The government has pledged $430,000 to research the risks of AI and IoT

Simon Birmingham procurement contracts

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas

The federal government has commissioned new research into the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), to the tune of $427,941.

Two reports — one into AI and one into IoT, commissioned for just over $200,000 each — will be conducted by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and consider the impact of the technologies from an economic, social and cultural perspective, and with a focus on data privacy.

According to Angus Henderson, general manager of ACOLA, the commitment from the government comes in response to applications the council put in a few months ago.

In a statement, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, said the government “want[s] to make sure Australia continues to be a world-leading research nation”.

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash said the reports will help guide government decisions regarding AI and IoT, and “ensure Australia optimises the opportunities these technologies can provide”.

The reports will be part of ACOLA’s Horizon Scanning program, a series of research requested by Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel on behalf of the Commonwealth Science Council, about scientific and technological change, and the effect this could have in the future.

Although they’re addressing technological developments, Henderson tells StartupSmart the reports will focus on the “more social aspect of deployment” of the technology.

“At this point, our priorities will be about privacy and data management,” Henderson says.

He says the reports will also focus on “avoiding detrimental effects to our current workforce”, an economic analysis, and some research into the approaches being taken in other regions.

Finally, there will be a “broad-reaching social survey or study” to better understand the issues the general public care about, and people’s views on the technology.

Henderson expects the reports will be released to the public within 10 to 12 months.

The announcement comes after Dr Finkel raised the issue of trust in AI in a keynote address on Friday.

Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia event on the potential, impact and regulation of AI, Finkel proposed a “trustmark”, with a working title of “the Turing certificate”, to prove companies meet a set of standards of “ethical AI”.

“It works in other domains. I am sure everybody in this audience would prefer to purchase coffee that carries the ‘Fairtrade’ logo. That logo tells you an independent auditor has verified that the farmers received a fair price, and the coffee was produced without using child or slave labour,” he said. 

“And the Turing Certificate would do the same for ethical AI.”

The reports also follows a string of technology-focused initiatives from the government, including a $700,000 commitment to research blockchain, and $4.5 million to encourage women and girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

NOW READ: Chief scientist Alan Finkel on why we need a ‘Turing Stamp’ for AI organisations and products


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