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Doorstop - National Summit on Artificial Intelligence

15 November 2019

Interviewer: 
Journalists

Subject: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, technology

E&OE

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews held a doorstop at Techtonic, the National Summit on Artificial Intelligence, at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure to be here this morning in Canberra hosting the AI conference that is going to shape the way that AI is developed here in Australia. What we do have gathered here this morning are some of the best AI minds across this country. We're going to be looking at artificial intelligence, how it exists now, what the future looks like for artificial intelligence, how we can work with it to make sure that it's a positive experience so that it helps businesses and that it helps of course each one of us in our everyday lives, whether that be at work or whether that be during our leisure time. So today is about maximising potential AI opportunities for all of Australia. So we will be hearing from a number of guest speakers but we’ll also be hearing about some of the AI technologies that have already been developed here in Australia and have the potential to seriously impact in a very positive way the way in which we live. Now of course this week across Australia, and previously, we have been hit by devastating bushfires. So one of the technologies we're looking at and one of the ways that we're looking at using artificial intelligence is to look at how we can track the fire front, how we can provide opportunities to communicate directly with communities so that they understand that a fire front is coming their way, where the priorities would be, where the resources need to be put to assist in combating that fire, but also keeping our communities safe. We're also going to be hearing about many of the health AI applications, whether it's early warning systems for heart attack, whether it's early detection for melanoma, whether it's keeping people in our aged care facilities safe because their falls can be monitored. And this gives opportunities for the staff at our aged care facilities to be very dedicated to patient care and making sure that they are being assisted by the technologies. So, artificial intelligence was identified as a key opportunity for Australia. It was one of the first things that I started to focus on when I was appointed as the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology just over 12 months ago. So today's summit is the culmination of many months work to put together the opportunities but to build on the work that we have been doing over the last few months with developing an AI Ethics Framework and of course releasing the AI Roadmap here today which sets out a potential roadmap for Australia. It identifies opportunities and it identifies risks. Now of course, people are concerned that artificial intelligence technology is going to take away their job. I understand that concern. But artificial intelligence is going to create more jobs. The jobs will be different and of course we're not in a position to predict exactly what those jobs are going to be, but we do know that artificial intelligence is going to have an impact. Now, we have used autonomous vehicles in this country for many years – autonomous trains, autonomous vehicles on mine sites. That work has already been done and it has created new opportunities. AI is being used to keep our workers safe. So what I want to say to Australia is artificial intelligence is such an opportunity to make our lives easier, but to build the jobs of the future. And what I would concentrate on for particularly our young people – in the past, literacy and numeracy were very important for getting a job. Now it's literacy, numeracy and digital skills that are going to be needed for the jobs of the future.

Question: On that, it’s okay I guess to say that the younger generation will need those skills. What about the people that lose the jobs and reskilling them?

Karen Andrews: Of course we've got many workers that are currently in the workforce now and their jobs are likely to change over time. So what we need to concentrate on is identifying opportunities to reskill, to upskill, to bring the workers of Australia with us as we look at technologies that are going to make their jobs safer or to give them additional opportunities. And I do understand that that can be a very scary thing, but there are opportunities with artificial intelligence, there's opportunities with robotics. So let's harness those opportunities, but always keep in mind the impact of artificial intelligence on society, so be mindful that there will be disruption to jobs, there will be significant job changes and there will be significant job creation opportunities. So we will not leave workers behind. We will look at opportunities to bring them along the artificial intelligence road to make sure that they continue to be part of Australia's AI future.

Question: When it comes to bushfire negation, the debate about things like burn-off pretty much is centre stage. Does machine learning and AI need to become a bigger part of the conversation so that we’re prepped for the potential fires in the future?

Karen Andrews: Environmental issues and disaster management are clearly opportunities for us to use artificial intelligence to protect us now and into the future. So I will work closely with the CSIRO to look at what we can do for drought management, to see what we can do with disaster management, particularly with bushfires, as we head into the bushfire season here in Australia, and quite frankly, we are already there. So it will be, as the experts are saying, a long bushfire season. Let's look at what we can do now but also set ourselves up for the future because we can't just look at these bushfires in isolation. We need to look at the next season and the one after that: what can we do? And of course the initiatives with artificial intelligence will assist. They will gather information and that information will be used for further information and further decision making. But it will be based on evidence.

