Science and technology: as intriguing as magic and as intuitive as learning to walk

The recent Telstra ad likened great technology and its operation to magic in the real world. I’m sure we all have our various opinions on the new ad campaign. However, as this is Science Week it’s a great time to explore the underlying message.

In the words of Sir Arthur C Clarke, the writer of 2001 A Space Odyssey, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

As an appreciator of truly great technology, I think it should be as intriguing as magic and as intuitive as learning to walk. You should be able to stroll up to it and instinctively know how it operates. The experience should be seamless, memorably good and leave you wanting to interact with it again.

I remember some significant technology moments that left me marvelling at the magic of scientific invention.

The first was the World Wide Web.

It was the mid-90s. I was in high school and found myself at the local library trying out this thing called the World Wide Web. I distinctly remember marvelling at how you could bring information from around the world right to your fingertips in a matter of minutes. Even with the slow speed of dial up – the iconic sound it made was so captivating and the world it opened up so vast that I was hooked. It’s worth listening to that sound again – just to relive the moment. And it was magic.

Then there was the iPod and mp3 files.

When, as a teenager, you had spent hours on weekends taping music from your TV or radio onto a cassette with only 60 minutes of recording space, a bit more with mini disks (but still very limited and painful to use), the concept of the iPod was revolutionary. Transferring 1000s of songs seamlessly from a computer onto a device that had search capability fast enough and smart enough to seek out that one favourite track quickly – unbelievable. And to carry it in your pocket or secretly listen to music in uni lectures was also magic.

Since the mid-90s and early 2000s science and technology has evolved rapidly and is evolving at an ever increasing pace. Now, it is ever easier to build and release that new app, a new wi-fi enabled device, or the product which automates a household chore you hate.

But with this increased rate of innovation comes the pressure to release your technology to the market at the first possible instance and sometimes before its ready.

You only have one shot to create a memorable first impression – to create magic in the real world.

Working with Research and Development (R&D) Incentives exposes me to a variety of technology clients of all sizes and development methods. The ones who get it right by their customers:

These companies investigate and understand their customer’s needs and don’t make assumptions about their requirements. They take the time to do the market research. Prototype and test the technology in the market before full-scale release. The science of human behaviour and psychology exists because people are complex and influenced by the environment around them in ways that are difficult to predict or understand. Data analytics is a great way to understand the narrative behind the customer data.

They set realistic timeframes for release and prepare to hold back where delays occur to ensure their customers’ first interaction with their technology is a positive one. Research and development is inherently uncertain and unpredictable, particularly where you are pushing the boundaries of technological advancement in a particular field. R&D tax offsets, grants, investor tax offsets all assist in initiating and managing the down-side of R&D.

To get it right, they future proof their technology for at least the next 3 years. It often takes this timeframe for a project to return on the initial investment and generate a profit. As such, securing your market for this timeframe is important. Investigate competitor offerings as part of the initial investigation phase and understand where technology is moving in your industry.

I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Bernard Salt recently where he compared the largest 10 firms in the US by revenue to Australia. Five of the top ten US firms were technology companies (i.e. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon) who are also some of the largest and most impactful companies in the world. These are also some of the firms that create that technology magic (seamless, sleek, experiences) we take for granted in our lives.

By comparison Australia did not have a single technology firm in the top 10.

With technology playing a key role in the world economy and many of the largest technology firms impacting operations of numerous firms from a variety of industries (whether it be through Facebook marketing, Microsoft product suites in administration, Amazon cloud storage solutions), shouldn’t Australia invest in breeding similarly significant technology firms of our own. To find our technology magic is will take the combined efforts of a STEM focused workforce, greater venture capital backing and broader government support as well as incubating and accelerating Australian entrepreneurs through Launchpads and programs like elevate61.

These will be the wands to create our magic.

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