Taskforce. As an indication that the Australian government considers this to be a pressing issue, the taskforce is set to provide “continuous” advice to the government, rather than a final report of recommendations at the end of the two years.

“We give ourselves the best chance of making our economy more productive and more dynamic if we make it more competitive at the same time, and that’s what today is all about,” Chalmers said at the time.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Anticompetitiveness is an ongoing concern in Australia

Chalmers is an alumnus of the Australian National University. In 2020, another economist from the same university, Adam Triggs, warned that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to make the existing concern with noncompetitive markets, which was already substantial, worse.

“When we looked across the economy, and collected data on every single industry, we found that more than half of Australia’s markets are concentrated,” said Triggs. “That means the four biggest players control at least a third of the market.”

In several areas of critical importance to Australian lifestyles, including banking, supermarkets, internet service providers and health insurance, the concentration levels are as high as 80% in some areas.

With limited or no competition, consumers have no choice but to pay elevated prices for these services, and with the cost of living spiraling, news of mega-profits across many of these sectors highlight the negative impact they have on Australian lifestyles and the poor customer experience they deliver.

SEE: Despite interest in AI to improve customer experience, Australians seem to prefer human-led interactions.

And of particular relevance to the tech industry, monopolies make it more difficult for startups and entrepreneurship to thrive. Indeed, it can create barriers to getting started. Australia already struggles with elevating entrepreneurs, and the lack of competition in many areas of technology — particularly from large, global players — hinders the ability for Australia to develop a vibrant tech sector of its own.

Large, global companies push out Australia-owned businesses

Apple and Google are both currently under investigation by the ACCC for the duopoly they effectively have over app payments on mobile devices. Currently, neither allows for third-party platforms to process payments for applications on Apple and Android devices, meaning there’s little avenue for an Australian-owned payments platform in this critical area of both work productivity and entertainment.

Meanwhile, highlighting the fact that social media also acts as an information monopoly, in 2021 Facebook briefly removed the ability for Australian media organizations to share stories and news on the platform. This had a substantial impact on the local media and demonstrated how little sovereignty Australians have over domestic information thanks to the large, global monopolies.

Hexbyte Glen Cove A need for total reform to prevent monopolies

In addition to the need for better checks on international tech platforms, Australia needs to look at its merger laws to prevent monopolies from forming, according to former ACCC chair Rod Sims in his final presentation in the role.

Sims noted that Australia lacks a formal merger approval system, meaning organizations have a much lower bar to mergers and acquisitions here than almost any other Western nation.

“The ACCC must prove, if a matter goes to court, that future negative consequences will occur, which can only be speculated on, against the so-called real-world evidence of the necessarily self-interested merger parties about what will happen in the future,” Sims said. “Our merger laws … are not up to the task.”

A good example of a time where having a more robust approach to mergers and acquisitions activity would have been welcome is the proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. Where several nations, including the U.K., went through a due diligence process that nearly resulted in the acquisition being denied, the ACCC has had little recourse to act.

This is despite the deal having a substantial impact on the domestic development scene. Activision has a development studio in Melbourne — one of the largest and most well-funded games companies in Australia. And Australian game development already struggles for exactly the reasons listed above: a lack of resources to compete with the global players and limited capacity to grow domestically.

What, if anything, the Australian government can do to address the issue Australia has with monopolies, across all sectors including internet services and IT, remains to be seen. Australia has a substantial history in being able to innovate in areas where monopolistic control hasn’t been established, as the likes of Atlassian and AfterPay proved in canvassing new tech fields at the time.

However in other critical areas, Australia’s ability to have domestic solutions directly support the population are undermined by monopolies, and that’s not a good thing for Australians and lo

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Australia tops the world for podcast listening. Why do Aussies love them so much?

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

“We’re here because this moment demands an explanation.”

So begins the first ever episode of New York Times’ The Daily podcast, delivered by host Michael Barbaro in his now famous style. It arrived on Wednesday February 1, 2017—less than a fortnight after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.

