As the world’s top technologically driven nations continue to transform innovative concepts into a reality, Australia risks falling behind without an interest to invest in digital technology-based research, IT professionals, and workers.
That is according to a new report published by the Australian Academy of Science in collaboration with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, which acted as a much-needed wake up call to the federal government to take a stand when it comes to ensuring digital technologies and innovation are a priority to the country.
The non-profit organization warned the government that Australia’s tech industry is edging closer to lagging behind global countries, noting that countries like Canada, France, the UK, and the U.S. have invested hefty resources into placing digital technologies as their main priority, a strategy that increased competitiveness and innovation.
“Australia’s digital innovation earnings relative to its GDP was almost four percentage points lower than the OECD average of 11.2 percent,” the organization explained.
To target the issue, the organization recommended a number of measures to be taken that can help elevate Australia’s tech industry in order to stay up to date with other nations.
For starters, the tech sector must be recognized by the Australian government as an independent growth sector, according to the report.
The organization also highlights how research and innovation in new digital technologies should be part of the federal government’s 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.
Utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and 5G are just some of the innovations the report dives into, suggesting examples of how these new tech innovations can benefit the country as seen by other nations who have prioritized research in the tech field.
Shazia Sadiq, Chair of the Australian Academy of Science’s national committee for information and communication told InnovationAus in an interview that while the Australian Government’s investment in digital tech – such as building a digital economy and creating advanced manufacturing strategies – was a good step to take, much more needs to be implemented.
“Our key message is that we need to be more than ‘smart users’ of emerging technologies,” Sadiq told InnovationAus.
Yet, what does that entail?
“It means that we need to have the scientific expertise, our sovereign capability, through which we can help and create and foster those opportunities that come from these emerging digital technologies, but also help with the vulnerabilities and limitations and dangers and do it at a national level,” she added.
Sadiq explained that the country needs to be able to ensure that the scientific experts in the science and engineering field should work in collaboration with technology professionals.
“The thinking is that these digital technologies have a very wide footprint that impacts almost all sectors,” Sadiq said.
Chris Connell, the managing director of the UK-based Kaspersky APAC, the world’s largest privately held vendor of endpoint protection solutions, is pushing forward security awareness and digital education as a method to help the Australian government achieve tech savviness among its public.
“We’re facing security challenges that put a strain on cybersecurity resources. Investing in cyber talent and promoting security awareness and digital education are the keys to success in building cyber resilient digital societies and economies,” Connell said.
“We need to move from the ‘needs’ to actually delivering on this, if we don’t, and the way the world is changing, there will be more and more risk moving forward.”
FDA authorizes first e-cigarette, cites benefit for smokers
For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized an electronic cigarette, saying the vaping device from R.J. Reynolds can help smokers cut back on conventional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been sold in the U.S. for more than a decade with minimal government oversight or research. Facing a court deadline, the FDA has been conducting a sweeping review of vaping products to determine which ones should be allowed to remain on the market.
The agency said in September it had rejected applications for more than a million e-cigarettes and related products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens. But regulators delayed making decisions on most of the major vaping companies, including market leader Juul, which is still pending.
Tuesday’s decision only applies to Vuse’s Solo e-cigarette and its tobacco-flavored nicotine cartridges. The agency said data from the company showed the e-cigarette helped smokers significantly reduce their exposure to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes.
While the products can now be legally sold in the U.S., the FDA stressed they are neither safe nor “FDA approved,” and that people who don’t smoke shouldn’t use them.
Launched in 2013, Vuse Solo is a rechargeable metallic device that’s shaped like a traditional cigarette. The FDA said it rejected 10 other requests from the company for other flavored products. The agency is still reviewing the company’s request to sell a menthol-flavored nicotine formula.
“Today’s authorizations are an important step toward ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA’s robust, scientific premarket evaluation,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s tobacco center, in a statement.
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products – either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption.”
E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. around 2007 with the promise of providing smokers with a less harmful alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that’s inhaled.
But there has been little rigorous study of whether e-cigarettes truly help smokers quit. And efforts by the FDA to begin vetting vaping products and their claims were repeatedly slowed by industry lobbying and competing political interests.
In recent years, the vaping market grew to include hundreds of companies selling an array of devices and nicotine solutions in various flavors and strengths. But the vast majority of the market is controlled by a few companies including Juul Labs, which is partially owned by Altria, and Vuse.
Vuse is the No. 2 vaping brand in the U.S. behind Juul, accounting for about a third of all retail sales. Its parent company R.J. Reynolds sells Newport, Camel and other leading cigarettes.
A company spokesperson said in a statement that the FDA decision confirms “that Vuse Solo products are appropriate for the protection of the public health, underscoring years of scientific study and research.”
The company said it is still awaiting an FDA decision on its more popular vaping device, Vuse Alto.
