Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Technology in Canberra

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: First, to high-tech city. I noticed the ACT Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett, in the Assembly yesterday, said her government was ahead of the game, highlighting Canberra as a modern technopolis. Well, I think some good work is being done on a number of fronts to encourage and promote this town, in everything but name, as a multifunction polis. And let's hope we don't use that name because it's dreadful. We've done several interviews on that subject this week, and one person who has been actively involved and got a big guernsey in the Australian article, Looking at Canberra as a De Facto MFP, is Professor Mary O'Kane, Dean of the Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra. She's with me, now. Good morning, Professor.

MARY O'KANE: Good morning.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: How do you see Canberra developing as a high-tech city?

MARY O'KANE: Well, I see Canberra as an ideal city in which technology can be used, can be trialled, and we can then give some idea of what a modern community thinks of developments in technology. I don't see technology as being developed just in our universities and just in the colleges here. I think the exciting thing about Canberra is that we've got a very intelligent population and a population that likes to try new things and likes to have very bright ideas. So I think it's the city as a whole that's the important key to this issue about a technopolis or a multifunction polis, if you like.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So we've got a willing trial market if we want to get into it in a big way.

MARY O'KANE: A good trial market and a good critical trial market, people who are willing to voice their opinions pretty directly, which is useful.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: As we've seen on several campaigns in the local government area over schools and what have you. If you can give me your views on the Gungahlin tele-village concept which we touched on yesterday?

MARY O'KANE: Well, that was a very bright idea had by some, I think, bureaucrats in the ACT, working for the ACT Government, that in building one of our new towns within the city, we should make it a sort of example piece of modern telecommunications for Australia, a little bit the way the French have introduced Minitel and have done wide trialing of various telecommunications services and products in various selected towns in France with enormous success - you know, throwing away the phone book and so on.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Yes. What would be the benefits of that, though, to Canberra? I mean, it would be good fun if you were in Gungahlin and able to sort of play around and talk to your neighbours and play games and so on.

MARY O'KANE: Yes. It might be bad fun, too, with everyone trooping through to see what it's like to live in this special environment. I think the advantages are that Canberra firms, Canberra high-tech firms can be commissioned to do trial runs of products, later on to do full production runs. It should attract telecommunications related industries and services to Canberra.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now, if you could just also tell me a little bit about the work you're doing on automatic speech recognition?

MARY O'KANE: Well, we've been working in this area for a long time, and our long-term goal is the really hard problem of continuous speech recognition, where machines recognise what you say when you are speaking at a normal rate and recognise anybody saying it. And it's seemingly a very, very hard problem, but in the last few years there have been various technical solutions to it. These technical solutions, however, require lots and lots of data, so at the moment, it's a combination of bringing the technology in with the data and then producing prototype products for use.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I yell at my typewriter all the time. The ribbon always dies at about 7.55 in the morning. You're talking about talking to a computer and not having to type the words.

MARY O'KANE: That's right. Or in the initial introductions to the technology, you'll almost certainly have to go back and edit things and edit it quite substantially. It mightn't, early on, know the punctuation. Can you tolerate having the thing just recognise the words but not bring the full stops in?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Interesting, though. The latest Windows program, for instance, and other programs have got a grammar check and there are spell checks and thesauruses and so on.

MARY O'KANE: And there's some very good work being done round the world, at the moment, on how you do automatic punctuation, so I think it's all coming.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: All right. Well, you are doing good work in that area and keep up the good work, Professor Mary O'Kane. Thank you for opening another window into, perhaps, our future, as a city.

MARY O'KANE: Thank you.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Thank you. Mary O'Kane is Dean of the Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra - Professor Mary O'Kane.