By the end of Trump’s term, it was wildly popular, reportedly attracting some four million daily downloads and referred to as the newspaper’s “new front page.”

The Daily’s success inspired many other news outlets to develop podcasts, including in Australia, with the likes of ABC’s The Signal (since replaced by ABC News Daily), Schwartz Media’s 7am, and Guardian Australia’s Full Story launching from 2018.

According to 2023 data from The Infinite Dial—which tracks digital media use internationally—Australia has now surpassed the US to be a world leader in podcast listening, with 43% of the population aged 12 and over having listened to a podcast in the past month.

Australia also has the third highest rate of news podcast listening, behind the U.S. and Sweden, with 14% of listening to news podcasts in the past month.

Despite these trends, there’s been limited research on news podcast listening in Australia. My recent research, published in June, found news podcast listeners in Australia tend to be politically left-leaning, wealthier, and more highly educated than average.

I also found they tend to be politically active, and value news podcasts for enabling them to better participate in democratic life.

Interestingly, listeners didn’t appear to trust podcasts more than other forms of news in general, with 61.1% reporting “the same” level of trust. However, they reported a high level of trust in news they choose to consume.

The rise of news podcasts happened amid a volatile political climate. In 2023, as Trump prepares for another run for president, and with a political storm brewing in Australia as we approach a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to parliament, there are good reasons to consider the role this podcast genre plays in democracy.

Hexbyte Glen Cove From radio to podcast news

Radio news developed slowly following the invention of mass broadcasting in the early 1920s. It began with announcers reading press agency reports on air, giving rise to an authoritative and detached presenting style, reflecting the journalistic value of objectivity. While formats have differed, this has characterized radio news for much of its history.

Podcasting emerged in the early 2000s out of the disruption caused by the internet, and particularly the ability of users to generate and share content.

The lack of time constraints compared to radio meant podcast episodes could go for any length. And because they could be downloaded, listeners could engage with content in their own time, on their own terms.

Slate’s Political Gabfest (2005–) was one of the first “native” podcasts—that is, produced specially for digital consumption—exploring news and politics. But it wasn’t until 2014, with podcasting’s breakout moment in true-crime sensation Serial, that news podcasts began to take off.

The Daily grew out of the New York Times’ election podcast The Run-Up. It pioneered the format known as the “daily deep dive”—defined by the Reuters Institute as “heavily produced using sound design and narrative storytelling techniques.”

Many news podcasts since have similarly deployed narrative storytelling and immersive sound design to explore issues in the news. This has been championed as offering a more “human” approach to the news, featuring personal presenting styles and the harnessing of emotion.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Media fragmentation and politics

Reuters’ 2023 Digital News Report notes how in the podcasting sphere “news jostles for attention with lifestyle and specialist shows.” This may explain the degree of ambivalence around trust in news podcasts, with a wide variety of offerings categorized as “news” in podcast players such as Apple Podcasts.

Podcasting is difficult to regulate, and there’s a risk of the medium being used to spread dangerous messages, as has happened across social media generally.

In his new book, Bruce Wolpe, Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Center, considers what a second Trump presidency would mean for Australia. He notes the corrosive influence of Trump and his Fox News acolytes on , and warns that Australia should prepare for an emboldening of the populist right-wing sentiment that accompanied his rise on the political scene.

In the face of this, independent and rigorous journalism, supported by a well-funded ABC, has an important role to play.

As my study highlights, it’s important to acknowledge news podcast listeners tend to be from the higher social classes. There’s an impetus, then, to ensure coverage includes the perspectives of those who might not otherwise be well represented across the media sphere.

This has particular importance in relation to issues like the upcoming referendum, with a risk of it being used to fan the flames of culture wars.

At their best, news podcasts can engage us meaningfully in important issues, transporting us to unexpected places and highlighting the human impact at the heart of news stories, supported by facts and informed analysis.

