Australia needs to speed up its response to the AI revolution

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Far from a future fantasy, University of South Australia Professor of Sociology, Anthony Elliott says the Artificial Intelligence revolution is right here, right now.

Co-author of a report – The effective and ethical development of artificial intelligence – commissioned by the National Science and Technology Council and Australia’s Chief Scientist and released in Canberra, Prof Elliott says Australian governments and industries need to integrate an understanding of the impacts of AI into their planning swiftly.

“We are already witnessing the spread of advanced AI which is mobile, situationally aware and adaptive and is in real-time communication with other intelligent machines,” Prof Elliott says.

“Robots move boxes in factories as well as conduct shelf-auditing in supermarkets, and complex algorithms complete tax returns and trade on financial markets – this is all happening now.

“We have to be much more interventionist, and craft policy-thinking to cope with the unexpected, unanticipated shifts stemming from the digital revolution.”

The report, undertaken by the Australian Council of Learned Academies and supported by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Research Council, and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science – sets out a far-reaching series of findings seeking to improve Australia’s economic, societal and environmental well-being.

Author of a major new book The Culture of AI, Professor Elliott, says the ACOLA report will be highly significant for the governance and harnessing of AI for 21st-Century Australia.

“Australia has come to this review quite late – most advanced countries have already completed government-sponsored reviews of AI,” Prof Elliott says.

“In the UK, the House of Lords Select Committee on AI really set the bench-mark for the kind of policy-rich analysis that governments require.”

He says now that the ACOLA report has been delivered it is an important start for public discussion in Australia about AI.

“What is now urgently needed is a national summit on AI – involving politicians, policy-makers, business and industry leaders, and community representatives,” Prof Elliott says.

“A summit would provide an opportunity to consider how Australia might best fashion a common framework for the ethical development of AI, both at the domestic and global levels.”

The ACOLA report sets out parameters for a clear national AI framework which will be vital to a range of emerging ethical, legal and social issues facing Australia this century.

The main elements of that national framework include:

  • Educational offerings that foster public understanding and awareness of AI.
  • Guidelines and advice for procurement of AI, especially for the public sector and SMEs.
  • Enhanced and responsive governance and regulatory mechanisms to deal with issues arising from cyber-physical systems and AI.
  • Integrated interdisciplinary design and development requirements for AI and cyber-physical systems that have positive social impacts.
  • Investment in the core science of AI and translational research, as well as in AI skills.

Prof Elliott says the real challenge ahead for Australia is finding a balance between innovation and risk.

“We need to find a way to balance the promise of unprecedented technological transformation of manufacturing, infrastructure and the economy on the one side, and the growing risks of technological unemployment and autonomous weapons on the other,” he says.

Source: UniSA

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