Digital Futures

Last Thursday morning, James and I were invited to attend the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council (EMRC) Digital Forum.  While I was asked to participate in the short Q&A panel session at the end of the Forum, we were also there as delegates.  The audience was mainly representatives from the various local government councils and other bodies involved in the EMRC.

There were three speakers in the Forum;

  • David Bartlett, former Premier of Tasmania,
  • Alan Heydorn, a “digital advocate”, and
  • Rachel McIntyre, the WA manager for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Each of them gave an interesting talk, about digital futures, interesting projects being trialed in Western Australia, impact on the economy and Australia’s biggest infrastructure project, the NBN.  There was a lot there to consider and a lot of food for thought about how much has changed in the 12 years of Gaia Resources, and how it will change even more in the future – there was very much a theme about digital transformation in the talks and questions.

Although I didn’t present at the Forum, I was introduced to the Q&A session and a few questions came my way about our experience with the Marri App (which was originally funded through the EMRC, via Murdoch University) and the Dieback Information Delivery and Management System.  It was great to see that the people there were interested in the ways in which technologies like these can have a positive impact on the environment!

Some questions were also asked via Twitter, mainly from @hardinsonjay, about some interesting connotations of the digital futures that the speakers were proposing.  We didn’t get much time to answer these, so I had promised a few lines to respond to two of these questions, specifically around digital obsolescence and power consumption from this digital transformation that we are well into.

Digital obsolescence is something we are really exploring more and more as we do more work in the collections space, specifically when we work with the archives around Australia.  One of the things I learned early on from our work with the State Records Office (such as their new Archives Management System) is that sometimes, you have to not only preserve the data, but also the software, operating systems and hardware that you would need to be able to retrieve the data.  That’s a massive undertaking for any organisation – it’s particularly interesting and challenging to think about digital preservation with a time scale of “forever”!  So the archivists are the ones best qualified to speak to this – but it is a known problem to solve.

Power-wise, that’s a bit more of a challenge.  A few years ago I had enrolled in an Energy Studies qualification from Murdoch University to start looking at this, and it’s something that I want to revisit again.  There are a few different studies out there that indicates that cloud computing brings more efficiency in energy use (this one from 2014 indicates 20% savings), and that’s something that’s even more effective when groups like Amazon commit to achieving 100% renewable energy use for their global infrastructure (see their AWS and Sustainability page).  This sort of efficiency initiative certainly can make a big impact on energy use, and it’s one of the reasons we’re using their services.

After the Digital Futures forum, I hopped on a plane to Brisbane to participate in the second of my Q&A sessions in as many days at the Inspiring Australia Citizen Science Forum – but that’s another blog to come next week.


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