Australia’s AI Action Plan – where does it take us?

The Australian government released its Artificial Intelligence Action Plan as part of the May 2021 budget.

Unlike many previous digital economy or technology strategies, roadmaps and action plans, this one actually has some new money behind it – some $124 million in targeted AI support. This may not seem like much compared to Australia’s international counterparts but it is a welcome investment none-the-less.

Where has the government decided to spend its AI money?

$53.8 million to establish a National AI Centre within CSIRO’s Data61. This will include four AI and Digital Capability Centres (Capability Centres).
$12 million in co-funded grants to deploy AI in regional areas and support participation by diverse cohorts.
$24.7 million to support AI talent through targeted scholarships
$33.7 million to establish a challenge-based program – AI Solutions to Build a Stronger Australia. This program will work in partnership with industry to leverage private expertise to solve national challenges.
There is no specific money allocated to assist in progressing the implementation of Australia’s AI ethical principles however, the Government released some pilot research from six Australian corporates (Telstra, Microsoft, Flamingo AI, NAB, IAG, Commonwealth Bank) that road tested the ethical principles to better understand their practical application.

A summary of findings from the pilots suggested the following:

The Australian AI Ethics Principles are relevant to any organisation involved in AI (private, public, large or small) but the Australian Government should lead by example and implement the principles.
The pressure for AI to be ethically designed and deployed will grow. Public demand and government or regulator policies will drive ethical expectations and practices over time.
Resolving ethical issues can be complex, and businesses may need more help from professional or industry bodies, academia or experts and even government and regulators.
Smaller businesses in particular need greater support through things like simple online training or certification; case studies and cost effective techniques and education.
Principles like ‘Fairness’ involve trade-offs. This can be hard to judge and measure.

Businesses buying AI solutions recognised that they could not outsource their accountability for AI ethics.

Our view

The one glaring gap in the Commonwealth government’s AI strategy and action plan is a process to develop a coordinated governance framework around the development, use and procurement of AI services within commonwealth government agencies. This is where the NSW Government has taken a clear lead, setting out a mandatory customer service circular which all NSW Government agencies need to adhere to. There is practical guidance on adhering to principles, assessing risk, managing data, sourcing AI solutions, meeting legal obligations and more.