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Propelling AI in Australia

The federal government’s A$ 124 million commitment to AI initiatives as part of the Digital Economy Strategy is aimed at improving the lives and experiences of all Australians, according to Minister for Services and the Digital Economy Senator.

During an address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the Minister said AI has the potential to improve government services by enhancing evidence-based decision-making, leading to better outcomes for citizens.

She noted that AI has the capacity to improve the lives and experiences of all Australians across the board. And while society will benefit from AI, the private sector will profit from AI and academia will advance new technologies and use cases, the Government has a significant responsibility too.

The federal government’s AI Action Plan will focus on four pillars, including lifting the development and adoption of AI to create jobs and improve productivity. The plan will also aim to grow and attract world-class AI talent, harness AI capabilities to solve national challenges, and ensure AI technologies are responsible, inclusive and reflect Australian values.

The aim is to connect researchers with industry and talent to increase business adoption of AI technologies — achieving increased productivity and revenue gains. This is why the government is investing A$ 53.8 million to create a National AI Centre and four Digital Capability Centres.

The action plan also includes A$ 24.7 million allocated for co-funding the Next Generation of AI Graduates Program, A$ 33.7 million for AI-based solutions to solve national challenges and A$ 12 million to create AI solutions to solve challenges specific to regional Australia.

To ensure AI is ethical, responsive and inclusive, the action plan also seeks to implement the eight Australian AI Ethics Principles. This will seek to ensure AI systems respect human rights including privacy and autonomy, that AI is used transparently, and that there is human oversight behind AI-driven decisions, Hume said.

According to the Minister, the A$ 124 million commitment will bring the total amount the federal government will have invested in AI since 2018 to nearly half a billion dollars.

The Digital Economy Strategy sets out how Australia will secure its future as a modern and leading digital economy and society by 2030. It builds on the Australian Government’s existing digital and data initiatives, sets out further actions the Government is taking through the 2021–22 Budget and defines future pathways to 2030.

The Strategy recognises that the Government plays an enabling role – Australian businesses and individuals will ultimately determine our success. The Strategy is built around three pillars:

  1. Building the foundations to grow the digital economy– The first role of government is to create the policy settings for the digital economy to flourish. This includes investing in digital infrastructure, a skilled workforce, digital inclusion, digital trade agreements, cybersecurity and safety, and world-class systems and regulation that encourage the adoption and creation of trusted digital technology.
  2. Building capability in emerging technologies– The Government recognises the important role of emerging technologies in driving future productivity and prosperity. It is developing its understanding of these technologies so it can build capability and keep pace with changes in technology to position Australia at the forefront of technology development and use.
  3. Setting Digital Growth Priorities to lift ambition– The Government has identified four strategic priorities across the economy where it can partner with the private sector to drive digital growth, jobs and capability. These priorities include lifting the digital capability of small to medium enterprises (SMEs); supporting modern and globally competitive industry sectors in areas like manufacturing, agriculture, mining and construction; building a dynamic and emerging technology sector; and delivering simple and secure digital government services.

The 2021–22 Budget supports the Digital Economy Strategy through $1.2 billion in strategic investments to unlock the value of data, drive investment and uptake of emerging technologies, build the skills required for a modern economy, and enhance government service delivery. This builds on the $800 million Digital Business Plan, the $1.67 billion Cyber Security Strategy 2020, the $1 billion JobTrainer fund and the $4.5 billion upgrade plan for the NBN. These investments will drive greater productivity, high-quality jobs, and income growth across the economy.

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