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Could tech overtake dairy as New Zealand's biggest export earner?

Could tech one day overtake dairy as New Zealand’s top export? It’s a pretty bold claim, sure. But the folks behind the Canterbury Tech Summit think it can happen.

The Canterbury Tech Summit is being held in Christchurch on September 14 to explore the trends, opportunities, and major shifts on the horizon, including how artificial intelligence will force major changes in society. Organisers say the event will bring together the country’s top tech talent as the industry rides a boom that could see it, perhaps one day, overtake dairy as the biggest exporter.

Canterbury Tech Summit chair David Carter says technologies like artificial intelligence are becoming part of every-day life as it becomes more affordable and accessible. “We’re talking about entire industries changing,” Carter says. “Artificial intelligence will radically transform professional service industries such as accountants and lawyers. Every single industry will be affected so people will need to work out how to stay relevant.”

 Artificial intelligence expert Sebastian Kielmann - co-founder and CTO of German startup Picalike - is among the speakers at the Tech Summit. A practical application of Picalike’s high-level image analysis is allowing customers to use colour filters when shopping for clothes online, among other innovations.

Artificial intelligence, cyber security and bitcoin, strategy and leadership, and high-tech export will all be the main themes at this year’s summit. The event speakers will highlight many local companies succeeding on the world stage, from 3D scanning technology for wound care to blockchain software.

 “Our space will be to focus on innovative, creative, problem solving engineering rather than mass-produced engineering. It is really about creating intellectual property and high value products,” Carter says.

ChristchurchNZ sector leader for technology Helen Shorthouse says Christchurch companies are known for thinking outside the square to find creative solutions for niche problems and markets.  “They are selling their creative products and services to global players – from Disney and Nike, to Lady Gaga and Ford Motors - who buy from Christchurch companies because they want the best in the world. The technology sector nationally is the third biggest export earner and is experiencing the fastest growth, yet it is often invisible to local New Zealanders, partly because much of it is exported, services aren’t visible in the same way as products and also because many of our industries super-stars are pretty humble.”

At current growth rates, Shorthouse says the technology sector is predicted to overtake dairy and tourism to become the biggest export earner by 2020. She adds that this boom is being felt in Christchurch, with GDP contribution of $2.4 billion and $1 billion in exports last year. 

“Christchurch is a great place to work and do business just because of how connected and supportive our community is,” Shorthouse says.

The Canterbury Tech Summit was a sell-out event in 2016, with more than 650 members of the tech industry coming together. Most of the tickets have already been snapped up for next month’s event, too.

The 2017 Canterbury Tech Summit will take place on September 14 at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in the Wigram suburb of Christchurch. Canterbury Tech is a non-profit organisation helping Canterbury’s tech sector succeed at home and worldwide. 

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