Australian AI plan promises new money and standards overhaul

By on 22/06/2021 | Updated on 22/06/2021
Australia’s new AI plan aims to boost growth in the sector, strengthen skills and address ethical concerns. Image by Beverley Yuen Thompson

The Australian government will establish a new national AI centre, overhaul its public sector data standards and boost its direct investment in AI to almost half a billion Australian dollars since 2018, under its new “AI action plan”.

The strategy is aimed at reaping the benefits from, while curbing the potential harms of, the cutting-edge technology.

“We are committed to ensuring everyone has an opportunity to benefit from these new technologies, and that their use and development reflects Australia’s diverse community,” said Christian Porter, Australia’s Industry, Science and Technology Minister.

According to a recent UNESCO report, over 30 countries adopted AI strategies between 2016 and 2020.

Commercial leadership

The plan is aimed at making Australia a “global leader” in AI. “Taking these steps will lift our competitive capabilities, enable industry-wide transformation and secure Australia’s future prosperity by unlocking local jobs and economic growth,” the report said.

One flagship measure is the creation of five new public bodies, with an investment of A$53.8 million (US$40.4m).

A new National AI Centre will “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”.

Meanwhile, four AI and Digital Capability Centres will “help SMEs to adopt AI by providing access to cutting edge AI technology and experts”.

Research capacity in the country will be bolstered by measures including the establishment of a new A$20 million (US$15m) Centre for Augmented Reasoning at the University of Adelaide, and ongoing awards from the Australian Research Council.

And a challenge-based approach will drive further investment in businesses. For example, AI Solutions to Build a Stronger Australia, a A$33.7 million (US$25.3m) programme, will “work in partnership with industry to leverage private expertise to solve national challenges”.

Ethical underpinning

AI technologies have generated public concern globally over ethical infractions, including on privacy grounds, and fears that racial and other biases may be transposed into assisted decision-making software.

To mitigate these potential issues, the government will put more weight behind the adoption of its existing AI Ethics Principles, published in 2019, including publishing “case studies from [the] pilot of the principles with industry”.

The government will also “continue to ensure that Australia is represented internationally in multilateral and multi-stakeholder forums and processes” such as the Global Partnership on AI.

Meanwhile, the government is reviewing a range of existing legislation, and developing some new guidance, on privacy and data sharing.

This includes a review of the country’s 1988 Privacy Act “to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose in the context of more personal information about individuals being captured and processed”.

And, following the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, the government is committed to “Setting standards for the safe and transparent sharing of public sector data”.

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