Data economy means more change to Australia than the internet

By Adrian Turner, CEO, CSIRO's Data61May 28th, 2019

In his latest op-ed in the Australian Financial Review, CSIRO’s Data61 CEO Adrian Turner looks at the 15-year rise of platform companies going unchecked, and why it’s time for Australia to take the lead in setting an ethical framework for data collection.

Data economy means more change to Australia than the internet

It seems we’re quick to judge the limitations of today’s artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently reported testing a high-profile facial recognition tool that incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with a mugshot database and convicted criminals. Many AI systems are flawed, but so are we.

Cognitive biases which humans experience are systematic deviations from rationality in our judgment that often blind us and influence our decision making. In fact there are more than 180 documented cognitive biases, including confirmation bias that occurs when we’ve already made a decision and then seek data after the fact to support it.

There is also short termism, which refers to the bias that leads us to focus on short-term decisions that can be rationalised now despite adding no long-term value. Our cognitive biases also influence future predictions, causing us to interpret available data as true and think that future probabilities will be influenced by past events. We favour simple-looking options and complete information over more complex and ambiguous paths.

AI technology and data innovation


AI holds enormous promise to solve Australia’s most significant problems.

The irony is that these same biases can cloud our collective judgment about the impact and immediacy of a new set of global data economics, underpinned by emerging AI technologies. The shift towards data economics in industry has been breathtaking; seven of the top 10 global companies by market capitalisation are platform companies and three of those are now valued in excess of $1 trillion.

Platform companies are naturally monopolistic and their 15-year rise has gone largely unchecked. It’s resulting in a manic race to create or access valuable data sets that can feed machine-learning systems to automate decision making and infer future events and behaviours across most sectors of the economy.

The data economy is not going away, it’s accelerating and already driving massive structural shifts that have the potential to change Australia more profoundly than electricity, rail or internet connectivity.

Australia's data economy

AI holds enormous promise to solve Australia’s most significant problems, such as climate change, cybersecurity, personalised medicine, more efficient cities, and sustainable energy and food.

It’s expected to contribute about $US13 trillion ($18 trillion) of additional global economic activity by 2030. Arguably much of the opportunity framing until now has been on the economic benefits, which are critical but only if they also deliver societal benefit.

So far, the jury is out.



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