With Australians among the most active listeners globally, there’s reason to have hope they can play a productive role in helping us navigate politically uncertain times.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia tops the world for podcast listening. Why do Aussies love them so much? (2023, September 1)
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Why Australia Is Not Ready for Industry 4.0

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Australia doesn’t have a great track record with preparing its population when a new wave of society-changing innovation comes through. With Industry 4.0 now powering ahead at full speed globally, questions do need to be asked about how ready Australia is — especially with regard to the IT sector, which is going to play an integral role in this particular revolution.

There is no better example of Australia’s struggles with transition than in the car manufacturing industry. Australia once had a thriving industry with major manufacturing facilities for Holden, Toyota and Ford. That wound down and all but disappeared about a decade ago, taking with it approximately 30,000 jobs, and the government and industry alike drew a lot of criticism for how poorly it supported those workers who needed to shift careers completely.

What is Industry 4.0?

The world is now firmly stepping into the era of Industry 4.0 — the next big step in our capacity to work and produce goods and a revolution that will enable companies to significantly improve operational efficiency, reduce costs and enhance product quality through the use of advanced technologies.

Industry 4.0 fosters innovation and competitiveness by facilitating data-driven decision making and adaptive manufacturing processes by bringing together robotics, automation, the Internet of Things, 5G, edge computing, AI and other technologies in such a way that a lot of labor-intensive work humans currently do will be easy to replace.

SEE: Discover how tech pros in Australia are preparing for AI in their industry.

Because Industry 4.0 brings technology much closer to the production process, it’s going to make many purely labor-driven jobs redundant. However, that will also be an opportunity for humans to move up the “value chain” and take on work that is more interesting and contributes more to creativity and innovation.

That is if society, across industry and government, is able to facilitate the transition of human skills to, sometimes, entirely different fields of expertise.

Australia’s tech skills gap and cultural resistance make Industry 4.0 a national challenge

In 2018, research suggested that Australia was struggling to produce the skills and training environment to facilitate and capitalize on Industry 4.0. Then, in a speech, the Australian Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic acknowledged that this is still an issue that hasn’t been addressed.

Worse, Australia seems to have some level of cultural resistance to the idea of a high-skilled future.

In acknowledging that Australia needs to start moving to meet this challenge, Husic said that the country’s national industry policy should have the “goal of more Australian workers making more things in Australia using Australian know-how and Australian resources.”

“Of course, there are those who criticize this new dynamic approach,” Husic said. “They seem to be sticking to economic ideas that were in fashion in the 80s …

“They say things like ‘Why have a battery industry in Australia, let’s just focus on what we’ve always done best, raw materials production.’ It seems that if you can chop it, dig it, grow it and then ship it then that’s enough.”

What IT skills does Australia need to successfully capitalize on Industry 4.0?

For any nation, industry, sector, business or individual to thrive in the world of Industry 4.0, having deep access to several skills is critical — and they’re almost all IT-based skills. Industry 4.0 has an intense need for data literacy, analytical skills, the management of digital media and a fundamental understanding of automation and artificial intelligence.

Then, there are the skills required for managing a business filled with highly qualified IT workers and “smart” technology. Business leaders will continue to need advanced communication skills, an ethical and responsible approach to leadership, creativity and imagination, emotional intelligence, adaptability to change, resilience and the ability to manage diverse and remote teams.

The problem is that Australia simply doesn’t have enough of those skills. Over the past few years, the number of firms that reported that “labor” was a significant constraint not only burst through the 30% barrier for the first time in history, but it subsequently smashed through 50% thereafter (Figure A).

Figure A

More than 50% of Australian firms report that labor is one of their biggest constraints. Image: NAB

More than one in two (59%) of organizations find that their applicants lack the required skills, and four in five (79%) aren’t even getting enough applicants in the first place.

Even more concerning is that the sectors where the skills shortage is cutting deepest are the ones where Industry 4.0 is going to play a critical role. Trades and services, hospitality and tourism, IT as a sector, healthcare and manufacturing are all facing a rapid dive in job applications (Figure B). Without finding a solution to this skills crisis, Australia is in real danger of missing the opportunity entirely.

