Vice-Chancellor's speech to Good Science=Great Business 2018

Professor Brian Schmidt delivers keynote address to Gala Dinner at Good Science = Great Business 2018 in Singapore on 27 September 2018.
28 September 2018

Good evening everyone. Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister Andrews, High Commissioner Gosper, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful to be here.

Thank you High Commissioner for sharing our exciting news and welcoming the new ANU Southeast Asia Liaison Office to the Australian High Commission in Singapore.

The Australian National University has a very long-standing and deep relationship with Singapore and our partners here.

So longstanding that  the first visit of a Singaporean Prime Minister to ANU was the visit of  Lee Kwan Yew in 1965. In recognition of the esteem in which we hold Singapore, we awarded Mr Lee an honorary doctorate.

Today, we count over 1,500 Singaporeans amongst our alumni community. Our Singaporean community of staff and students on campus numbers over 300.

And with our research collaborators, partner institutions and alumni community, science and innovation plays a big role in our relationship with Singapore.

Our top 5 co-publishing fields with Singaporean institutions are all in the medical, biological, and physical sciences.

We are proud of the long and productive institutional relationships with the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University, Singapore Science Centre, among others here.

This year marks the 10th year of our joint Masters program with the National University of Singapore in Science Communication. It was the first joint degree program we had with NUS and we are proud of its success.

We are delighted to take advance our engagement with Singapore with our new office here in the heart of the Asia Pacific region.

It will bring our overseas office network to three - in Washington DC, Beijing, and now Singapore.  I will certainly be reflecting on that more a little later.

It is also great honour to be closing what has been an incredible festival over the last four weeks, which at last count I believed numbered more than 40 events. I want to congratulate the High Commission, DFAT, Austrade and CSIRO, for such a successful festival.

The calibre of presentation and breadth of topics that have been covered is truly inspiring.

From seafood security to investment trends, TechInnovation to personal health and my personal favourite - the Stargazing Live world record that we broke in partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

You each have in your gift bags (and on your tables), the same telescopes that were used by nearly 50,000 people across hundreds of locations in Australia to gaze at the stars at the same time for 10 minutes on a very cold, but clear, winter night. I hope you will have a chance to gaze through them at the moon, though, reliable clear skies aren't a feature of Singapore.

Despite what we may read in the papers or hear on the radio, science still has the power to bring people together and inspire.

I believe there is no greater opportunity than now, for science to work together with industry to solve the complex challenges of our future.

I spoke at the World Academic Summit yesterday about the role of universities in creating impact in today's changing world. 

We are entering what seems to be, for me, the most interesting time for Humanity since WWII and the early Cold War era.

The world today is facing many challenges.

Big world issues facing us now include global health, environment, food and water supplies, conflicts, economic issues, cyber security, politics, big research ideas.

But we are also lucky enough to live in a time of hope and progress.

We live in a time where human longevity has moved quickly up to greater than 71 years. 

Where the fraction of the world in poverty is dropping precipitously.

We live in a time where every human on planet earth will be able to engage with the rest of the world - interconnected by the Internet, by mass transit and by trade.

And where we are ever more able to precisely manipulate life through our understanding of the genome.

We have developed the beginnings of artificial intelligence, recording of data on unimaginable scales, and new technologies that in practice should do much of the hard work we all do - and give us more leisure time.

These are the rewards of the collective ingenuity of the human race.

But humanity is affecting our planet - we live in the Anthropocene age

where our use of water and resources is not sustainable over the next human life-time;

where the rapid rise of prosperity for all - especially amongst some of the haves - has not occurred at the same rate as in the past 100 years;

where democracies struggle against the rise of populism and the abundance of information - some true and some false;

and autocracies are able to double down with AI to control the masses with power and information;

where everyone finally has a voice - but it is hard to hear what is important with deafening noise.

We live in a time of change. 

This gives us huge opportunities and exposes us to huge losses if we fail.

The solutions to the problems involve technology and ideas not yet invented - they will require marrying social sciences with technology - and they will need to bring along and include the entire world.

At The Australian National University we are just beginning to look at some of these challenges and how we harness them.

In artificial intelligence, we have brought world renowned technologist Genevieve Bell in to lead our new Autonomy, Agency and Assurance institution that will look at all aspects of AI: policy, social and legal complexities, integration and also the development of new technology and what it is capable of.

In energy, just last week we awarded our 2018 Grand Challenges funding.

The ANU Grand Challenges Scheme invests in transformative research that will impact on the world's most intractable problems.

