CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall has called for increased government and industry investment into artificial intelligence expertise to ensure the Australia economy creates new jobs in the automation era.
Speaking at the Australian Financial Review Innovation Summit the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur also sought to highlight the increasing importance of STEM education to safeguard Australian innovation in the future.
“We can’t hope to compete with the money being thrown at things like AI elsewhere in the world. We need to find our unfair advantage,” Mr Marshall told .
“Investing in research into AI ensures Australia stays at the forefront of job creation in new industries, predicting and preparing for them before they emerge…We need to invest not just in the way we think about AI but also invest in fuelling the minds which will unleash its potential in the future.”
The speech came after the shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic announced Labor would spend $3 million on a centre of excellence, to ensure Australia does not have to rely on commercial development of the technology.
Mr Marshall described AI development as a “moonshot” that Australia should be “reaching for… to create Society 5.0.” The Innovation and Science Australia 2030 report called for Australia to invest in ambitious plans to inspire the nation.
At the cutting edge
He said CSIRO was “at the cutting edge” of applying AI to industries that would drive future employment. It is developing a range of new technologies using AI, including in agriculture, where gene-sequencing technology based on AI is being used to identify, isolate, and improve grains.
It is also working with more than 30 utilities from around the world to help them use AI to identify where to make repairs to their infrastructure, to help them save some of the $1.4 billion a year Australian water utilities currently spend on maintenance.
CSIRO has also turned to AI in its health group, which is being deployed in emergency rooms to improving patient outcomes and saving millions of dollars for Queensland hospitals.
The start-up Baraja is also working in CSIRO’s development lab to develop AI technology for self-driving cars.
He said the CSIRO innovation VC fund has made a joint-investment with Boeing’s VC fund, HorizonX Ventures, in the start-up Myriota, which is using satellite technology to gather vast swathes of big data from remote locations in industries like agriculture, environment, and defence. The data will be used to train AI algorithms.
In the coming months, Mr Marshall said CSIRO would release a roadmap, being developed by its data unit Data61, on AI in Australia including an ethics framework for AI.
Mr Marshall said he expected computers to replace at least 40 per cent of existing jobs “but CSIRO’s experience is that by embracing disruptive digital technologies in our own research, it has freed up our people focus on things which deliver more value and this has led to broader growth”.
He said he disagreed that coding was all kids will need to know in the future.
“What is most important is to instil our children with the ability to learn how to learn. That is the beauty of science. It teaches you how to tackle problems and gives you a toolkit to approach any problem,” he said.
“The most important thing to remember, in the face of all of the hype, is that for machine learning technology to work well, it needs to ‘learn’ – and it is our role to help give this technology real intelligence.”