Figure B

Australia is seeing a decrease in applications in key roles related to Industry 4.0. Image: SEEK

How can Australia overcome the Industry 4.0 skills crisis?

One of the main solutions that has been traditionally leveraged to overcome a shortfall in workers has been to turn to immigration, but that’s only going to provide so much relief, especially when there’s a housing shortage that is putting political pressure on limiting the number of immigrants.

There is plenty that can be done with the domestic population to better prepare them for the impact of Industry 4.0.

Provide better upskilling and pathways

Around 75% of Australian workers are keen to upskill. The breadth of skills required in Industry 4.0 would allow for most to find new competencies aligned with their capabilities.

This would be a particularly significant opportunity in those traditionally nontechnical industries, like healthcare, hospitality and trades. Helping existing employees develop IT capabilities is a useful way for employers to help them with ongoing career development, and thus improve morale and retention. It also means those sectors will have people with technology skills that better understand the sector rather than trying to bring in IT professionals to sectors they’re unfamiliar with.

Provide better benefits

Retaining skills is as important as finding new skills. Currently, organizations struggle to understand what employees actually want. It’s not the raw paycheck. Instead, employees — especially in the younger generations — want to see support with childcare, the opportunity to upskill and undertake training on company money, flexible working hours, the ability to work remotely and more respect for the work-life balance.

Make the work more interesting

While employees are worried about AI and automation taking their jobs, a better approach would be to allow AI and automation to take the less interesting part of their jobs, enabling the employee to spend more time focused on higher-value projects. This will ultimately lead to the kind of innovation that Industry 4.0 champions anyway, but getting the organization used to the idea of replacing job descriptions, not roles, right from the start will be essential in managing a smooth transition to innovation.

IT workers sit at the heart of Australia’s future opportunities

For existing IT workers, the opportunities are going to be almost unprecedented; however, it will be increasingly critical that IT workers spend some time upskilling themselves. Their high levels of competency in technology is going to make them natural choices for leaders in organizations undergoing Industry 4.0 change. IT professionals are going to be increasingly called on to have a deep understanding of the sectors that they’re working in and not only the technology powering their businesses.

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Why are there hopping mice in Australia but no kangaroos in Asia? It’s a long story

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The frill-necked lizard is one of many land animals that reached Australia from Southeast Asia. Credit: Damien Esquerré, Author provided

The animals in Australia are super-different to those in Asia. This goes without saying; we know Australia is full of weird and wonderful creatures found nowhere else on Earth, such as the platypus and the koala.

But it may surprise you to know that many of our most iconic critters came from Asia and arrived only recently (in geological terms, at least).

These most recent members of Australia’s characteristic fauna include many lizards, such as goannas and thorny devils, and other including hopping mice, flying foxes and the kookaburra. Yet the traffic was largely one way—there are far fewer representatives of Australian fauna in Asia than there are Asian fauna in Australia.

Why is the situation so asymmetrical? In a study published today in the journal Science, my colleagues and I analyzed information about the distribution and habitat of 20,433 species of land-dwelling vertebrates—as well as climate and over the past 30 million years—to find out.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Drifting continents on a cooling planet

The story begins more than 200 million years ago.

Dinosaurs were still a fairly new group walking the Earth, and Australia was part of a supercontinent called Gondwana. This giant landmass included modern Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australia and India.

Gondwana had just broken off from another supercontinent, called Laurasia, which was smooshed together from modern North America, Europe and Asia. The separation of Gondwana and Laurasia removed the last land connection between Australia and Asia.

Now, Gondwana itself began to fall part pretty shortly after separating from Laurasia. Each piece of Gondwana gradually became isolated and began its own independent journey. Many of these journeys led them back to Laurasia.

India collided with Eurasia and formed the mighty Himalaya; South America crashed into North America, forming the snaking land bridge of Panama; Africa bumped into Eurasia, forming the Mediterranean Sea; and Australia began on a collision course with Asia.

