Government prepares for rise of AI, the ‘petroleum of the 21st century’


June 14, 2019 05:04:13

The Federal Government is close to finalising guidelines that will try to keep Australians safe as the world adopts artificial intelligence.

Key points:

  • The Government included more than $29 million in its last budget to help support the responsible development of artificial intelligence
  • At G20 meetings in Japan, Federal Minister for Technology Karen Andrews learned how other nations are preparing for AI
  • Businesses are still weighing up the benefits of AI as cyber-security experts warn of increased security risks

But cyber-security experts warn Australian companies are already vulnerable to hackers, and AI could make that situation even worse.

Federal Minister for Technology Karen Andrews said the Government had recently sought feedback on the use of AI and wanted to ensure the technology remained ethical and secure.

She also attended G20 meetings in Japan over the past week and heard how other nations were approaching AI.

“Clearly all of the member countries that were there regard AI as a critical issue for the future,” Ms Andrews said.

“I think it was referred to as the petroleum of the 21st century.

“I think it’s fair to say that the impact of AI will make a significant difference to the way we work and the way we live, and it’s important that we make sure that we get the policy settings right.”

The Government included more than $29 million in its last budget to help grow the sector and support the responsible development of artificial intelligence.

Ms Andrews said that included focusing on cyber security and looking at what legislation was needed to protect people.

“Some people are concerned that artificial intelligence will lead to a reduction in job opportunities and will lead to job losses,” she said.

“So training people to transition to other industries will be a key part of our future policy with artificial intelligence.”

Pros and cons of AI still being debated

Melbourne-based cosmetics manufacturer Ego Pharmaceuticals is one of many Australian companies currently weighing up the risks and benefits of AI.

“I don’t think there’s any choice other than to adopt the technology as it develops,” engineering manager Stuart Haas said.

“We’re preparing two steps ahead and we’re likely to implement one step behind.

“There’s analytics out there right now and there’s some self-learning [AI] algorithms which are available in the marketplace.

“But we’re still waiting for it to really be entrenched as a good, reliable and robust kind of solution before we implement it into our business.”

But cyber-security experts warn AI could escalate risks to Australian businesses.

“We’re still seeing organisations being routinely broken into,” Fergus Hanson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said.

“We see the Australian Parliament being broken into, it takes measures to defend itself, then it gets broken into again.

“As we start moving more into that automated space, you’ve basically got an escalation of the same situation.

“We’re just going to be swapping out human operators for machines.”

But Professor Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh from the University of New South Wales said AI could also help companies fend off cyber attacks.

“The only way you’re going to be able to deal with the volume of attacks coming at you, for big corporations like banks, is going to be with more sophisticated AI-based software,” he said.

Professor Walsh said he was pleased the Government was showing an interest in AI.

But he said other nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and China were putting billions of dollars towards AI and Australia could not afford to be left behind.

“There’s great potential — Australia punches above its weight in AI and we are five times world champion at robot soccer,” he said.

“The return is going to be immense and we obviously need to be investing in this space.”

The Federal Government will release its roadmap on the future use of AI later this year and is expecting industries such as tourism, mining and agriculture to one day reap the benefits of the technology.

Philip Chan from livestock management software company AgriWebb said there was already a lot of interest in AI within the agriculture industry.

“The types of areas we’re looking [to apply] AI are around getting better recommendations for generating grazing plans across an entire property, specific to the animal you’ve got in each paddock, their dietary requirements and the type of weight objectives or condition score objectives you’re trying to get them to,” he said.

“AI could be used to help understand some of those dynamics.”







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