Local partners specialising in artificial intelligence AI, machine learning and automation may want to get ready for a wave of public sector work as the federal government moves to boost its automated decision making capabilities.
On 9 October, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews and Education Minister Dan Tehan jointly announced that the government would spend $31.8 million to establish a research centre to investigate responsible, ethical, and inclusive automated decision making.
The new Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society will be based at RMIT University in Melbourne, and will bring together national and international experts from the humanities, and the social and technological sciences in its efforts to develop a sound basis upon which to build out automated decision making across government.
While the controversy around the government’s much maligned automated debt collection scheme may have left a bad taste in the public’s collective mouth when it comes to automation in public services, Tehan is confident that automated decision making technology can be a force for good in the public sector.
"Our Government is funding research into automated decision making to ensure this technology provides the best possible outcomes for society and industry,” Tehan said in a statement. "Researchers will formulate world-leading policy and practice, inform public debate, and train a new generation of researchers and practitioners.”
According to Andrews, the new Centre of Excellence will play an important role in making sure Australians benefit from cutting-edge technology. While collaborating with experts from various disciplines on the project, the centre will also engage industry partners in an effort to get the mix right for public services.
Indeed, researchers from RMIT University are set to work with 22 academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, Europe, Asia and America, along with experts at seven Australian universities.
The industry partners in the initiative include Google Australia, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Hong Kong’s Digital Asia Hub and Algorithm Watch from Germany, among others.
Together the various parties will provide an additional $39.3 million in cash and in-kind support to the centre.
“Working with international partners and industry, the research will help Australians gain the full benefits of these new technologies, from better mobility, to improving our responses to humanitarian emergencies,” said RMIT Professor Julian Thomas, who is heading up the research.
While the immediate research set to be undertaken by the centre is aimed largely at helping to ensure machine learning and decision-making technologies can be used responsibly, ethically and inclusively, it could pave the path to a broader rollout of such technology across government -- a move that could potentially present new opportunities to local partners with experience in the area of automation and AI.
“This technology is being used in self-driving cars or algorithms that are used to make medical diagnosis and business decisions,” said Tehan. "[It] has great potential to transform the efficiency of industry, as well as public and private services, however, as with all technology, it is prudent to explore how to mitigate any possible risks.”