Australia untethered its final Gondwanan connections between 45 and 35 million years ago, when it broke off from Antarctica.

At that time, Australia was much further south than it is today. As it drifted northwards, the increasing space between Australia and Antarctica kick-started the Antarctic circumpolar current, which cooled the planet dramatically.

Australia was isolated, cooling down and drying out. A unique set of animals and plants began to evolve.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Intercontinental stepping stones

Meanwhile, the Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates began to collide, forming thousands of in the Indonesian archipelago, including today’s Lombok, Sulawesi, Timor, and Lesser Sunda Isles.

These islands don’t belong to either the Australian continental shelf (also known as Sahul), which includes Australia and New Guinea, or to the Asian continental shelf (known as Sunda), which includes Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Bali.

This in-between zone is known as Wallacea, after the 19th century British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. He first observed a difference in the types of animals found on either side of what is now called Wallace’s line.

The islands became stepping stones between two continents whose groups of species hadn’t seen each other in a very, very long time. But, as our new research shows, only particular kinds of animals were able to make the crossing and establish themselves on the other side.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Wet and dry

The first factor determining which animals spread between continents was their ability to cross the ocean.

Of all the groups of animals that moved between Asia and Australia, we found the staggering majority were birds.

But this wasn’t the only key to success.

Animals also needed to be able to thrive in their new location, where the environment may have been quite different. We found animals that could tolerate a broad range of wetter and drier environments were more likely to make the move successfully.

This makes sense. Sunda is wet and Sahul is dry, and if you can tolerate more of that wet–dry spectrum, you are better equipped to move between these regions.

But we still have a big question. Why did more animals move from Sunda to Sahul than in the other direction?

Hexbyte Glen Cove A lot can change in 30 million years

The final piece of the puzzle is considering how these crucial factors—the ability for species to disperse and establish themselves in new environments—have changed over time.

The great majority of animals that spread from Asia to Australia were birds – including the ancestors of the kookaburra. Credit: Shutterstock

We know Sunda has been dominated by lush tropical rainforest since before Australia broke away from Antarctica. Later, when the stepping-stone islands began to pop up, they also had the kind of humid equatorial climate favored by the rainforest vegetation, and later animals, from Sunda.

In Australia, however, similar rainforests were shrinking and being replaced by grasslands and woodlands in most areas.

What this means is that as animals move from Sunda, through the stepping-stone islands, to New Guinea and the northern tips of Australia in Sahul, they experience a band of similar humid tropical climate.

However, most animals in Sahul evolved on the Australian mainland, most of which was much drier. So moving from mainland Australia, through New Guinea and the stepping stones, to Sunda, requires adaptations to a very different environment.

And Australian animals that did manage to make their way onto the stepping-stone islands would have likely met competition from Sunda groups already happily existing in their preferred tropical climate.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Answers are a long time in the making

Climate and geography are some of the most important things that shape evolution and the distributions of different species. Taking the long view, deep into the past, helps us understand the world around us.

Simple questions—like “why are there no kangaroos in Asia but hopping mice in Australia?”—have answers that are hundreds of millions of years in the making.

More information:
A. Skeels et al, Paleoenvironments shaped the exchange of terrestrial vertebrates across Wallace’s Line, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adf7122

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why are there hopping mice in Australia but no kangaroos in Asia? It’s a long story (2023, July 9)
retrieved 10 July 2023

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for inform

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Australia plans to mandate file scanning for all tech companies

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Image: Adobe Stock

Australia has decided to aggressively target online child sexual abuse material and pro-terror content. To do so, it plans to force all technology companies to actively scan content for such material.

Consequently, Australia might force sweeping global changes in how all technology companies handle data.
These new regulations have been adopted as the policy of choice by the Australian eSafety Commissioner. Through them, any tech company doing business with Australians will be required to actively scan their emails, online photo libraries, cloud storage accounts and dating sites for illegal content.

SEE: This mandate arises at the same time Australia considers AI regulations.

