Australia is using AI to 'catch up' rather than to get ahead: Deloitte

New report says 49% of Australian businesses that are early adopters of the tech have indicated a 'major to extreme AI skills gap' in the country.

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Deloitte has released a report on the state of artificial intelligence (AI) around the world, indicating that Australian businesses are primarily using AI to "catch up" to competitors rather than to "leapfrog ahead".

The report, titled State of AI in the Enterprise, surveyed 1,900 IT executives that have already implemented or prototyped AI solutions for their companies to better understand how early adopters of AI are using the technology.

The top challenges faced by early adopter IT executives include integrating AI into roles and functions, data issues, implementation struggles, cost, and measuring the value of AI implementations.

"AI success depends on getting the execution right. Organisations often must excel at a wide range of practices to ensure AI success, including developing a strategy, pursuing the right use cases, building a data foundation, and cultivating a strong ability to experiment," Deloitte said.

According to the survey, 41% of Australian executives reported that their company either completely lacks an AI strategy or has only disparate departmental strategies, compared to 30% of executives globally.

In addition, 49% of executives in Australia believe there is a "major to extreme AI skills gap" in the country, more than any other country surveyed, with the top three roles that require filling being AI researchers, business leaders, and software developers.

This is despite the growing realisation of AI's ability to provide a competitive advantage or improve work conditions, with 57% of executives globally believing that AI will substantially transform their respective companies within the next three years.

Executives believe industry will be slower to adopt AI, however, with only 38% of executives globally reporting that AI would provide the same impact for industry during the same time frame. The perceived slower industry shift, Deloitte said, represents a window of opportunity for early adopters of AI to get ahead of competitors before the use of AI becomes an industry norm.

Among early adopters of AI from Australia, 56% of executives believe the use of AI is critically important to the current success of a company, with that figure rising to 79% when asked about AI's importance within two years' time. 

Yet 50% of Australian executives reported that AI is only being used to "catch up" or "keep on par" with competition rather than to establish a distinct advantage, which is the highest rate of all the countries surveyed.

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(Image: Deloitte Insights)

The report also said 17% of Australian companies that have already implemented AI solutions are "seasoned" users of the technology, which is a lower rate than the United States, which had the highest figure of 24%.

According to a report [PDF] published in 2018 by AustCyber, Australia is set to lose around AU$400 million in revenue and wages due to the skills shortage. The report also said that 17,600 additional cybersecurity professionals would be needed by 2026 to fulfill the nation's cybersecurity needs.

AI investment, meanwhile, is set to increase around the world, as 51% of early adopters globally expect to increase their AI investment by at least 10% over the next fiscal year. The primary benefits of investing in AI, according to surveyed executives, are that it improves products and services, and optimises internal business operations.

On the risk front, executives around the world have flagged having major or extreme concerns about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, with 49% of them labelling it as a top-three concern. This was followed by the risk of making the wrong decisions based on AI recommendations, at 44%.

While there is not yet a dedicated national AI strategy, the Australian government has promised a National Skills Commission, if elected, to oversee the AU$2.8 billion annual investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET). The commission would drive "research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure the VET system addresses national labour market priorities including those arising from developing technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence".

The federal opposition, meanwhile, announced that it would create a AU$3 million National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Excellence in Melbourne, a AU$2 million cybersecurity training centre, and a human eye over any Commonwealth data-matching activity in the lead up to the federal election.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) last month also highlighted a need for development of AI in Australia to be wrapped with a sufficient framework to ensure nothing is set onto citizens without appropriate ethical consideration.

"Australia's colloquial motto is a 'fair go' for all. Ensuring fairness across the many different groups in Australian society will be challenging, but this cuts right to the heart of ethical AI," CSIRO wrote.

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