Interview with Michael Rowland, Breakfast, ABC News

Michael Rowland
Artificial intelligence month; Israel-Hamas conflict

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, let's go back to today's news now in Australia's first artificial intelligence month kicks off today with 50 events to be held from now until mid-December. The Minister for Science and Industry, Ed Husic, will launch the Friend or Foe AI exhibition today. He joins us now from Canberra. I've got to ask the obvious question, Ed Husic; AI, in your view, friend or foe?

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Well, I think it's friend, but sometimes it can be a frenemy and we've just got to always keep a check on that. And I think the great thing about this month is it puts a spotlight on both that if we get this right, it can be something that's of enormous benefit to communities. But there's obvious risks and that's what we're starting to look at. We're trying to alert people to, and I think the global community is starting to work together on. 

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Should there be more international cooperation, in your view?

ED HUSIC: I think what happened in the course of this month in the UK with the AI Safety Summit, Michael, was really important because it showed that governments that may not necessarily have taken such a clear view about the need to work together on the way technology is used. They really leaned into it, most notably the US, with the issuing of their executive order. And I think there's an understanding that we've got to build trust in the technology and that that'll only come when people feel like the risks have been, one, identified and two, that we've put measures in place to be able to tackle those.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you get the impression, and you obviously work a lot in this space when it comes to AI, that a lot of Australians are, for want of a better word, complacent about it. Complacent in the sense of the opportunities that may provide them in education or business, and also complacent regarding the potential threat.

ED HUSIC: I'd say two things. One is we've been recognised world over as first movers in taking up technology, and I think that goes to the heart of who we are as a people, which is if we can find a tool to make life easier, we'll use it. And I think that's what we've seen with ChatGPT in the last 12 months. People have wanted to embrace some of that, but it's been patchy. Which brings me to the second point, there are a lot of, particularly in SMEs, there's a big challenge for us to use AI a lot more because it gets things done faster, more efficiently, but a lot of SMEs have questions about how this will actually work, what are the risks and will they be exposed to those risks in using them? And I guess the purpose of AI month is to be able to start those conversations, to get people talking about, well, what are you worried about and how can we deal with it? And 50 different events across the country, I think it's a great effort by the National AI Centre that sits within the CSIRO and it's designed to tackle some of the very things you've raised in your question with me.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: To another issue, the Israel-Gaza conflict. The Prime Minister told Labor Caucus yesterday that many Palestinians and Muslim communities in Australia, in his words, feel hurt because there's been less emphasis on Palestinian lives. As a Muslim MP, Ed Husic, representing a lot of Muslim Australians in your electorate, do you agree with that sentiment?

ED HUSIC: I think a lot of people have connections with people in Gaza and they feel - that they have felt the hurt, the impact in particular of loss of life. And this is weighing on them like it would with all of us who would lose a loved one, someone close to us. And I think from the outset I've been emphasising the need for us to acknowledge humanity on both sides. The Israelis who lost their lives on October 7, and now the Palestinians, who are paying a very, very high price, shouldering a very big burden the actions that we're seeing taken in Gaza. I think the biggest thing that we can do in acknowledging humanity on either side is to also think before we act or think before we speak. And I think that at this point in time, this will mean a great deal.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: International law, Ed Husic, requires a proportionate response to acts of aggression. In your view, does 11,000 Palestinian deaths according to the Hamastan Ministry of Health versus 1200 Israeli deaths according to the Israeli government, does that resemble proportionality, in your view?

ED HUSIC: I think too many Palestinians have lost their lives. I think the numbers absolutely are causing people deep concern. I have been worried for quite some time that Palestinians would shoulder the burden. You can absolutely see what's happening in Gaza. I'm sorry, 12,000 - you've quoted 11, the figures are so huge. 11,000. 12,000, either way, too many Palestinians have paid a price. I've said we needed to see a much more strategic and precise way to deal with this. And the Israeli government, in terms of the actions we've seen so far. And in particular, I think it's been called out the way in which hospitals have been affected, which has raised concerns about the observance of international humanitarian law. This is undermining the legitimacy of what Israel is doing in terms of pursuing Hamas. Hamas should be held to account. But I've got to say, 4000 children losing their lives, they are not Hamas. And this is a real concern. And I don't think it's just a concern for me as an MP of the Muslim faith. I think everyone who sees images of what's happening to kids will go, that is a line too far.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Ed Husic, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

ED HUSIC: Thank you.