This includes services such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. It will also include content shared via online games and instant messaging.

The penalty for non-compliance is $700,000 per day.

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Why the eSafety Commissioner is cracking down hard

In 2021, Australia passed the Online Safety Act. The objectives of that 200-page Act were simple:

  • Improve online safety for Australians.
  • Promote the online safety of Australians.

The first consequence of the Act was the establishment of the eSafety Commissioner. Part of the Commissioner’s role has been to create and enforce a framework whereby illegal or damaging material can be removed at the eSafety Commissioner’s request.

This has meant that the government may now determine basic online safety expectations for social media, electronic and internet services. It also means a technology provider may be required to block access to material that promotes, incites, instructs or depicts “abhorrent violent conduct.”

To help facilitate this, the eSafety Commissioner tasked the Australian IT industry with developing a proposal to combat illegal content. It was submitted in February; however, the eSafety Commissioner rejected it, specifically because it didn’t meet the Commissioner’s minimum expectations with regards to detecting and flagging “known child secular abuse material” in file and photo storage services, email and encrypted messaging services.

The eSafety Commissioner has also cited a 285% year-on-year increase in the reports of child sexual exploitation and abuse material during the first quarter of this year as the cause for this dramatic action.

What steps come next?

These regulations will apply equally to both Australian service providers and overseas vendors that supply services to Australians. They will take place within six months from the day the regulations are officially registered.

Once that happens, Australians will be able to lodge complaints for non-compliance with the eSafety Commission, which will be empowered to investigate and impose injunctions, enforceable undertakings and financial penalties.

The scope and universality of these requirements, unsurprisingly, will be of concern to privacy advocates. The fundamental expectation of privacy when sending an email will immediately be compromised if each one needs to be scanned.

This opens up new data security concerns, and following the Optus, Latitude Finance and Medibank data breaches in 2022 — which, combined, affected just about every Australian at least once — Australians are sensitive about anything that will make their data even less secure.

There are also concerns about how this content will be scanned. Tech companies will not be expected to manually scan each piece of content. Rather, the eSafety Commissioner’s expectation is that they will develop automation tools and leverage AI to be “trained” on known examples of illegal material to flag similarities with new content being created and shared.

However, this solution is imperfect. Several have tried, and it has yet to work as intended. Companies like Meta and Google have already developed automated tools to detect and flag illegal material. Apple was a forerunner with this and had announced plans to automatically detect child abuse material being sent to and from its devices back in 2021.

Despite being an unambiguously noble cause, it was so unworkable that Apple abandoned it within a year.

The reality is that this automation — “hashing,” to use the industry’s term — is imperfect and can be tricked, as well as raise false flags. The former issue undermines the entire intent of these systems. Criminals are famously good at adapting to the internet, so while these techniques might help identify individuals sharing images, the kind of syndicates that are the real problem will not be affected.

Meanwhile, given the damage that even being accused of distributing child abuse material can do to a person, there is a real concern about what tech companies passing flagged content to the authorities can do to innocent people. There is already one case of Google “catching” a father for taking a photo of his son’s groin at the request of their doctor to treat a condition.

Will the international community accept the mandates?

The eSafety Commissioner has expressed the hope that these new regulations will help push the rest of the world into compliance. Whether the rest of the world finds that acceptable remains to be decided.

While the eSafety Commissioner can only regulate the interaction of technology with Australian citizens, these laws may force global companies to change their approach at a systemic level, and this could cause a new wave of debate around digital rights globally.

Alternatively, platform holders and service providers may simply decide to close off services to Australia. That happened back in 2021 when Facebook protested the Australian government’s attempt to impose a royalty system on it to be paid out to news media organizations. For the short period of time that decision was in effect, Australian businesses of all sizes, as well as Australian consumers, were deeply impacted.

Despite these concerns, the eSafety Commissioner is quite firm on this approach. For those in the tech industry, anyone involved in the storage and sharing of data will need to prepare themselves for some substantial shifts in how data is handled and shared.

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