Address to the AI Leadership Summit

Sydney NSW

[Stela Solar, Director of the National AI Centre, introduces Minister Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science]

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: That was seamless. That was very, very good. I'd like to say we planned it that way, but very, very good. And Stela, I just want to extend to you a heartfelt thanks for all that you're doing. We very much appreciate within the Australian Government what you have done in terms of bringing people together and the work that you're doing with your colleagues. So thank you also for having me today. Hello, everyone. I'm a politician who's typically late, so I'm sorry for keeping you waiting, but I am very grateful to be able to spend the time with a number of you that I can see in the crowd that we've had dealings with in times past. And I know that your interest in this. While I was very grateful for the generous introduction, Stela, I know that your commitment in this policy area has meant a lot. It has been very important for us to recognise and to use that as a form of energy that we spread across the rest of the economy and the community. To be able to highlight the value of what you're doing and the belief that applied in the best ways that the country can do very well out of using AI and not being laggards in it. 

If I may also just respectfully acknowledge we're on the land of the Gadigal and pay respects to Elders, past and present, and also acknowledge any Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people that are here with us today for this occasion and for this launch. This has been an area Stela suggested I've been focussed on for years in opposition. Talking about AI over five years ago, you didn't get a lot of people that really thought that that was something worth talking about. You're a bit of a nerd, a geek. I am very mindful of something that -


-  a laugh is both funny, but it kind of hurts too. I'm just kidding. Work with me. Work with me. But it's true. I mean, to talk about this stuff five or six years ago, people wondered what the big deal was and it has had moments. And I often wonder if people think “Oh, AI is here, it's just come out of the blue". And I often ask business conferences, when was the first time AI was mentioned and I asked someone to actually step forward and say when AI as a concept, was first referenced. I'm sure there's enough of you that read the history, so that gag isn’t going to work so much here. And I don't want you to answer it because I want to do the answer. 1956 is the first time it was referenced. 

And it's taken a lot of work. Then going through AI winters and then wondering at that point when we reached a sort of convergence of a number of things at once, then AI took off. Not the least of which being the increase of computational power, seeing what happened with cloud-based services. Seeing as everyone remarks now, they think that they're smart at a conference if they say there's more computing power in your smartphone than on the computers that help launch the rockets and missions to the moon. But it is important for other audiences to get that. But having that convergence occur way back then was really big and I wanted us to back that when we were in Opposition. I was arguing again, not just about AI, but the ethical side of how we integrate something like that in decision making processes. I also argued that the national investment in AI, when we were looking at other countries in the region to the north of Singapore, was putting in $150 million for its own national investment plan on AI back in 2017, I think it was 2017-18. We were investing at that point in time, roughly $30 million over four. And look at the comparative size of the populations, the economies. And we were falling behind. I wanted us to set it up when we were in Opposition. We called for the establishment of a National Centre for AI Excellence. And I think the good thing is both sides of politics eventually got it and what Stela and the others are working on. And then having that stood up was really important. Why not for the sake of just creating a centre, but getting different parts of the community to work together and to recognise that this will have a profound impact. 

But as always with technology, I never want people to just think we just plug it in the wall, turn it on and it looks after itself. This all happens in a context, in an environment where we need things to line up. I often say, technology is a tool. It's meant to work for us, we don't work for it. And if you get people to think about how that all gets embedded and used it’s really important. And why I say that, because it's not just about the investors, it's not just about the developers, not just about the companies that are saying that this is a product worth having, it's for everyone else thinking about it. Obviously you see it all the sort of fuss that gets put around about ChatGPT at the moment. A lot of us in this room saw this coming, years off. 

But at any rate we've all seen this coming and the bigger impetus around this is to prepare, as AI has matured with more mature technology or more mature capability, I should say. It's why you'll hear me now rabble on so much about quantum. Because I don't want quantum to have to go through the same torturous development timeframe, even though it has in many respects. And when I say Quantum, I'm talking about all the technologies within the area including computing. 

If paired up with AI, it will have a profound impact. That raw processing power in quantum computing if it's unleashed and then paired up with AI. And we use it and we think about the good that this can be applied for as much as people think about all the alternative use of quantum computing. And you start going down that rabbit hole of encryption and what that does in terms of, say, the discovery of new medicines, the problems that have bedevilled us and just been outside of reach and we haven't been able to, because of computing power limiting our ability to solve those problems. The application on other issues will be phenomenally important. 

I do want to say that in terms of what you're doing today, bringing together 100 leaders from across industry, academia and government, providing a forum for the three national AI centred think tanks to be involved in workshops and discussions, and bringing in think tanks around responsible AI diversity, inclusion and AI at scale. I particularly want to thank the CSIRO for establishing the centre and as I said to Stella, if you can pass on to everyone in the centre my thanks for the work that they've done and coordinating national effort, which I think is impossible and connecting and in particular connecting industry to uplift the Responsible Use of AI capability. And that responsible use will be very critical in terms of building broader community buy in to the use of that technology as well. 

So I am very, very honoured and pleased to launch the Responsible AI Network, or RAIN, bringing together leading institutions, domain experts, commercial organisations, practitioner communities, to help the rapid creation and sharing of best practice. If I can mention some of the partners, including AI Group, Australian Information Industry Association, Cedar, Data 61, Standards Australia, the Ethics Centre, Human Technology Institute and the Tech Council of Australia. Who have all agreed to support the core pillars of RAIN, notably; law, standards, principles, governance, leadership and technology. 

And the Knowledge Partners will also provide advice and guidance to help companies effectively practice Responsible AI. As a government, we want modern technologies to benefit the nation as widely as possible. And as the world continues to grapple with the challenges of Responsible AI, it's in the area in which benefits of cooperation are potentially the greatest. And I do definitely want to see that occur. I'm very proud of the fact that this country was one of the first to develop ethics principles for the use of AI and a signatory of the OECD's AI principles. So RAIN is a logical next step and very important to do so. And I'm very proud of the fact that you're all taking that leading role. We want to be able to, in particular to support this. 

Our government, if I may say, has committed to a target of 1.2 million tech related jobs in this country by 2030. Not because it's just a fancy metric to name, to rattle off the tongue, but we need to embed that talent across the broader economy, to be able to drive problem solving and to improve the way we operate, not just for business, but in terms of community effort as well. And RAIN; the reason why I'm so pleased to be here today, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be here, is because if you're doing this thinking in advance, in the way that you're shaping this up, it will be very important. You're exercising a crucial leadership activity in getting people to think about this early so that we don't have to lurch away from technology because people are worried about privacy, data, security, that you've done that thinking early on. You're working with people to allay some of those concerns, but more importantly than that, opening up the possibility of using this for good at a wider level.

And so, again, thank you very much, not only for letting me be here, but thank you for being at the forefront of the nation in being able to champion the value of this, being able to get our act together on it, and in particular, goading government to get more involved. I'm very happy for it. Not too much, just the right amount, but I'm very happy for you all to keep pressing the case with government to do this at scale. Thank you again for your time and your contributions.