Australia needs AI strategy and investment or it risks losing control

Australia can become a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, but a clearer strategy and further investment are needed, according to Australia’s top university professors.

The Kingston AI Group, which includes 14 leading university professors in AI from eight universities as well as the Chair of Robotics Australia Group, said Australia must develop a national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy and significantly increase funding for domestic AI capability, or risk losing control of this technology to foreign commercial and national interests.

The group of professors also called for an integrated national strategy to grow the domestic education-to-industry AI talent pipeline, and use AI as a productivity enhancer to support economic growth and the creation of higher-paying jobs.

At the same time, they warned that Australia was at risk of losing AI skills, with the CSIRO estimating that approximately 161,000 new specialist AI workers are needed by 2030.

“A failure to deliver the AI workforce Australia needs will harm our future economic growth, shrink our economic complexity, and weaken our sovereign control in key industry sectors,” the professors said in a statement.

“If done strategically, a major investment would result in Australia becoming one of the leading countries in AI.”

Following this, an increase in AI skills and improvement of AI literacy should occur at all levels, with the university sector playing a lead role in producing “a critical mass of AI experts” to drive the growth of advanced technology industries.

Professor Simon Lucey, director of the Australian Institute for Machine Learning at the University of Adelaide, also said that while recent enthusiasm for new AI technologies like ChatGPT was an encouraging sign, businesses and governments must not rely solely on purchasing AI products from international suppliers.

“If we don’t build our own AI, the risk for Australian industries is that they’ll be disrupted in the same way that Uber disrupted the taxi industry. Australians will wind up working in local AI-enabled jobs for Australian customers, but all the profits will go overseas,” he noted.

Professor Joanna Batstone, director of Monash University’s Data Futures Institute, stressed that the country needed to increase investment in AI research to build a pipeline of graduates capable of entering Australia’s AI workforce and, ultimately, address the skills gap.

“We’ve seen time and time again that when Australian fundamental research is resourced properly, it empowers the local technology development ecosystem and our ability to understand and use that tech to its maximum potential.”

Professor Michael Milford, joint director of the QUT Centre for Robotics, Queensland University of Technology, added: “Resourcing AI research will lead to more homegrown AI tech development and a better understanding and embracing of this transformative technology.”