The Labor party’s $3 million pledge for a new artificial intelligence centre of excellence will aim to make Australia a hub of “ethical” AI development at a watershed moment of backlash against the internet giants, opposition spokesman for the digital economy Ed Husic has told The Australian Financial Review Innovation Summit.
Mr Husic said 2018 would be remembered as a “threshold year” in technology as momentous as 2007, when the internet surpassed 1 billion users, the iPhone and the Android operating system were launched, and Airbnb and bitcoin were conceived.
“Ten years later, 2018 has emerged as the threshold year for how we use those tools and how they are used on us,” Mr Husic said.
He said the AI research centre would be non-partisan, and unlike the industry growth centre model already established in sectors like cybersecurity or advanced manufacturing, would involve union and community representatives as well as industry and academia so that a more human-centric vision for AI development could be developed.
Mr Husic won support for his announcement from Liesl Yearsley, a local AI entrepreneur who has already sold one business to IBM, whose company Akin is conducting research and development into the application of neuroscience into AI platforms, with the aim of making them more responsive to human concerns.
Worries about how companies and governments use our data, our personal over-reliance on technology, and the way it will be used in our places of work had in recent months, Mr Husic said, led to responses like Apple revealing it would let iPhone users measure their screen-time, the backlash over My Health Records in Australia, and harsh new penalties for data misuse in the European Union.
Yet the possibility of mass job displacement from the introduction of AI was perhaps the biggest concern of all and cried out for a united response.
“At a time where the narrative of the day levers off division and dispute, we think the Centre provides the perfect ground to think and act together for broader benefit,” Mr Husic said.
In a less partisan spirit, Mr Husic criticised the Government’s retreat from its ‘jobs and innovation’ mantra of three years ago and questioned why it had taken two years to respond to Innovation & Science Australia recommendations to reshape the research and development tax incentive.
Labor was still working on its response to R&D incentive changes finally announced this year, which capped at $4 million the maximum refund a start-up could claim in any one year. Mr Husic said entrepreneurs just wanted the incentive left alone.
Recently passed ‘safe harbour’ legislation would also be revisited by a Labor Government, Mr Husic told The Australian Financial Review on the sidelines of the Summit.
Parliament recently passed an extension of the protections that prevent rights holders from suing so long as the providers of infringing material obey takedown notices, or challenge them in good faith. But only internet service providers and institutions in a few sectors, including education and disability, are covered by them.
This left Australia’s thriving online marketplace industry, including companies like Redbubble, Envato and 99Designs, with the prospect of legal costs to defend every alleged copyright infringement, Mr Husic said.
“Why should the lawyers get money these companies could be spending on creating jobs?” Mr Husic said.