Question: So with the drought and these huge fires, it sort of presents an opportunity to have discussions. Are you having quite regular discussions with the different ministers who are involved with this, in terms of looking at how AI and this tech can be used now or at least in future?

Karen Andrews: Yes, absolutely. So I am in discussions with a number of my colleagues and also with many researchers and research organisations about some of the pressing issues that are facing Australia. And of course that includes drought and it does include disaster management. Now obviously right now, our priority is on dealing with those fires and those communities that are affected. And it's not just the people whose houses are at risk or the buildings that are at risk. These are lives that we need to be looking after. So we need to focus absolutely on looking after the here and now with the bushfires. But we cannot, we cannot, let go of what we need to do for the future so that we can mitigate the risks associated with these events happening in the future. It's unrealistic to suggest that these will be eliminated but with the access to more information, with the access to artificial intelligence and particularly the learning through machines that we have access to, with the imagery that's coming from satellites that gives us earth observations, that can help us track the fire fronts as well. But it can look at our water sources; it can look at where we are in significant fire danger. All of these things we have to bring together to manage Australia's future.

Question: But given that this seems early in bushfire season and bushfire seasons are getting longer, where will this sit on your list of priorities to bring this to Cabinet?

Karen Andrews: Look, it's very important and I’ve already had discussions about artificial intelligence and technologies and all the positive opportunities. So those conversations have started, work is already underway. It's in the initial stages in some areas without a doubt, particularly when we're looking at earth observation technologies and the information that we can get from satellites. But we are very focused on making sure that we get the right pictures and that we are using that positively and proactively for the future.

Question: You just visited the US. How are we really stacking up in AI and machine learning compared to countries like that? Do we need to be investing more in the future?

Karen Andrews: Look, that's a good question. I have just returned from the United States where most of my visit was focused on the space sector and of course there are some huge opportunities for Australia in space. Artificial intelligence, including robotics will be a key part of that. Now, we have some particular expertise that we are world leading in, automation is certainly one of those areas. Remote operations of mine sites for example, we're doing particularly in Western Australia in the Pilbara region where we’re operating mine sites from about 1600 kilometres away in Perth. So NASA is particularly interested in that work and we are world leading, and that is part of the artificial intelligence subject matter. We're also very good at health and remote health in particular, and NASA's very interested in talking to us about remote health. So we manage for example, health of our workers in the Antarctic through operations in Hobart. And there are already examples where, through remote health, we have managed to assist doctors who have had to perform operations on themselves when they have been wintering in Antarctica, and have been unable to get support. We've managed that from Australia as well. That's the technology that we're going to be using. Artificial intelligence is a key part of that, particularly with data collection and particularly with using that information to guide future decisions. And I guess to move onto a topic to make it really quite relatable to people, Netflix is actually quite a good example of artificial intelligence. So a number of years ago, you needed to email what your chosen movie was going to be. Now you will get a range of selections that are put to you based on your viewing history and what's likely to be appealing to you. That's a simple, but a very worthwhile example and one that's easy to understand. Google Maps is using AI to look at where the blockages are going to be on roads so it can give you the best route that you need to take, which is saving you time and certainly saving you the frustrations of being stuck in traffic when there's an alternate route. So these are things that people use every single day. And of course if you want to look at Internet mapping, you know, it really wasn't that long ago where people were relying on a paper street directory to get around, which you had to then work out which was the best way to get from point A to point B. Now you can jump straight onto Google Maps, punch in where you are, where you want to go - and in fact using location services you don't even need to punch in where you are - but just put that into your mobile device and it will give you the best and fastest route to get to where you need to go.

Question: Minister, you also mentioned of course earlier the use of privacy. What are some of the biggest challenges especially as we’ve had like, PR disasters with Facebook, with Twitter, YouTube? What about privacy issues using artificial intelligence?

Karen Andrews: Look, privacy is a significant issue and it is one of the most significant barriers to a broader uptake of artificial intelligence because people are not confident that the system is going to be safe and is going to be secure. It's not just about the data. There's various statistics around that talk about the level of acceptance of autonomous vehicles. Whilst people's confidence is rising, it’s not where it needs to be at the moment and people are concerned about handing over to an autonomous vehicle to allow it to take you to where you need to go. We're still much more comfortable being in the driver's seat ourselves and using the brake and the accelerator. So we've got to get that confidence level. Privacy going forward is going to be a key part of the discussion that we need to have.

ENDS