The future of AI in Australia

People have been talking about artificial intelligence (AI) and all its uses and possibilities for a long time. This often makes it difficult to separate hype from reality and identify when an inflection point has been reached.

It’s now a bit over six decades since the field of AI research was officially born, according to Actuaries Digital’s history of AI. Pundits are no longer prognosticating about the future of AI. Instead, they warn that companies and countries that don’t get with the program risk irrelevance, reports Strategy+business.

In 2015, an AI program known as AlphaGo developed by US-based Google beat the human European Go champion for the first time, a feat not expected to happen for several more years, according to BBC News. In 2017, China announced its ambitious “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan.” Today, as the US attempts to maintain (or regain) its AI dominance a host of other nations including the UK, Canada, Russia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, and India are trailing right behind the two AI leaders, reports Analytics Insights.

So, where does that leave Australia?

Can Australia come from behind in the AI arms race?

There’s good and bad news when it comes to Antipodean AI predictions.

The discouraging news is that Australia is punching below its weight. For example, recent Microsoft research on AI adoption across the Asia-Pacific region found Australia falling behind other Asian nations in areas such as AI strategy and capabilities, with only 14 percent of Australian organisations adopting AI as part of their business strategy.

As Microsoft Australia’s Managing Director Steven Worrall observed, “AI is the defining technology of our time and has the potential to significantly accelerate business transformation, enable innovation, boost employee productivity and ensure future growth.” Therefore, any late-adopting Australian businesses should heed the signs of change, lest they fall behind the competitive curve.

The encouraging news is that this nation’s business leaders, politicians and senior bureaucrats appear to have belatedly recognised the significance of AI. The Microsoft research also found that 80 percent of Australian business leaders believe that AI is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge at their organisation in upcoming years.

To be fair, it should be noted that Australian business leaders in industries such as banking are trying hard to catch up with their foreign counterparts, but other sectors will have to step up AI innovation if they are to keep pace with other tech powerhouses in the region.

Antipodean AI predictions

If it can get its head in the game, Australia could benefit tremendously from limitless automated employees, given its small population, high labour costs, and unique geographical position—near a booming Asia, and far from Northern Hemisphere competitors.

University of Adelaide submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers notes, “As AI-driven automation lowers the cost of production, Australia could once again become competitive in manufacturing goods that are currently produced cheaply elsewhere because of low wages in other countries.” The submission also notes that Australia is ranked behind only China and the United States in deep-learning research and that its players have the potential to become competitive global defence suppliers in AI applications.

There are many AI “blue oceans” that Australia can wade into, according to Business News Daily. Take Australian water utilities, for example. They have lots of experience pumping water around a hot, sparsely populated continent, and they collectively spend almost AU$1.4 billion every year on repairs and maintenance. Currently, they can only afford to inspect one percent of their infrastructure in any 12-month period. But now, Australia’s water utilities have partnered with the CSIRO and are collaborating with 30 foreign utilities to develop data-driven analytics technology that can predict pipe failure. Likewise, the CSIRO has collaborated with fire services across this sunburnt land to develop an AI tool that can predict how bushfires will behave.

Become an automation leader

A 2018 Infosys report found that between 41 percent and 68 percent of Australian organisations were struggling to find the staff to lead AI technology integration. Over the longer term, many more Australian universities will need to provide courses focused on machine learning and its application to artificial intelligence. Plus, IT leaders in both business and education will need to take on the role of “automation champions,” according to European CEO.

Despite fears that AI will cause job scarcity, most of those in the workforce will continue to be employed for the foreseeable future of AI. However, Harvard Business Review notes that workers will be expected to tap into the capabilities of the available AI tools. This will likely fall to IT staff to encourage human staff to work effectively with their computerized counterparts.

Gaining AI buy-in

Putting the right systems in place and procuring the best technological tools will undoubtedly be important. But the immediate challenge facing IT leaders will be rolling out AI in a way that encourages staff to buy in rather than fight it. This needn’t be as fraught as it sounds—IT leaders can show apprehensive staff the benefits of AI and automated solutions by introducing light AI to peripheral processes, such as printing.

For example, the days of spending interminable amounts of time wrestling with printer configuration and document organisation are coming to an end. Instead, your IT department—as well as the employees it supports—can now leverage automated workflows enabled by today’s smartest printers. Resources can be captured, routed, stored, and found with minimal configuration, lowering tech overhead for your team. Some of today’s printers are even prepared to take on threat monitoring responsibilities with inbuilt security features, such as self-healing BIOS and run-time intrusion detection.

Starting small and using AI solutions to reduce time spent on tedious tasks that your team hates will help warm them to it—at which point, you’ll be able to ramp up your AI deployment with your team fully behind you. Additionally, be sure to track any time or money you save with these solutions to ensure executive support of your team’s initiatives in future budget cycles.

AI represents a powerful tool that will only gain more traction in the coming years, even if businesses in Australia don’t seem to be biting at the moment. Investing now will put you in good form once this revolution is in full swing.