Each year a successful team made up of researchers from across the University receives up to $10 million to undertake this research.

This year's winning team will look to deliver zero carbon energy to the Asia Pacific, through the development of a renewable energy export industry.

An initiative I'm sure you will agree is critical for the region and the World.

In health, this year ANU welcomed Professor Mark Kendall (who is here tonight), formerly a rocket scientist, now somewhat a life saver.

Mark is expanding his series of wearable medical devices that will help people better understand their health conditions and allow doctors to improve health outcomes.

Some of you may have heard the winner of last year's Grand Challenge Team was Associate Professor Antonio Tricoli, who was in Singapore last week talking about digital health.

Professor Tricoli and his team won the award for their project: Your Health in Your Hands: Future Personalised Medical Technologies for a Sustainable and Effective Healthcare.

This project aims to revolutionise personalised medicine through wearable sensor technologies with genomics, tailored to individual need, irrespective of geographical location or social circumstances.

This aims to ensure that healthcare can be provided equally and effectively.

I am sure you will agree that this is an interesting area of research and we greatly look forward to seeing the outcomes of it.

Of course, we are working across so many other areas; such as advancing science communication in the 21st century, investigating governance arrangements that will improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, creating sustainable farming practices to help build the agricultural industry's resilience to the impacts of climate change, providing solutions to the challenges of cybersecurity and so many more.

Just as we see advances technology and innovation, so too are we seeing social, political, economic and strategic shifts... Political leaders are grappling with a changing geopolitical landscape, trade wars and disruptive technologies.

As Australia's only national university we have a unique and important role, and this forms a key part of it.

We contribute to informed national public debate and foster engagement with communities.

And we collaborate with the private sector to drive innovation.

In all of this, our international collaboration is essential, connecting Australia to the world and to cutting-edge ideas and technologies wherever they may be.

We cannot do this alone.

Our greatest power comes from the partnerships we make, the synergy that comes from working with our collaborators.

I have been talking to my own leadership team about how we can build an entrepreneurial spirit into all of our work.

It is that start-up mentality that we need to foster together.

Open and collaborative, diverse and inclusive - the teams that identify the needs and drive the solutions of the future will fail fast and work outside of existing boundaries to find the answers they need.

I can see great minds coming together from across research institutions, industry leaders and government to form agile teams to delve into specific challenges.

There never has been a more important time for us to work together.  

We believe that it is our partners in the Asia Pacific region who will be at the forefront of many advancements.

In many areas of technology, countries in the Asia Pacific are leading the world through digital disruption and implementation of new technologies like Blockchain.

Sadly, sometimes it is the greatest need that drives the greatest innovations.

Natural disasters and wide spread health problems, have accelerated the need to find creative solutions to highly complex challenges.

Of course ANU has always seen itself as having a role to play in helping the region find solutions and advance.

The Research School of Pacific Studies at ANU was one of our founding research areas and over the years we have continued to invest in our research capacity and expertise.

It may interest you to know that:

ANU Academics have supported the development of constitutions in many countries in the pacific including Fiji, Nauru and the Cook Islands

APEC was an idea that was first developed by one of our researchers, Professor Peter Drysdale, whose work has been fundamental in bringing prosperity and global cooperation to the region.

More recently we have been working with future leaders in Myanmar to help bring about democratic change.

And we will continue to invest in this region and seek partners who can work alongside us in imagining new solutions to the challenges and opportunities that are growing here.  

Which is why I am so pleased to be opening of our Southeast Asia Liaison Office here in Singapore.

The office will ensure we enhance our efforts as Australia's most international university, and drive international collaboration to increase research quality and impact.

The office will interlink research and academic partnerships, give our valued alumni and community a central hub and assist with philanthropy.

It will foster the development of partnerships and collaboration with higher education and research institutions, policy think tanks, government agencies, businesses and other interested parties based in the region.

Our Singapore office will be led by Dr Su-Ann Tan.

Su-Ann, where are you? Why don't you stand up.

I hope you all get the opportunity to say hello to Su-Ann tonight.

Su-Ann is an expert in cross cultural communications and most recently has lead outreach and engagement for the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

I want to finish by once again saying a thank you to the Australian High Commission for bringing together so many great minds into one place through this inaugural Australian Festival of Innovation.

Australian's make great partners (I should know, I married one!), so I look forward to many more collaborations between our countries and our great institutions.

And in the words of John F Kennedy "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

Thank you very much. E&OE - check against delivery