Seizing the AI opportunity in Australia
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to be applied to almost every Industry in Australia, an application that could see a level of industrial transformation and productivity not seen before, and a new understanding of what humanity is capable of.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the name given to a range of interrelated technologies that can be used to solve problems and perform tasks to achieve specific objectives, without explicit guidance from a human being.
Machine learning (ML), which is often blurred with AI, is a slight misnomer, but remains at the core of AI. Machines do not ‘learn’ as humans do, but rather learn to improve themselves using vast amounts of data, and in some cases, not much data at all. They can be engineered to adapt to complex changing environments, and used to make predictions and conclusions on the basis of data.
There are many other fields of science and technology which are considered to be core to AI as well, such as robotics, computer vision and human language technologies, which could each have powerful practical applications in performing useful functions, and potentially transformative impacts on entire economies and societies.
| Why AI matters to Australia
Australia, like many other advanced economies around the world, is currently facing economic growth challenges related to an ageing population and low growth in productivity.
By creating the potential for industry to make better products, and deliver better services that are faster, cheaper and more safe, AI represents a significant opportunity to mitigate these challenges by boosting productivity in Australia, enhancing our national economy, and unlocking new societal and environmental value.
The potential of AI to improve productivity is supported by several economic studies, including one by consulting firm AlphaBeta and CSIRO’s Data61, which has estimated that digital technologies, including AI, are potentially worth a sizeable $315 billion to the national economy by 2028.
Australia is well-positioned to emerge as a leader in certain aspects of AI research and development and generate significant global returns from being an early adopter, however, our current rate of adoption is comparatively weak and not organised nationally to capitalise. As such, if there is not an increase in investment in AI development and implementation, we run the risk of being economically left behind, as other advanced economies expand their investments and reap the benefits of the economic gains that AI can offer.
There is evidence of widespread development and application of AI technology already in Australian organisations, and strong AI capability across the nation, however, there is a clear need to capitalise on further opportunities that AI offers, and create new opportunities, for the benefit of the Australian economy.
| How Australia can develop and strengthen its AI capabilities
Transforming Australia into an AI-enabled economy represents a complex policy and strategy challenge. CSIRO’s Data61’s Insights team has identified three broad strategic approaches for technology development, which could be used to realise AI objectives for Australia.
Identifying and developing targeted areas of AI specialisation for Australia, along with other initiatives, could be an effective approach for building capacity across the entire economy.
There is much evidence that technological specialisation can boost economic growth, particularly in advanced economies like Australia. Specialisation allows a country to decrease the costs of production and produce a higher quality product, by selecting a small number of high potential areas of AI-related technological capability and targeting resources to accelerate innovation, integration and adoption in those chosen areas.
This targeted approach makes it difficult for other countries to compete, however, there are also some risks. The most significant risk is failing to specialise in the correct area of science and technology due to future changes in consumer demand, or the emergence of competition from other industries worldwide.
This can be mitigated via an adaptive and balanced specialisation strategy; the Australian Government could also consider leading the coordination of such a strategy with industry and researchers.
Mission Directed Research
A mission-directed approach to technology development aims to identify and solve specific national problems and challenges, and could complement technological specialisations.
For example, Australia might want to set a bold target around using AI to rapidly boost early diagnosis of cancer. This could have the effect of consolidating our national capability in cancer research and diagnosis, and generating spin-off companies and industries that will solely focus on achieving this target.
These spin-off companies and industries could subsequently export the solutions globally.
Business and Knowledge Ecosystems
Ecosystem strategies aim to map and model the entire network of institutions, resources and/or individuals relevant to business objectives. They look beyond organisational and jurisdictional boundaries, to the flow of ideas and resources, and could be an effective way of developing AI capability rather than building entirely new centralised institutions.
Given that Australia’s AI capability is distributed across multiple public and private sector institutions, research organisations and diverse geographic locations, ecosystem designs could be an effective approach to transform our industries into AI-enabled industries.
Apple, Google (Alphabet), Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and others have seen unprecedented rates of growth due to adopting ecosystem models within their organisational structures and cultures. In Australia, the Commonwealth Bank has implemented a new business ecosystem approach, as a way of understanding the interdependencies of a business against surrounding businesses and environments, and due to it being an effective way of supplying data-driven insights to their customers.
| Priority actions for governments, industries and communities
In order for Australia to take full advantage of the potential benefits of AI technologies, it will be critical to build the right environment for effective adoption, adaptation and development. Barriers to innovation, growth and adoption need to be removed, and government, industry and community organisations need to be the catalyst.
There are seven key things that need to be done in order to prepare for a future with AI:
- Develop an AI specialist technical workforce to meet the operational needs of industry. We estimate that up to 161,000 AI specialist workers will be needed by 2030.
- Help workers whose jobs are likely to be positively or negatively impacted by AI and related digital technologies make early and strategic career transitions.
- Ensure effective data governance and access as AI is typically data hungry and machine learning algorithms need ‘training data’ to be developed and tested.
- Build trust in AI by ensuring high standards and transparency for all applications developed and applied in Australia because without trust people are unlikely to adopt AI technologies.
- Increase the activity within the science, research and technology development pipeline to ensure advanced AI capabilities for government and industry in the future.
- Improve digital infrastructure (for data transmission, storage, analysis and acquisition) and cybersecurity so that AI can be safely and effectively used across Australian cities and regions.
- Develop appropriate systems and standards to ensure safe, quality‑assured, interoperable.
A number of strategies and collaboration across industries, governments and communities is necessary to achieve these goals, and keep Australia competitive and prepared for an AI-capable future.
Data61’s AI Roadmap, developed in conjunction with the Australian Government, details the opportunities for Australia to capitalise on AI, and offers recommendations on how to make an AI-effective future a reality.
Download the AI Roadmap here.