Data61 and ANU establish research institute to tackle AI

The 3A Institute will bring together researchers from around the world to address the various challenges around the application of artificial intelligence.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

A new research institute has been established by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Data61 and the Australian National University (ANU) to tackle the broader spectrum of problems around artificial intelligence (AI).

The 3A Institute will be led by professor Genevieve Bell, who recently joined ANU from Intel as the first of five appointments under the ANU Vice-Chancellor's Entrepreneurial Fellows scheme.

Bell said questions around autonomy, agency, and assurance need to be addressed if the world is to meet the challenges of future technology.

"We, as humans, are simultaneously terrified, optimistic, and ultimately ambivalent about what it's going to be like," she said in a statement. "How are we going to feel in a world where autonomous agents are doing things and we aren't? How are we going to be safe in this world?

"We will be looking closely at risk, indemnity, privacy, trust -- things that fall under this broad term 'assurance'."

The potential challenges around the application of emerging technologies such as AI are not just technological, according to ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt.

"It isn't just about engineering and computer science; it's also about anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, philosophy, public policy, and many other disciplines. You have got to put it all together to get to the best answers possible," Schmidt said.

Data61 CEO Adrian Turner added that the 3A Institute would build on Australia's strengths in cybersystems.

"Australia has an opportunity to be a leader and to seed new industries of global relevance as IT, biological, and advanced materials disciplines converge and become data-driven," Turner said.

"Building on our national strengths in cyber-physical systems, interdisciplinary research is needed now more than ever to understand how we can integrate resulting new technologies into our lives for economic and societal benefit.

"The 3A Institute will be an important way for us to achieve this and move the nation forward."

Late last year, tech giants including Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft formed a not-for-profit organisation to educate the public about AI technologies, alleviate anxieties around its application, and develop best practices on the challenges and opportunities within the field of AI.

Another non-profit organisation, OpenAI, led by Tesla and SpaceX's Elon Musk, is looking to "advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return".

While AI is still in development, it has been polarising -- with critics arguing it will destroy human jobs, and proponents saying it will pave the way for new ones.

Tech luminaries Musk and Mark Zuckerberg slung mud at each other in July about whether the future, as AI-powered systems proliferate, is bright or grim. The former warned of "evil AI" destroying humankind if not properly monitored and regulated, while the latter spoke optimistically about AI contributing to the greater good, such as diagnosing diseases before they become fatal.

Swiss neuroscientist and co-founder of Starmind Pascal Kaufmann said "true AI" does not exist yet, and will remain a stagnant field of technology until "the brain code has been cracked".

He told ZDNet that AI, as it exists today, is often just the "human intelligence of programmers condensed into source code", and that until we understand natural intelligence through neuroscience, we will not be able to build the artificial kind.

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