by Bonnie Gardiner

Machine learning not ‘death knell of modern workforce’: Telstra CEO

Jul 09, 2015
Digital TransformationInnovationIT Management

Advancements in machine learning will not be the death knell of the modern workforce, but rather provide ample new opportunities for growth, according to Telstra’s new CEO, Andrew Penn.

Speaking for the first time in his new role at a CEDA event in Sydney on Tuesday, Penn discussed how new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, the cloud and mobility are driving change and creating new opportunities for innovation and economic development.

“What the industrial revolution showed us was that the switch to mechanisation has significantly enhanced society’s quality of living. And that is what will happen through this digital transformation,” said Penn.

“It’s about humans working closely with technology to enhance our lives, not be replaced by it.”

Last month CEDA published a report – – which predicted that almost 40 per cent of current Australian jobs have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years due to advancements in machine learning.

Quoting US software engineer and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, Penn said that “end of work theories always make two fundamental errors – underestimating future human wants and needs; and underestimating future entrepreneurs”.

Success is only possible if companies strive to invest in new technologies and support innovation and collaboration, said Penn, while also supporting the teaching of digital literacy and STEM skills at multiple levels, from primary school to university and beyond.

“I believe in the entrepreneurialism of the human spirit, and I think this will provide wonderful opportunities,” he said.

World class technology provider

Telstra is striving to be seen as a world class technology provider, rather than just a mobile company, which Penn hopes to champion during his time as CEO.

As part of this vision, Telstra has been involved in numerous partnerships and acquisitions in the past year, including its work with Tesla to create the Tesla model S electric cars, and the acquisition of Pacnet to expand Telstra’s cloud services in Australia.

Telstra has also invested heavily in new areas such as intelligent video with the acquisition of video streaming and analytics company, Ooyala, and work in electronic health with its specialist platforms MyCareManager and ReadyCare, along with 23 investments in global startups through Telstra Ventures.

The Telstra Software Group has also funded many innovation hubs for universities, developers and software engineers, including the Muru-D program and the Telstra Insights Centre, with plans to open a new Innovation Centre in Melbourne this August.

Mobile growth

Penn also announced Telstra’s growing investment in mobiles, set to increase its total capex investments to 15 per cent of sales for the next two years, providing more than another half a billion dollars for mobiles.

By 2017, Telstra anticipate investing more than $5 billion into its mobile network, including expanding its 4G footprint, increasing the network’s overall footprint, and building 750 new mobile base stations.

Penn said Telstra will also be making many investments into improving coverage and services available to regional communities, as a large player in the government’s Black Spot Programme, along with the launch of Telstra Air, a nationwide Wi-Fi program providing broadband customers access to their home data allowance while on the move.

Other efforts to boost coverage in remote areas have included trialing balloon technology with Google to cater to areas too remote to put up a service tower, as well as experimenting with drone technology.

“This is why we are investing in innovation within network engineering and access technologies” said Penn.

“I am a technology optimist; I see great opportunity for those of us that embrace change, great opportunity for those of us that embrace technology innovation, and great opportunity for Australian companies and Australia.”