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AI needs to be built to reflect the values of the Australian community

The Australian Government recognises that to reap the benefits of AI it is vital that all Australians, from businesses to consumers, have trust in the technology. Australians need to be able to trust that the technology will be used responsibly and safely, and that AI promotes and improves inclusivity. As shown in Figure 3, while public acceptance of AI is trending positively, there is still a significant proportion of Australians who are hesitant about these new technologies (Lockey et al. 2020). Unless negative outcomes are minimised, lack of trust in AI technology will continue to be a major barrier to adopting and applying AI.

The Australian Government released the AI Ethics Framework in 2019 to guide businesses and governments developing and implementing AI in Australia. The framework includes 8 AI ethics principles to:

  • help reduce the risk of negative impacts from AI
  • ensure the use of AI is supported by good governance standards.

The AI Ethics Framework affirms our commitment to the OECD Principles on AI – to promote AI that is innovative, trustworthy and that respects human rights and democratic values. The release of the AI Ethics Framework also reflects our decision to become a founding member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). Widespread adoption of the framework’s principles among business, government and academia will build trust in AI systems.

Government can also support businesses, consumers and the broader public to have the confidence to actively participate in the digital economy. It can do this by providing regulation that is clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose. The Australian Government is undertaking a range of initiatives that review existing regulations and develop meaningful guidance on the sharing and use of data. These include:

  • reviewing the Privacy Act 1988 to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose in the context of more personal information about individuals being captured and processed
  • delivering the forthcoming Australian Data Strategy to set out the government’s objectives on enabling safe and secure data use across the economy
  • setting standards for the safe and transparent sharing of public sector data, as authorised under the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020.

The National Cabinet also agreed to develop an intergovernmental data-sharing agreement to ensure jurisdictions can capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians.

The government will also consider the recently completed report of the Australian Human Rights Commission into Human Rights and Technology, which considered the human rights implications of new technology.

To be a global leader in AI, it is also important that all Australians have the opportunity to be involved. The Australian Government recognises the need for this effort to be inclusive. For example, women made up just 19% of domestic ICT enrolments in 2019 (DESE 2020). A diverse and inclusive AI workforce will mean that Australia is better able to benefit from varied approaches to problem solving (UNESCO 2020). It will promote Australia as a destination for responsible and ethical AI. As such, the government continues to promote avenues to increase the diversity and representation in the AI workforce. The government’s Next Generation Women in STEM measure will provide scholarships for women studying STEM courses, including AI. This measure builds on other initiatives the government has undertaken to increase the proportion of women in STEM professions and studies.

Australia’s trade links with neighbouring countries are a major factor in our economic success, and there are rapidly increasing digital export opportunities in the region. International cooperation plays an important role in shaping technology standards, norms and ethics in line with our values. Building on partnerships and collaborations will help grow international trust in Australian AI products. These will also ensure our interests are supported through our involvement in international standard setting.

This leadership will ensure that as we develop our AI capability, it will align with our values. It will also ensure all Australians share the opportunities and benefits.

Figure 3: Trust in AI

Figure 3 shows two bar graphs. The top bar graph shows that while over 40% of people surveyed accept AI, there is still a substantial percentage of people who only ‘tolerate’ or even ‘reject’ AI technologies. The bottom bar graph shows that there is a substantial percentage of people who perceive the risks of AI to be of equal or greater than the benefits provided by AI.

Source: Lockey et al. (2020), used with permission.


AI direct measures

Progress the implementation of Australia’s AI Ethics Principles – Some Australian Public Service (APS) agencies are already considering the AI ethics principles when applying AI. In addition, the Australian Government will publish case studies from its pilot of the principles with industry. The case studies will share lessons learnt to help other businesses to apply the principles and to inspire more businesses to do this. The businesses that participated in the pilot were Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Flamingo AI, Insurance Australia Group, Microsoft, the National Australia Bank and Telstra.

Continue to support Australia’s AI values internationally – The Australian Government will continue to ensure that Australia is represented internationally in multilateral and multi-stakeholder forums and processes. This includes:

  • our representation on the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI)
  • standards setting
  • through our wider implementation of the International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy.

These processes can shape global standards, including ethical principles and frameworks on AI in ways that are consistent with Australian values.

Promote the benefits of AI through engagement with business and the Australian public – The Australian Government will continue to engage and have transparent and open conversations around the use of AI. Forums, such as Techtonic, will provide mechanisms where the benefits and uses of AI can be promoted and shared.

Driving the growth of technology and digital skills

The review of the Privacy Act 1988 will ensure that its privacy settings empower consumers to protect their data and best serve the Australian economy. The review is part of the government’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry. The review seeks to:

  • bring Australia’s privacy laws into the digital era
  • strengthen privacy protections for individuals
  • streamline compliance for businesses working across international borders.

The appropriate settings for the safe and transparent sharing of public sector data will be established and authorised under the Data Availability and Transparency (DAT) Bill 2020. The DAT Bill will modernise government data sharing and use. It will improve how the Australian Government shares and uses its data to benefit Australians through more effective policies, programs, and improve service delivery and research outcomes. The DAT Bill will also enable greater sharing of government data with researchers and businesses for the purposes of improving policy, program and research and development outcomes.

The Boosting Female Founders Initiative supports startups founded by women to grow and scale into domestic and global markets by providing access to early stage capital. The program also provides expert mentoring and advice to applicants. This in turn boosts the economy by increasing the diversity of startup founders.

The Boosting the Next Generation of Women in STEM program is providing $42.4 million to support up to 500 industry co-funded scholarships for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Women are significantly underrepresented in STEM education. The scholarships will:

  • support women to build the cross-cutting and multi-disciplinary skillsets sought by industry
  • foster the next wave of mentors and role-models
  • support women to re-tool and re-enter the workforce.

Foundational policy settings

The Australian Data Strategy will outline a clear vision for maximising data driven innovation across the economy by improving access to data, data sharing arrangements, data asset management and strengthening collaboration on data. This will provide greater access to uniquely Australian datasets and ensure that AI technologies are optimised for use in the Australian context.

The Consumer Data Right gives consumers greater access to and control over their data. By improving consumers’ ability to compare and switch between products and services, it encourages competition between service providers and drives innovation.

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