Tech

Australia Needs to Prepare to Reap the Benefits of Artificial Intelligence


Australia’s international standing in artificial intelligence research is one indicator of strong local expertise and potential in AI, according to the CSIRO, but community buy-in could hold the country back.

Australia is well-positioned to capitalise on the future influence of artificial intelligence on its economic prosperity, according to the CSIRO, thanks to its leading positions in a range of areas including AI research, advanced manufacturing and robotics, and machine learning.

However, Stela Solar, director of the National Artificial Intelligence Centre, has said Australia’s AI expertise, which is resulting in innovative tools and use cases, including from the CSIRO’s own Data 61 unit, does risk being undermined by a lack of understanding of AI in the wider community.

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Australia doing well in international measures of AI expertise

Australia has not been a fast adopter of AI. IBM’s Global AI Adoption Index indicated Australia was lagging behind in 2022. However, it also showed Australia’s growing appetite for exploring AI potential was bringing it back into line with other leading AI-adopting nations (Figure A).

Australia’s recent exploration of AI is boosting its AI adoption ranking.
Figure A: Australia’s recent exploration of AI is boosting its AI adoption ranking. Source: IBM

As the CSIRO’s Solar told the audience at a recent Forrester conference in Sydney, the findings reflect a local ecosystem where there has been a hesitancy to get in first but where there is also now an accelerating wave to get in and experience the benefits of AI in Australia.

In fact, there is a lot for Australia to be proud of. The Stanford Global Vibrance Index puts Australia third in the world per capita for AI research, which Solar called “pretty impressive” (Figure B).

Australia is third in the world for AI research on a per capita basis.
Figure B: Australia is third in the world for AI research on a per capita basis. Source: Stanford University

“We don’t get into the headlines the same way as other countries, but we do have that capability,” Solar said.

Australia’s standing is reflected in other achievements. Queensland was named an advanced manufacturing and robotics hub by the World Economic Forum, while the Australian Institute for Machine Learning has been ranked among the best in the world for machine learning research.

SEE: Australia telcos are deploying chatbots to improve productivity.

Solar said that an Australian field robotics team competing globally at the DARPA SubT Challenge in the US — where participants were challenged with developing teams of robots for autonomous underground exploration — managed to finish second in the world.

“We have world-leading expertise in artificial intelligence in Australia,” Solar said.

Promise clear in non-obvious local and global AI use cases

Forrester’s July 2023 AI Pulse Survey found AI decision-makers are currently focused on top use cases like content generation in customer support, improving employee productivity, self-service data and analytics and improving developer productivity. According to Solar, in addition to popular use cases, the promise of AI is demonstrated by non-obvious use cases.

WPP and NVIDIA’s generative AI content engine for digital advertising

Global advertising behemoth WPP has partnered with NVIDIA to build a generative AI-enabled content engine for digital advertising, which combines 3D design and manufacturing information with creative supply chain tools like generative AI from Adobe and Getty Images.

SEE: Australia is adapting fast to generative AI.

The partnership will enable the utilisation of AI to create more personalised and engaging advertising on consumer products — such as changing a car advertisement from an urban to a rural setting — while staying true to the manufacturer’s brand and product specifications.

Using large language models for threat identification and testing

The CSIRO’s Data 61 has trained a large language model on what good and bad code looks like, so it can help cyber teams automatically test and identify vulnerabilities. With enterprise technology environments growing exponentially, the tool can help cyber teams keep on top of testing by generating its own hypotheses and testing for code vulnerabilities.

NASA designing ‘evolved structures’ for space-bound satellites

NASA is using AI to design stronger, cheaper and lighter parts for aerospace equipment. By feeding in requirements like dimensions and materials, as well as restrictions like any required parts connections, AI is able to generate new and better designs for potential space missions.

These “evolved structures” are different in character from those that a human might design, including being less strictly geometric. They may help satellites and other equipment go further and faster, with Solar saying they are proving more resilient and effective for their purpose.

The CSIRO’s own automated honeypot creator for cyber security teams

Data61, the data and digital specialist arm of the CSIRO, has created a generative AI tool that allows organisations to create fake honeypots within their cyber environments in order to lure and distract threat actors during cyber attacks to protect real organisational data.

SEE: Australia’s cyber shields strategy could benefit from more data science rigour.

Trained on what real honeypots look like, the deception-as-a-service tool allows organisations to spin up highly realistic but fake versions of data and digital assets, according to the CSIRO. Solar said this work would normally take a significant amount of time for cyber teams without AI.

Shell using AI to maximise energy generation from wind farms

Energy company Shell is using AI to optimise the layout of wind turbines in wind farms. By feeding in variables like the area’s landscape, weather, altitude and turbine design, it can help lay out a wind farm in ways that maximise the energy generation potential as a whole.

Macquarie University designs app to kill scammer business models

The cyber hub at Australia’s Macquarie University has developed an AI app, Apate, to combat phone scammers. Named after the Greek goddess of deception, the app keeps scammers talking on long, fake calls, wasting as much time as possible to impact their business model.

Australia held back by community understanding and buy-in

Australia has experienced a “much lower economic impact” of AI in terms of commercialisation or adoption into full production environments at scale. Partially, Solar attributed the lack of follow-through to the general community’s understanding of AI being below the global average.

Solar said organisations often find that, although they might have the experts, roadmaps and vision for AI, they often find the customers or community they are operating within are not confident in AI. They are needing to develop methods to develop community understanding.

“That will, in turn, activate an organisation’s ability to innovate and adopt scenarios,” Solar said.

One of the interesting things in IBM’s Global AI Adoption Index, according to Solar, was India’s vastly greater deployment of AI by SME businesses. This was higher than enterprises in India, reflecting a much higher level of community and customer engagement with AI than in Australia.

Capitalising on the AI promise matters to the Australian economy

Australia’s promise in AI is reflected in our technological achievements to date, Solar said. This includes advances in our mining and resources sector, which has built our strong capability in intelligent edge technologies, which are now being tapped for remote operations in space.

However, Solar said AI has now become the lifeblood of innovation around the world. How Australia responded to that challenge would impact its future economic prosperity.

“It is not AI for technology’s sake but for business outcomes and holistic economic impact,” Solar said. “This might affect whether we have thriving careers and the prospects of our children and grandchildren; we need to look at it from a national as well as organisational standpoint.”



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