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By Alison Donnellan 17 September 2019 4 min read

Originally published by

Like electricity, artificial intelligence (AI) is a general purpose technology that has the potential to drastically alter societies through its impact on economic and social structures.

The AI revolution is not on the horizon — it’s already here. In fact, AI is estimated to generate $13 trillion in economic activity across the world by 2030.

AI and machine learning systems are being rapidly adopted around the world, in our households, businesses and governments. In broad terms, AI refers to data-driven algorithms that can autonomously solve problems and performs tasks without human guidance.

The many fields of science encapsulated within AI including machine learning, natural language programming, deep learning (neural networks), computer vision and robotics. The technology underpins all manner of systems, services and products that we rely on every day from search engines and ride-sharing apps to mobile banking and fraud detection.

How the country can capture the billion-dollar AI opportunity will be a major topic of discussion at D61+ LIVE[Link will open in a new window], Australia’s premier science, technology and innovation event hosted by CSIRO’s Data61 on 2-3 October.

Lifting productivity with tech

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO’s Chief Executive

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO’s Chief Executive believes science and technology can lift productivity and create new value for Australia.

“There is no doubt AI is creating new value across multiple industries, it is already part of our daily lives,” Dr Marshall said.

“As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO is using AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics, to solve our wickedest challenges, when they involve way too many variables for humans to readily manage – AI is enabling us to better predict weather, energy use, and to analyse genetics to better serve health and ageing, and to hold up our crop yields despite environmental change.

“Today Australia already has globally leading capability in a number of AI streams, including in machine learning and robots through CSIRO. Coupled with deep industry knowledge, applications of AI are here and now – not the stuff of science fiction.”

Building a positive AI future

Earlier this year the Australian Government released Artificial Intelligence: Australia's Ethics Framework[Link will open in a new window], a discussion paper developed by CSIRO’s Data61, to encourage a conversation on how Australia develops and uses AI.

The discussion paper states that “Australia is a party to seven core human rights agreements which have shaped our laws. An ethics framework for AI is not about rewriting these laws or ethical standards, it is about updating them to ensure that existing laws and ethical principles can be applied in the context of new AI technologies.”

"The draft framework contextualises these age-old ethical considerations in the light of new technology, so everyone can have a say in inventing the future we need so our children can keep pace with emerging technologies like AI," Dr Marshall said.

The core principles of AI outlined by the framework include the need for AI systems to be fair, transparent, explainable, and to generate net benefits. They must do no harm, comply with laws and regulations and ensure people’s private data is protected. AI systems must also be contestable, and the people and organisations behind algorithms must be held accountable for their impacts.

With a proactive approach to the ethical development of AI, Australia can do more than just mitigate against risks — if we can build AI for a fairer go, we can secure a competitive advantage as well as safeguard the rights of Australians.

AI will augment humans

According to Dr Sue Keay, Cyber-Physical Systems Research Director at CSIRO’s Data61, robotics and autonomous systems are a critical pillar of artificial intelligence, and the sector is expected to be worth $23 billion by 2025.

“These systems can improve productivity and assist human workers in taking on often dangerous or repetitive tasks, freeing up time for them to engage in higher-value activities,” Dr Keay said.

“Australia was the first country to automate its ports through the introduction of automated straddle carriers at the Port of Brisbane in 2007, while our mining sector has been a rapid adopter of autonomous vehicles and drones.

“We need to be sensitive that some jobs will certainly be displaced, but artificial intelligence will assist and augment human capabilities and create new jobs along the way. The World Economic Forum anticipates that by 2022 artificial intelligence is expected to displace 75 million jobs and create 133 million new ones — a net increase of 58 million. We need to make sure we help people to transition into these new jobs.”

Barely scratched the surface

Dr Richard Nock, Machine Learning Group Leader at CSIRO’s Data61, said AI and machine learning can accelerate both scientific breakthroughs and malicious technologies.

“We’re seeing an arms race around deepfakes with recent targets ranging from politicians to celebrities. Adversarial attacks, a technique employed to fool machine learning models through the input of malicious data causing them to malfunction, are a growing concern.

“But the research community is making great strides. At Data61 we’ve developed a world-first set of techniques to effectively 'vaccinate' algorithms against adversarial attacks, a significant advancement in machine learning research.

“It’s an exciting time to be an AI researcher. We’re in the midst of a Cambrian explosion of machine learning, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of this technology.” Dr Nock said.

Australia has a $315 billion opportunity in digital innovation, underpinned by AI and related technologies. As a country we risk missing out on this opportunity if we don’t move fast to secure our place in the global AI race.

The country’s leading AI experts and technologists, including David Thodey AO, Dr Sue Keay, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz and Prof Genevieve Bell from the 3A Institute will take the stage at D61+ LIVE[Link will open in a new window] in Sydney across Wednesday 2 October to Thursday 3 October.

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