By the year 2020, CSIRO will spend a million dollars a week on what it calls 'breakthrough science', betting big on risky areas with huge future potential. Six areas of innovation are being targeted for spending that "have the potential to support the reinvention and creation of new industries and new jobs" in Australia, including autonomous manufacturing, robotics and real-time medical and agricultural information transmitted around the nation and the globe.
The switch in priorities for the research organisation has drawn criticism from within CSIRO, both private and public. The money for the new science focuses will come from the organisation's already-stretched budget, and comes barely six weeks after an apparently renewed focus on climate science, itself coming six months after 300 jobs were cut predominantly in climate science research.
The announcement, delivered in a speech by Innovation Minister Greg Hunt, said that the new strategy for CSIRO would give Australia a leg up against its national competitors in developing future-ready science projects. In the next year, CSIRO will divert $17 million on the six new Future Science Platforms, and aims for the Aussie science hub to become "the world's premier research organisation" within the next decade.
Here are the six 'Future Science Platforms', as explained by CSIRO:
Environomics Unlocking genetic and other knowledge from our vast species biodiversity so we can preserve and manage ecosystems under environmental change, better manage economically useful species, detect biosecurity threats and create new products based on previously unknown biological data.
Synthetic Biology The design, fabrication, and construction of new biological parts, devices, systems, and machines, as well as the re-design of existing biological systems for useful purposes. Synthetic biology enables revolutionary advances in cellular factories, designer organisms and biological devices.
Deep Earth Imaging Discovering the previously undiscovered minerals, energy and water resources that lie deep under the earth or sea. The science of Deep Earth Imaging will help us more precisely image subsurface geology to unlock the potential of this vast and relatively under-explored area.
Digiscape Helping agricultural industries to be more productive and providing more valuable knowledge to environmental policy makers through a new generation of decision tools. Using sensors, data visualisation, artificial intelligence and assisted decision making to generate timely and relevant advice and insights will allow better choices for more productive and sustainable outcomes.
Probing Biosystems A revolution in healthcare and agriculture through devices and systems to obtain real-time information from living organisms about their health and well-being. This will lead to the ability to provide health and medical interventions that are timely, customised and highly specific.
Active Integrated Matter Reinventing fields as diverse as manufacturing, agriculture, emergency services, infrastructure and mining through combining advanced materials, robotics, sensing technologies, data processing and autonomous capabilities. New forms of autonomous robots will operate safely in dangerous environments while smart materials will enable new types of customised and personalised products and services.