Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

RSNSW and Learned Academies Forum 2021

Power and Peril of the Digital Age



Dates: Thursday and Friday, 4–5 November 2021, 9.00 am–12.30 pm AEDT
Venue: Live streaming and subsequently on YouTube
Cost: No charge
Video presentation: YouTube playlist
Brochure: The brochure is available in two forms:
(a) an abridged document (pdf: 5.8 MB) providing just the program, and
(b) a complete document (pdf: 6.2 MB) providing the program, abstracts, and speaker biographies.

The Royal Society of New South Wales and the Learned Academies acknowledge the generous support of Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales, the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, and the NSW Smart Sensing Network.


We are at a moment in time when we must acknowledge and address the inexorably rising tide of data use and digital services. History will categorise the early decades of the 21st Century as the digital age, the age of prodigious development and use of digital technologies that enable us to transfer and access information easily and swiftly.

So much so that digital interaction is a defining characteristic of modern human life. Societies, economies, and political processes are infused and connected by the ubiquitous use of smart machines and software that process and communicate information to us in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.The pace of digitisation was already fast by the end of 2019 before COVID-19 emerged.

The pandemic broke through cultural barriers and enabled implementation of digital strategies in a matter of days or weeks rather than years. Digital technologies and supercomputer simulation are central to dealing with the pandemic itself, as well as being the primary driver of productivity in almost every other aspect of society.

Almost all companies, governments, and organisations across the world are increasingly taking advantage of the benefits associated with data analytics and simulation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things to solve problems never solved before, to undertake projects in five days that would have taken five years.

Problems such as those embodied in the United Nations General Assembly’s Sustainable Development Goals and their achievement by 2030. Tangible benefits include greater social connectivity, learning opportunities, information access and usage, versatile working and transport, and greater access to entertainment, news forms of banking and finance.

Unlocking the power of the digital age also brings peril, associated with concerns about data security, state-based and transnational crime, and terrorism, complexity, privacy, social disconnection, media manipulation, manipulation of the truth, communities left behind, national defence, and market vulnerabilities, outstripping rule-making and regulatory structures.

This year, the Royal Society of NSW in partnership with the Learned Academies - Health and Medicine, Humanities, Science, Social Sciences, and Technology and Engineering, has chosen “Power and Peril of the Digital Age” as the theme for their annual Forum.

Our goal is to have a grown-up conversation about digitisation and the use of data. It will be framed around the future life of a child born on the first day of the Forum, 4 November 2021. This child will be born into a world of increasingly complex digital systems that hold great value and vulnerability.

Starting with a technological framing, the Forum will explore several major aspects which will impact the journey of that child as we approach 2030 and beyond. We will explore aspects of technology, health, defence, and security in a digital age, and the changing nature of industry as the world and society evolves.

Finally, our annual Forum will be a call to arms for the host Societies to focus on challenges identified during the two days that must be addressed for Australia to remain a prosperous, successful, and safe democracy in the digital world.

Program: Day 1 (Thursday, 4 November, 9.00 am – 12.30 pm)

Time Session Subject and Speakers
09:00–09.20   Welcome and Acknowledgement of Country
President, Royal Society of New South Wales and
Chair, Forum Program Committee
    Official Opening
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
Governor of New South Wales
    Introduction to the Moderator and Rapporteur
President, Royal Society of New South Wales
    Moderator and Rapporteur
Ian Oppermann FRSN FTSE
Chief Data Scientist, NSW Government and
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney
09.20–10.00 1.1 Science and technology underpinning the digital age:
past, present, and future
    Cathy Foley AO PSM FRSN FAA FTSE
Australia's Chief Scientist
Australian Government
    Hugh Durrant-Whyte FRS FREng FAA FTSE
NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer
NSW Government
10.00–10.30 1.2 Digital lifetime of a child born today
    Frances Foster Thorpe
Executive Director, Shaping Futures
NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet
    Sue Bennett
Professor, Deputy Director and Connected Child Co-Leader
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child
University of Wollongong
10:30–10.40   Morning Tea

10.40–11.10 1.3 Avoiding a digital dark age
    Shawn Ross
Director, Digitally-Enabled Research (Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)) and Professor of History and Archeology
Macquarie University
    Theresa K D Anderson
Social Informaticist, Connecting Stones Consulting and
Research Fellow, School of Information Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
11.10–11.40 1.4 Health of our digital child
    Zoran Bolevich
Chief Executive, eHealth NSW
Chief Information Officer, NSW Health
    Louisa Jorm FAHMS
Professor, Faculty of Medicine and
Foundation Director, Centre for Big Data Research in Health
UNSW (Sydney)
11.40–12.20 1.5 Safety and security of our digital child
    Dale Lambert PSM
Chief, Cyber and Electronic Warfare Division
Defence Science and Technology Group
Australian Government Department of Defence
    Rory Medcalf
Professor and Head, National Security College
Crawford School of Public Policy
Australian National University
12.20–12.30 1.6 Setting up for Day 2, including the Challenges
    Ian Oppermann FRSN FTSE
Chief Data Scientist, NSW Government and
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney


Program: Day 2 (Friday, 5 November, 9.00 am – 12.30 pm)

Time Session Subject and Speakers
09:00–09.20   Welcome and Acknowledgement of Country
President, Royal Society of NSW
    Recap of Day 1
Ian Oppermann FRSN FTSE
Moderator and Rapporteur
Chief Data Scientist, NSW Government
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney
09.20–10.20 2.1 The light and shade of technology on our digital child
    Edward Santow
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney
(Immediate Past) Australian Human Rights Commissioner
    The Honourable Verity Firth
Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion
University of Technology Sydney
    Marc Fennell
Journalist, Interviewer, and Maker of Things
    Aengus Tran
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
10:20–10.30   Morning Tea

10.30–10.40 2.2 Address by NSW Government Minister
    The Hon. Victor Dominello MP
Minister for Digital and Minister for Customer Service
Member for Ryde
10.40–11.30 2.3 Securing the future of our digital child
    Robert Hillard
Managing Partner
Deloitte Consulting Asia Pacific
    Angie Abdilla
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Old Ways, New Australia
Professor of Practice, Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, UNSW (Sydney)
    Toby Walsh FRSN FAA
Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence
UNSW (Sydney)
    David Pryor
Senior Team Leader, Energy Security Safeguard
NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment
11.30–12.10 2.4 Future Australia
    Short Statements from Learned Academy Representatives
    Tony Cunningham AO FAHMS
Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences
    Richard Waterhouse FAHA FASSA
Australian Academy of Humanities
    Toby Walsh FAA
Australian Academy of Science
    Deborah Lupton FASSA
Australian Academy of Social Sciences
    Annabelle Duncan PSM FRSN FTSE
Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering
12.10–12.30 2.5 Wrap-up and Close
    Ian Oppermann FRSN FTSE
Chief Data Scientist, NSW Government and
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney
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