Overall however, Australia is lagging global leaders. Alpha Beta estimate that only 9.1 per cent of Australia’s publically listed companies are investing significantly in automation, compared with a leading country average of 13.9 per cent.
Within this context, we must as policy makers provide a clear perspective on the opportunities of the digital economy and what the Government is doing to ensure Australia can maximise the benefits of digital technologies for everyone.
And so in December, the Australian Government released its digital economy strategy: Australia’s Tech Future. The strategy was informed by over 350 stakeholders with 160 submissions from the business community, industry and all level of governments. More than 220 organisations were also engaged through one-on-one meetings and workshops.
One of the strongest messages we heard during consultation was the need for any strategy to be focused on people. Digital technologies and AI have the potential to foster a more inclusive society and improve the lives of all Australian citizens.
This includes workers, consumers, children, the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, business owners, you and me.
If emerging technologies like AI are designed to benefit only some people, we are selling ourselves short. When used to the benefit of everyone, technology can improve the lives of some of the most disadvantaged and excluded people in our community.
Digital technologies are already delivering benefits by increasing the quality and distribution of government services. They are providing valuable data insights, and increasing the efficiency and productivity of the public service.
Consultations also identified the importance of digital government services. These services should be secure, fast and easy to use.
Australians expect the government to keep up with the private sector in terms of technology and service delivery. Australian Federal Agencies such as the Australian Tax Office, IP Australia and the Department of Human Services are using AI chat bots to improve citizen engagement and provide better services.
There are enormous efficiencies to be gained by using AI in government, and Australia is fostering an innovative public service so we can solve problems in new ways.
The rise of artificial intelligence will create new jobs and industries, and change the demand for different skills and capabilities.
We recognise that this will bring challenges for workers in jobs and industries that are changing or may be displaced. Australia is looking ahead to ensure workers are supported in the transition as the workforce changes, and people are equipped with the skills of the future.
The government has a history of supporting workers through transition, most recently when Australian automotive manufacturing operations moved offshore and 1,200 redundancies were announced in 2013.
Working with Holden and Toyota, the government ran the Skills and Training Initiative which re-skilled workers and prepared them for jobs in different sectors. The program was largely successful and so far 60% of workers have transitioned to new jobs and 20% have retired.
We also heard from industry and the business community that government can help businesses embrace new technologies by providing high‑quality digital infrastructure and data.
Just like building roads and power networks, the government is responsible for building the physical infrastructure required for satellite communication, high-powered computing infrastructure, and fast, reliable broadband.
The government and the private sector working together to provide this infrastructure is crucial for the adoption of new technologies like AI.
Initiatives such as the Mobile Black Spot Program are already delivering improved mobile communications in regional and remote communities.
The government is also upgrading Australia’s two Tier 1 high performance computing facilities. These facilities provide our researchers with the computational power they need to train the models that are the foundation of AI applications like image and speech recognition.
Access to data
As well as having good digital infrastructure, businesses need data. Data is the fuel for artificial intelligence. Not just the number of datasets, but the quality and diversity of datasets and being able to link them together is critical to developing machine learning algorithms.
Open data encourages innovation by lowering the barrier to entry for start-ups and smaller businesses.
Australia is leading the way on opening up its datasets to the public and we are proudly ranked 2nd of 94 countries on the 2017 Global Open Data Index.
The current Australian Government’s open data policy is ensuring that all government agencies make non-sensitive data open, free, high quality and easy to use.
But with the proliferation of data comes the need to keep citizens’ data safe and secure. This will require constant improvements to our domestic cyber security, which is being led at the government level by the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
Improving our cyber resilience will be important. If we can get this right, it will help safeguard our data, build trust in digital services and provide businesses with the confidence to invest.
By anticipating future industry needs, like cyber security, we can ensure that the future workforce has the skills to fulfil these roles.
The Australian school curriculum is strong in developing the soft skills that future industries will need—skills like creative problem solving, innovative thinking, collaboration and teamwork.
The government is also incorporating new technical skills into the curriculum.
One example is a new skills-based cyber security curriculum, which was developed as a collaborative effort between the government, industry and the education sector through The Cyber Security Industry Growth Centre to support the cyber security industry.
Another initiative is the AI in Schools program being delivered by the Department of Education. This program provides schools with the resources they need for both teachers and students to learn and be inspired by AI.
Building a strong business environment for digital technology also means implementing regulation that encourages investment.
The government must make sure the financial and innovation systems support business investment, frontier research and the translation of state of the art technology between research institutions and industry.
To realise the benefits of new technologies, the government needs to understand and manage the risks associated with them. This must be done by collaborating with citizens, businesses and academia to fully understand both the risks and benefits.
This will enable the government to develop fit for purpose, technology neutral regulatory approaches, which strike the right balance between enabling new tech innovation and safeguarding the Australian community.
Getting this balance right can be challenging. It’s hard to predict how new technologies will be developed and applied, and the challenge here is designing regulation that can keep up with a rapidly evolving industry.
Regulation can create a level playing field for both small and large businesses, and provides predictability to industry on acceptable practice, enabling forward looking investment, and can build trust for consumers and the broader community.
Autonomous vehicles are an excellent test case and the Office of Future Transport Technologies are coordinating with other governments and agencies to implement future transport technologies more successfully and responsibly.
Standards also play a role. Providing a starting point for innovation, reducing barriers to international trade and building consumer confidence that new products and services are safe and reliable.
Australia has already shown leadership on International Digital Trade Rules and Standards in the World Trade Organisation, through Australia’s Free Trade Agreements and with ASEAN Member States to develop, adopt and use international standards that promote digital trade.
Building trust in digital technologies and AI
A theme that I’m sure you have picked up on throughout this talk is trust.
Digital technologies and AI present enormous opportunities for Australia to increase stubborn productivity growth rates and improve the living standards of the community.
Experimentation and public discussion on AI has revealed particular challenges, such as the use of historical data in algorithms. It is important that these conversations are not driven by hyperbole, lest we erode trust and create unwarranted fear.
The challenge for us all will be developing and using digital technologies in a way that enhances our societal values. It will mean thinking carefully about how we employ data and having open conversations with a range of stakeholders.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is collaborating with Data61 to develop an AI Ethics Framework that establishes core guiding principles. The AI Ethics Framework has been a collective effort between industry, researchers and government.
We look forward to hearing the views of many more experts and community members as we progress with this work.
So to conclude.
We are beginning to see glimpses of how this exciting technology will change our lives. Despite its infancy, we are beginning to see the advanced technologies that artificial intelligence will bring.
It is difficult to predict how it will unfold, but there is great potential to improve our economic prosperity.
Foremost in realising this potential is trust. Because businesses must be confident to develop, adopt and apply AI, and citizens must be confident that such products and services are safe, reliable and fit-for-purpose.
Creating the right environment will provide industry with confidence to allocate their capital and resources into the development of new technology, and maximise the benefits to the Australian community.
Ongoing conversations between policymakers, researchers, academia and businesses will be crucial to finding the right outcomes.
I look forward to continued engagement with all sectors of the community.