AI race being lost in climate of fear, inquiry told

Australian companies and workers are missing out on vital benefits from artificial intelligence, an inquiry has heard, as talk about its risks fuel a climate of fear.

The Australian Information Industry Association made the claims at a Senate inquiry into adopting AI, warning the nation was being left behind as other countries invested heavily in the technology and its potential.

But other experts and groups called for the federal government to establish a central body to deal with risks and copyright claims from the use of AI technology and Australia’s corporate regulator said dedicated AI laws would help to protect consumers from harm.

The association’s chief executive Simon Bush told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday Australia ranked second-last in the world for deployment of AI technology and Australians were among the most concerned about its use.

“Australia has been too slow to adopt AI across our economy,” he said.

“Australians are nervous and fearful of AI adoption and this is not being helped by the Australian government running a long public process proposing AI regulations to stop harm and, by default, a fear and risk narrative.”

Mr Bush said local firms could make huge advances by using AI in fields such as health care and transport and in non-profit and government organisations but innovation was being frustrated by a lack of investment by corporations and government.

“There’s this massive amount of focus, time and energy … into a regulatory model rather than … how do we aid innovation, foster innovation and Australian capability, identify strategic needs and gaps,” he said.

“The $39 million (in the federal budget), none of it going to industry, doesn’t grow capability in Australia and we wonder why we’re really poor at adoption and have concern for economic productivity going forward.”

Australia was ahead of some other countries in AI research but needed to make greater investments in AI models, datasets and deployments, the University of NSW’s AI Institute chief scientist Toby Walsh told the inquiry.

“The biggest risk Australia faces is the risk of missing out,” he said.

“The government of every other G12 nation is investing billions of dollars into R&D in AI – Australia is not.”

Prof Walsh called for the federal government to consider creating a central AI regulator to govern use of the technology, a call echoed by Centre of the Public Square founder Peter Lewis who said it could also deal with copyright issues and compensation for creators.

But Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman Joe Longo said the corporate regulator had already identified potential harms from the use of AI technology and called for dedicated laws to address inequalities.

The commission had already taken an insurance company to court over its use of AI to formulate premiums and AI technology was also helping “offshore criminal gangs” launch scams in Australia, Mr Longo said.

“We need to make a deliberate decision as a country whether we’re happy to leave it alone or whether we think we need more regulation,” he said.

“I think maybe we do need more regulation, we just don’t know what it looks like.”

The inquiry committee is expected to deliver its recommendations in September.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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