How Australian organisations can benefit from the national AI Action Plan

Following the launch of Australia’s first AI action plan, local analysts give their views on what works and what could be improved for the plan to be successful.

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To place Australia as a global leader in developing and adopting trusted, secure, and responsible artificial intelligence, the federal government has launched the Artificial Intelligence Action Plan.

The action plan, which comes 15 months after the AI roadmap was announced, is divided in four areas of focus, and each one has a list of direct measures, programs, and incentives to drive the growth of technology and digital skills and foundational policy settings.

Developing and adopting AI to transform Australian businesses

The first focus area will see support to help businesses develop and adopt AI technologies to create jobs and increase their productivity and competitiveness.

IDC senior analyst John Feng says the action plan is one step forward from the roadmap. “The action plan includes incentives on AI adoption, development of Australia's AI capabilities, and building the Australian AI talent pool. All are important components in strengthening the Australian AI ecosystem,” he tells Computerworld Australia.

The direct measures for developing and adopting AI include establishing the national AI centre and four AI and digital capability centres to drive a national approach to AI and support adoption, catalyse the AI opportunity in the region by funding AI projects tailored for regional areas of Australia, and support industry-led AI focused cooperative research centres’ projects.

Feng says that the focus on helping small businesses in regional areas to adopt AI will reduce the AI adoption gap between the corporate sector and small businesses and to create a broad Australian user base of AI, laying the foundation for a broad domestic market for AI technology. “A strong domestic market will in turn foster innovation and investment,” he says.

To drive technology and digital skills growth, the plan proposes to take advantage of several programs announced by the federal government such as Digital Business-to-Business (B2B) Partnerships Initiative.

The foundational policy settings backing this focus area include R&D tax incentives, early-stage venture capital limited partnerships (ESVCLPs), and venture capital limited partnerships (VCLPs).

Feng says that these incentives to attract more investment into developing local AI technology are welcome steps. “What could be added is government-backed grants that provide the seed funding for AI startups to get the first kick off the ground. Government-backed investment will increase the attractiveness of AI start-ups to later stage investors as well.”

Creating an environment to grow and attract the world’s best AI talent

For the second focus area, the AI Action Plan proposes to ensure businesses have access to world-class talent and expertise.

The direct measures for creating an environment to grow and attract AI talent are to train the next generation of industry-ready AI graduates and to establish the Centre for Augmented Reasoning at the University of Adelaide, backed by $20 million from the federal government.

To drive technology and digital skills growth, there are several packages for graduate and cadetship programs.

The foundational policy settings backing this focus area are the University Research Commercialisation Scheme, the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce, the Job Ready Graduates package and JobTrainer Fund, and the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy to help businesses and group training organisations take on new apprentices and trainees.

“The action plan's talent focus is mainly on building up national talent, although the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce is targeting top talents globally,” Feng says. “To get the Australian AI ecosystem up to speed more quickly, Australia needs to be more open to a broader base of global talents. A broad talent pool will help connect Australian AI ecosystem with other innovation centres as well.”

Using cutting-edge AI technologies to solve Australia’s national challenges

The third focus area is about support to harness Australia’s world-leading AI research capabilities to solve national challenges and to ensure all Australians have an opportunity to benefit from AI.

As part of the direct measures, the Australian government will provide $33.7 million to establish the AI Solutions to Build a Stronger Australia program. CSIRO’s Machine Learning and AI Future Science Platform is exploring questions such as how to provide explainable AI for decision-making to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The federal government awarded $19 million in transformative medical research projects using AI through the Medical Research Future Fund, which aims to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives.

To drive growth of technology and digital skills, the plan aims to provide safe, secure digital health services and technologies and look at how the Business Research and Innovation Initiative addresses challenges faced by government in policy and service delivery areas.

The foundational policy settings behind this focus area are the Digital Atlas of Australia, which will facilitate new, detailed analyses of Australia’s demographics by combining a range of sources including infrastructure, environment, health, and employment datasets.

“The use of cutting edge AI technologies to address Australia’s national challenges is a mixed bag at the moment, so it’s good to see an action plan,” Gartner ANZ VP of executive programs Brian Ferreira tells Computerworld Australia. “With this plan, the federal government has set key execution pillars, commenced policy setting, and raised it to Cabinet level.”

Making Australia a global leader in responsible and inclusive AI

The fourth focus area provides support to ensure AI is inclusive and technologies are built to reflect Australian values. This includes looking into ethics and principles when applying AI, which some agencies have already started doing.

Other direct measures include support Australia’s AI values internationally within international forums and promote the benefits of AI through engagement with business and the Australian public.

Ferreira says that building these key capability foundations is certainly a focus at the moment. “In commercial sector, we are seeing an increase in AI business education and the democratisation of AI for advanced business decision-making. As a nation we are certainly approaching AI with great intent. It is all about establishing and embedding the foundations for industry to enable execution,” he says.

To drive technology and digital skills growth a review of the Privacy Act to ensure privacy settings empower consumers, protect their data, and best serve the Australian economy is being considered. The plan also focusses on increasing the numbers of female founders as well as the next generation of women in STEM careers.

The foundational policy settings for this focus area include the Australian Data Strategy and the consumer data right.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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