AI futures in Australia and New Zealand

Published on the 05/04/2023 | Written by Heather Wright

AI futures in Australia and New Zealand

Changing policies, reaping rewards… 

Local companies are being urged look at the AI landscape not as human versus AI rivalry, but rather the distinction between organisations adopting AI and those that don’t. 

Albert Bifet, director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at University of Waikato and Professor of Big Data at France’s Télécom Paris, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, says the substantial competitive edge gained by AI-utilising companies is undeniable – but there are potential drawbacks that companies need to remain vigilant about. 

“Two decades ago, artificial intelligence was merely an aspiration, but now it is an urgent reality that demands our immediate attention,” Biffet says. “As Bill Gates said ‘the age of AI has begun’ and we need to be prepared for it.”

“AI is an urgent reality that demands our immediate attention.”

His comments follow the release of AI-focused reports in both New Zealand and Australia. 

The National AI Centre’s Australia’s AI Ecosystem Momentum report, prepared by Forrester Consulting, includes feedback from more than 200 business decision makers and AI service providers. It found that Australian businesses are growth-focused, using AI technologies across their organisations to gain competitive advantage and improve strategic decision making.  

Stela Solar, director of the government funded, CSIRO-led National AI Centre, says AI has evolved from a futuristic promise to a rapidly growing priority for business leaders across Australia. 

“Our research shows Australian businesses reported an average revenue growth of AU$361,315 for each AI-enabled solution that was implemented, regardless of which part of the business these efforts were targeted,” Solar says.  

“Over 80 percent of businesses surveyed expected their year-on-year revenue to grow, with technology at the centre of their growth strategies. 

But while the report says AI solutions can address both immediate and long-term business needs and are valuable in both front and back offices, it admits many businesses are still shoulder the load in creating fully integrated solutions for various aspects of their business, some of which are not unique. 

That’s down to an ecosystem that is still maturing.   

The report found a fragmented, niche service provider ecosystem was causing headaches, with most respondents engaging at least four AI providers to deliver a project – and 28 percent working with more than six providers.   

Meanwhile, the Kiwi report, by the Artificial Intelligence Researchers Association, and co-authored by Bifet, is a look at the implications of ChatGPT and large language models for policy makers – and by extension, for businesses. 

The report includes 12 key recommendations for policy makers, including a call for them to familiarise themselves with the abilities and limitations of LLM models such as ChatGPT, including by experimenting with the technology themselves to gain greater understanding; and the need to prepare for labour and productivity changes. 

It also calls for policy makers to consider negotiating preferential – and, ideally, free – access to the tools for schools and tertiary education providers as well as charitable and community-run organisations. 

ChatGPT and Large Language Models: What are the implications for policy makers also recommends subscription costs to LLMs be treated as a legitimate business expense in New Zealand, with full tax deductibility, and that it be explicitly excluded from the Fringe Benefit Tax regime. 

“When businesses can invest in AI technologies without being hindered by financial constraints, they are more likely to adopt them and enjoy the benefits, such as increased efficiency, improved decision-making and enhanced customer experiences,” Bifet told iStart. 

Bifet, who says Australian businesses seem to be capitalising on the AI research conducted within Australia to a greater extent than their Kiwi counterparts, says New Zealand must prioritise investment in AI research to avoid reliance on other nations, which may grant access to such technology ‘with considerable delay’. 

“It is unwise to assume that leaders of other countries will not prioritise their nation’s interests and strive to advance their countries progress first,” he says. 

Developing and maintaining our own AI capabilities is essential for both Australia and New Zealand, he adds. 

“By investing in AI research and development, Australia and New Zealand can reduce dependence on foreign technology, avoid potential supply chain disruptions and protect their national interests. 

“Incorporating indigenous knowledge and values, Australia and New Zealand can promote cultural diversity, social cohesion and the inclusion of marginalised voices.” 

the Artificial Intelligence Researchers Association, notes the potential for providers of advanced AI services – likely hosted in offshore data centres – to choose not to offer local services. 

“For instance, if we introduced a vaguely worded hate speech law that a technology provider could not adhere to via an automated approach, the provider might feel it has no other option but to discontinue the service,” the report says, noting the situation with Meta and the provision of news feeds in Australia as an example.  

“If we are determined to achieve autonomy, we would need to secure the raw ingredients to recreate a performant LLM, and probably a range of models.” 

Those raw ingredients include the training data, hardware, expertise and software. 

“It is certainly feasible to build an indigenous, locally based LLM, but the cost will be high and most of the benefits will only be realised if we somehow lose the ability to access and use commercially available LLMs. 

“The hard truth is that we are already highly dependent on the rest of the world for virtually all of the technology we rely on. This will just be one more example.” 

But while there’s no guarantee Kiwi policy makers will take heed of the report – currently being shared with stakeholders including policy makers, industry leaders and researchers – or act on it, Bifet says there are proactive measures businesses can take to stay competitive in an AI-driven landscape. 

He offers three key tips: 

– Invest in AI education and training Encourage employees to learn about AI technology, its applications, and potential ethical considerations. Provide resources, workshops, or training sessions to foster a culture of continuous learning and AI literacy within your organisation.– Collaborate with AI experts and partners Establish partnerships with AI solution providers, research institutions, or specialised consultants to identify the best AI tools and practices for your specific industry and business needs. “This collaboration will help you stay updated on the latest AI advancements and better understand how to harness them effectively.

– Implement AI responsibly As you adopt AI technologies, prioritise ethical considerations, data privacy, and security. Develop guidelines and policies that address potential biases, ensure transparency, and maintain trust with your stakeholders. By implementing AI responsibly, your business will not only reap its benefits but also mitigate potential risks an adverse consequences.

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