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New Zealand invests for the future of AI

The New Zealand Government is investing millions of dollars in the University of Auckland to help understand and unlock the power of artificial intelligence (AI).

As reported, Professor Michael Witbrock is a leading expert and researcher in the field of AI who has joined the University under the Tertiary Education Commission’s Entrepreneurial Universities programme.

Investing in AI

Education Minister Chris Hipkins explained that the Government is committed to ensuring that New Zealand is at the forefront of new technology that is not only changing the workforce, but the way everyone lives.

Approximately NZ$ 4 million is being invested to fund research in this area. It is one of the ways that New Zealanders are being helped in order to prepare and explore the exciting possibilities that the new technology will bring.

AI has many applications that include driverless cars and improving healthcare for hospital patients. New Zealanders should be studying, benefiting, and working with AI.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor shared that the appointment of a leading and talented researcher in a field with the potential to influence so many aspects of human life is an exciting development.

Preparing for the future of AI

Professor Witbrock is a New Zealander born in Christchurch who has spent much of his career overseas.

He has returned to New Zealand to take up the role of Professor in Computer Science and will run a new Broad AI lab.

He wants to guarantee that the country will be in a position to reap the benefits of AI, a technology that could significantly influence the future work and leisure time.

It cannot be determined when AI will even come close to reaching its potential but when that happens, New Zealand should be at the forefront in order for the country to take full advantage of the developments expected in the coming decades.

Many people, including scientists, are fearful of the power of AI, particularly its potential use in new robotic weaponry technology.

However, the Professor feels strongly that AI must and will be a force for good. To that end, he helped start a foundation called ‘AI for Good’.

If ever that stage wherein machines are as smart, or smarter, than humans is reached, then they must be for the good of humankind.

The Professor’s Profile

Before returning to New Zealand this year, he was a distinguished research staff member at a multinational information technology company where he led work in machine learning and knowledge representation, and the intersection of learning and reasoning.

Prior to that, he founded a company that built AI assistants, which were able to converse with people and learn from them by asking questions as they went about their daily lives.

Additionally, he led research in another company on key aspects of knowledge-based AI including systems that could perform automated reasoning to solve problems, and explain their solutions in English.

He has also done work in the use of integration of statistical and knowledge-based approaches in understanding web user behaviour.

Moreover, he has been an expert consultant to the European Commission in the areas of reasoning and human-computer collaboration.

An inventor on seven United States patents, Professor Witbrock has published on a range of research topics, including the development of computer systems modelled on the human brain, computational linguistics and speech recognition.

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