News

Let’s be smart about artificial intelligence

July 30 2019

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already changing the world around us but to maximise the benefits – and minimise the risks – Australia needs to develop a national framework.

That’s the conclusion of a report launched today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), entitled The Effective and Ethical Development of Artificial Intelligence: An Opportunity to Develop Our Wellbeing.

The report defines AI as “the collection of interrelated technologies, such as natural language processing, speech recognition, computer vision, machine learning and automated reasoning that gives machines the ability to perform tasks and solve problems that would otherwise require human cognition”.

Drawn up by a panel of experts including two Fellows of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the report proposes an independent AI body that could lead five key actions:

  • Educational platforms to foster public understanding
  • Guidelines for public sector and SME procurement
  • Better governance of issues arising from AI
  • Designing AI to have positive social impacts
  • Investment in the core science of AI

Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE, Chair of the ACOLA Board and Academy President, said: “By bringing together Australia’s leading experts from the sciences, technology and engineering, humanities, arts and social sciences, this ACOLA report comprehensively examines the key issues arising from the development and implementation of AI technologies, and importantly places the wellbeing of society at the centre of any development.”

Launching the report, Australia’s Chief Scientist and former Academy President Dr Alan Finkel AO FTSE, emphasised that nations had choices.

“This report was commissioned by the National Science and Technology Council to develop an intellectual context for our human society to turn to in deciding what living well in this new era will mean,” Dr Finkel said.

“What kind of society do we want to be? That is the crucial question for all Australians, and for governments as our elected representatives.”

Next-generation robotics promise to transform our manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture sectors; advances in natural language processing are revolutionising the way clinicians interpret the results of diagnostic tests and treat patients

The findings recognise the importance of having a national strategy, a community awareness campaign, safe and accessible digital infrastructure, a responsive regulatory system and a diverse and highly skilled workforce.

New techniques of machine learning are spurring unprecedented developments in AI applications.

Next-generation robotics promise to transform our manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture sectors; advances in natural language processing are revolutionising the way clinicians interpret the results of diagnostic tests and treat patients; and chatbots and automated assistants are ushering in a new world of communication, analytics and customer service.

Unmanned autonomous vehicles are changing our capacities for defence, security and emergency response; intelligent financial technologies are establishing a more accountable, transparent and risk-aware financial sector; and autonomous vehicles will revolutionise transport.

Professor Toby Walsh, co-chair of the ACOLA expert panel, said: “With careful planning, AI offers great opportunities for Australia, provided we ensure that the use of the technology does not compromise our human values. As a nation, we should look to set the global example for the responsible adoption of AI.”

The two Academy Fellows on the expert panel were Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell FTSE, Director of the 3A Institute at the Australian National University, and a Vice-President and Senior Fellow at Intel, and Professor Iven Mareels FTSE, Lab Director at IBM Research Australia.

ACOLA’s report is the fourth in the Horizon Scanning series, each scoping the human implications of fast-evolving technologies in the decade ahead.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering is a member of ACOLA, along with the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Australian Academy of Science and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.