Australia & Artificial Intelligence: A Long Road Ahead
For a number of decades, Australia has been “winning.” They rank 10th among all nations in GDP per capita and 7th in life expectancy, all while boasting very low income inequality.
In 1960, it was Australian researchers who discovered immunological tolerance. Almost 40 years later, Australian engineer John O’Sullivan invented wifi.
For a country of less than 25 million, Australia boasts 16 Nobel Prizes.
Due to their relatively independent geographical location, Australian researchers usually focus on developing and testing small-scale, high-value products and technologies that can be designed and developed on a large scale in overseas markets.
Australia's highly active research ecology, innovative talent system, stable political and economic environment, supportive regulatory system, and its accessible innovation support programs implemented by federal and state governments continue to drive the development of disruptive technologies in Australia.
Australia is currently adding Additive Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Big Data, Blockchain, Cloud, Cyber Security, and Immersive Simulation.
AI industry leaders have highlighted the importance of new emerging technology on the Australian economy. Andrew Charlton, director of AlphaBeta, said: "AI and machine automation could be Australia's biggest economic development opportunity in nearly three decades.
This technology is now the largest source of productivity growth and is expected to contribute an additional $2.2 trillion to the Australian economy by 2030." The Australian government has recognized this importance and has conducted in-depth research in the field of artificial intelligence.
Fruitful partnerships between the public and private sector in Australia have created a technology industry that has developed a leading-edge in detailed segmentation in the areas of agriculture, health, resources and energy, education, finance, and transportation.
Deakin University developed a remote-controlled ultrasound haptic feedback robot that allows doctors to remotely perform abdominal ultrasound probes with depth information and feed the probe's haptic feedback back to the doctor.
This makes it seem as if the doctor is right next to the patient, making telemedicine much more accurate. UBTECH's Alpha 2 artificial intelligence robot is also in operation.
The artificial intelligence research center jointly established by the University of Sydney and UBTECH Robotics of China is led by professor Tao Dacheng, a world-renowned Ai scholar. The research center focuses on the challenges posed by intelligent devices such as robots, self-driving cars, and drones.
The Australian center for field robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney has been conducting more than a decade of in-depth research in the field of autonomous remote sensing systems, particularly in the application of related technologies in the field of agriculture, forestry, and the environment.
One of the center's projects, RIPPA, is a solar powered farming robot that reduces the cost of production through completely independent uninterrupted operation. RIPPA not only removes weeds and provides precise sprinkler irrigation, but by measuring soil moisture and temperature, it provides updates and analysis on crop health.
While there are bright spots in AI coming from Australia, however, many Australian tech-leaders don’t feel optimistic that Australia will thrive in a coming era of AI.
First off, Australia has a major problem with industry diversity. Other than its huge mining industry, Australia lacks strength in a diverse range of sectors. Simply, Australia lacks the economies of scale and industry diversity to be a leader in the future of research and development.
In many cases, the best Australian researchers and developers are moving to the US and UK in a generational loss of talent. A 2016 survey by the Australian Society for Medical Research found that 61% of respondents had considered leaving Australia.
In 2018, an ABC News article hit the Australian public with the title, “Australia Faces a ‘Postdocalypse’ as young scientists take their brains and talents overseas.”
While the loss of talent certainly constitutes an issue for the future of Australian research and development, it may be chalked up to something cultural within Australian society.
First off, there is a perception by Australians that research and academia is applied of little value.
Even scarier, however, is the idea that because Australians have been “winning” for so long, they have little reason to innovate and change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, because it hasn’t been necessary, implementation of research, development, and technology has been slow and painful.
A huge problem that has been highlighted by COVID-19 is the lack of research and development opportunities in the private sector. In fact, only one-third of Australian scientists work in industry.
Looking specifically at AI, more than 95% of Australia’s research and development into artificial intelligence is sponsored by academic money. This may normally not be an issue, but this academic money is largely reliant on Chinese students.
Chinese students who will be unable to come to university in Australia in the near future. Australian Universities expect to see a loss of 15% of students due to the coronavirus.
Given all these pieces, Australia faces a long road ahead when it comes to technology and innovation. While Australia has a generally strong economy used to winning, its lack of industry diversity and talent loss, paired with COVID-19, has left Australian research and development bare for the coming years.
Written by Wanxuan Li & Ethan Samuels, Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Jack Argiro, Kevin Ma & Jason Kauppila
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