To stay on the market, companies must show that their products benefit public health. In practice, that means proving that adult smokers who use the products are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teens are unlikely to get hooked on them.
Kenneth Warner, a tobacco expert at the University of Michigan’s school of public health, said the news was a positive step for reducing the harms of smoking. But he lamented that only a vaping device backed by a Big Tobacco company was able to win the FDA’s endorsement.
“The demands the FDA places on companies filing these applications are so extraordinary difficult to meet that only those with huge resources and personnel — in terms of scientists, lawyers, researchers — are able to file successfully,” said Warner.
He said smaller companies and vape shops should have a separate path to get their products authorized.
The FDA declared underage vaping an “epidemic” in 2018 and has taken a series of measures aimed at the small cartridge-based devices that first sparked the problem, including limiting their flavors to tobacco and menthol. Separately, Congress raised the purchase age for all tobacco and vaping products to 21.
Survey data collected earlier this year showed Vuse was the second-most popular e-cigarette brand among high schoolers who vape, preferred by 10%. Juul was the fourth-most popular e-cigarette, cited by less than 6%.
FDA said it was aware of the data on Vuse’s popularity but decided to authorize its tobacco flavor “because these products are less appealing to youth and authorizing these products may be beneficial” for adult smokers.
The most popular brand among teens was a disposable e-cigarette called Puff Bar that comes in flavors like pink lemonade, strawberry and mango. Disposable e-cigarettes are not subject to the tight flavor restrictions of products like Juul.
Overall, the survey showed a drop of nearly 40% in the teen vaping rate as many kids were forced to learn from home during the pandemic. Still, federal officials cautioned about interpreting the results because they were collected online for the first time, instead of in classrooms.
Amazon to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely
Amazon said Monday it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they can commute to the office when necessary.
The new policy was announced in a blog post and is a change from Amazon’s previous expectation that most employees would need to be in the office at least three days a week when offices reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic in January.
The Seattle Times reported Monday’s message was signed by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and said company directors will have discretion to allow teams that they manage to continue working remotely.
“We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office,” Jassy wrote.
Most of the online retail giant’s more than 1 million global employees cannot work remotely because they perform their duties in the company’s fulfillment and transportation division, grabbing orders and delivering them to customers.
But about 50,000 tech and office employees work at the company’s sprawling headquarters downtown Seattle campus and in the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Their absence will hurt nearby restaurants and other businesses.
Amazon’s update to its return-to-work policy followed similar moves from other big technology companies. Microsoft announced last month that it had postponed reopening its offices indefinitely.
Remote work is becoming the new norm, should tech industries be worried?
Back in 1822, Charles Lamb, British poet and essayist wrote in a letter to poet William Worsworth “You don’t know how wearisome it is to breathe the air of four pent walls without relief, day after day,” describing the agony he faces while working in the East India Company’s office located in the heart of London’s Leadenhall Street.
It’s safe to say Lamb would’ve enjoyed the COVID-19 pandemic that pushed workers into a work-from-home routine, liberated from what he coined as “official confinement.” Yet, this may not be the case any longer.
A new survey of 2,000 UK tech workers and employers by Hackajob’s marketplace researchers resulted in shocking findings.
Half of the employers who participated in the survey noted that it is extremely difficult to grow and enhance a strong team while working remotely, and 54 percent of the participants said having a distributed workforce caused a negative toil on the office culture.
However, tech professionals have a different perspective on the matter. Hackajob’s researchers found that only 22 percent of tech workers agreed that remote working has a negative impact, while 44 percent noted that there isn’t much of a difference.
The different findings mean one thing: businesses are increasingly facing challenges when trying to please their workers and ensure a productive workforce with the shift in job expectations.
Hackajob noted that 72 percent of the tech workers surveyed cited remote working as the main element they look for during a job hunt, while 67 percent said that they’re looking for different opportunities that don’t require remote work.
Co-founder and CEO of Hackajob, Mark Chaffey, made it clear that the increase in demand for tech workers might force businesses to reformulate their work culture, even though expectations of employers and employees “are not aligned at the moment.”
“Tech workers are in demand and our data shows it is a buyer’s market now, so employees seem to be in the driver’s seat,” Chaffey added.
For example, Microsoft recently warned that remote work can possibly have a harmful impact on workplace communication and productivity as it turns out that the tech giant’s own U.S. workforce was struggling with communicating back in March of last year when employees were forced to work remotely for the first time.
Yet, other tech giants are maneuvering their way around remote work in a different manner. Google has given its U.S. staff the option to work remotely at the expense of salary deductions.
In Hackajob’s survey, 53 percent of tech workers stated that they wouldn’t consider cutting their salaries to work remotely, in comparison to only 27 percent of participants who were okay with having potential salary adjustments.
“It will be interesting to see what shifts first and what shifts furthest, workers’ expectations about remote working or employers’ demands about being in the office,” Chaffey said.
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