Australia ploughs AUS$44m into new AI centres as part of national action plan

By on 11/04/2022 | Updated on 12/04/2022
Artists image of a human brain
The plans form part of the government’s Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, which seeks to position Australia as a global leader in developing and adopting “trusted, secure and responsible” AI

The Australian federal government is to invest AUS$44m (US$32.6m) in four new artificial intelligence (AI) and digital capability centres to stimulate growth and employment.

The investment aims to give small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) access to local expertise to enable them to develop and adopt AI technologies that will generate jobs and lead to economic growth.

This forms part of the federal government’s Artificial Intelligence Action Plan, which seeks to position Australia as a global leader in developing and adopting “trusted, secure and responsible” AI.

According to the government website, the centres’ objectives are to establish a “front door” for SMEs to access expertise and innovative technologies to adopt, adapt, test and deploy AI; foster collaboration and connect SMEs with opportunities to lift productivity and drive commercialisation; coordinate the growth of Australia’s AI ecosystem; and lift SME capabilities so they can confidently adopt AI solutions.

“Our government will continue to bolster the growth of AI by increasing the sharing of knowledge, supporting shared projects, and promoting long-term job creation,” said Melissa Price, minister for science and technology. “By requiring the centres to focus on a priority area we can tailor the support for businesses to drive our manufacturing capability.”

Price said grants of up to AUS$11m (US$8.2m) would be available to set up each of the four centres.

Grant applicants will have to show how their proposed capability centre will “lower the barriers of entry for AI adoption, improve the skills, confidence and capability of SMEs to adopt, adapt and develop AI solutions”, and that their team has the “capacity, capability and resources to deliver the project”, Price said.

Read more: Being smart with artificial intelligence: deploying AI in the public sector

Groups applying for the grants must seek to apply AI in ways that either advance the national manufacturing priorities set out under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, or the Digital Economy Strategy’s digital growth priorities.

Applicants will also have to show “the extent that [the] project complements, builds on and does not duplicate existing or planned research and engagement activities” as well as “how [the] capability centre will support the AI ecosystem of expertise and capability by working with non-project partners on collaborative projects”.

Applications must be made together with at least one Australian industry partner in order to ​build on an existing technology, manufacturing hub or university. Applicants must also contribute 25% of the total project’s expenditure. The closing date for applications is 12 May.

From national AI centre to local ones

In 2021, the Australian government established its National Artificial Intelligence Centre. The move came as part of the AUS$124.1m (US$92m) AI action plan, which also includes overhauling the country’s public sector data standards and boosting direct investment in AI to almost half a billion Australian dollars.

The aim of the national AI centre is to “coordinate Australia’s AI expertise and capabilities” and “address barriers that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face in adopting and developing AI and emerging technologies”, according to the Action Plan document.

The four new centres will work alongside the national AI centre at CSIRO’s Data61.

Christian Porter, Australia’s then industry, science and technology minister, said at the launch of the action plan last year that government was “committed to ensuring everyone has an opportunity to benefit from these new technologies, and that their use and development reflects Australia’s diverse community”.

Over 30 countries adopted AI strategies between 2016 and 2020, according to a report by UNESCO. Those that have strategies in place include Singapore, Brazil, the UK, Scotland, and Indonesia.

Read more: Australian AI plan promises new money and standards overhaul

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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