​Labor plans to stand up AU$3m Australian AI centre of excellence

The federal opposition has committed to investing AU$3 million to help establish a National Centre of AI Excellence that will support research, advice, and industry acceleration.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Labor has revealed its intentions to establish a National Centre of AI Excellence, with Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and the Future of Work Ed Husic saying the artificial intelligence-focused initiative will aim to boost local research efforts and skirt the loss of jobs AI is feared to cause.

Offering up a AU$3 million investment, Husic explained the centre would see the emergence of an AI lab with a mission of championing the development of ethical AI and the creation of an AI accelerator for industry.

He expects it would also advance the generation of new jobs and prompt "deep" thinking about how to help people manage the impact of technology on the world of work, while also inviting state and territory governments to think about the evolution of AI and plan for its use to improve policy and decision-making.

"It will band together with the thinking and effort currently being dedicated to AI development and application in different parts of the country and help provide unified direction," Husic told the AFR Innovation Summit on Monday.

"It will think about the collaboration we can strike up with ASEAN neighbours thinking deeply about how technology will affect their economies.

"Within a nation that reportedly has as many AI researchers as France, we have the Australian brains that can make AI work for us. We can't stumble or scramble our way to success with this."

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The explicit details of the centre are expected to be nutted out if Labor is to take power at the next federal election, but Husic said the government would engage with stakeholders to determine how the funding could best be used to support research, advice, and industry acceleration.

"The debate around automation and change gravitates towards the negative and fear. That shouldn't be an automatic trajectory," Husic added. "Our current public climate is dominated by division, yet on this issue -- the impact of tech in our workplaces, in our personal lives, in broader society -- we have the chance to work together."

Labor in March promised a new Space Industry Program, comprising research hubs and local space industry development if it were to win the next election. The promise was made before the federal government announced during the 2018-19 Budget that it would be committing AU$41 million to the creation of the Australian Space Agency.

The federal government on Tuesday announced the Australian Defence Force would be receiving a security boost, with a AU$650,000 fund to be awarded to research proposals from industry and universities that enhance the cyber capabilities of Defence.

The funding is made available under the government's 10-year AU$730 million "Next Generation" Technologies Fund launched in March 2017 in an effort to thwart emerging attack methods via "creative solutions" devised by industry and academia.

"Malicious cyber activity costs Australian business and families over AU$1 billion every year, and malicious cyber activity from state and non-state actors is a threat to Australia's national security," Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said.

"The government encourages Australia's scientists and researchers to contribute to the development of cyber capabilities, which is a priority for national security.

"We want academia and industry to collaborate with Defence Science and Technology, and CSIRO's digital research network, Data61, to deliver technology developments and demonstrator systems within three to five years."


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