“You’re using AI (artificial intelligence) and you don’t even know it,” says Wijay Wijaykumaran, Chief Architect at IBM.

It could be in the statistics you’re reading, the online customer service assistant you’re talking to, or the items you’ve been recommended just before online checkout. It’s being used more and more and public sentiment towards it is changing. So what conversations are the public sector having about AI?

The Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) is thinking seriously about AI. Not just about its application, but the supporting policies and frameworks around it. The opportunities that AI presents are almost boundless. In recent weeks, teams within the DFSI have spoken with AI experts to hear their views on the role of AI in the public service. We’ve compiled some of the key conversations. 

Adrian Turner, CEO of Data61, says that Australia needs to take action now. “As an economy, Australia is too small to avoid nationally organising their approach on AI. We’re 20 per cent behind OECD counterparts with our digital exports and we need to create the right regulatory framework to accelerate outcomes and impact.”

“While we need to take action, we shouldn’t jump headfirst into AI without concern for the risks and constraints,” says Dr Richard Knock, Senior Principal Researcher at Data61 and Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University. Knock says that machine learning (ML) alone presents many issues including privacy, hardware capability, accessibility and more.

AI inspiration for the public sector

“People working in government can use cases and examples from any industry, not just within the public sector,” says Wijaykumaran.

If you’re still stumped about how AI could be applied within your work, don’t despair, we’ve got five resources to get you inspired:

  • Google have gathered some examples of not-for-profits using AI for social good.
  • Private sector innovators pitched AI solutions to government problems – read what the finalists proposed.
  • HBR compiled a list of lessons learned from early adopters of AI.
  • AIlira – AI that uses natural language processing to provide free legal information for individuals, small businesses and law/tax professionals.
  • Transport for NSW have been looking at delivering meaningful data analysis with the help of Hyper Anna, an AI-powered data analyst.

Wijaykumaran’s advice for where to look for guidance and lived examples? “Look to China,” he says.

While the US and Israel are strong contenders in the AI market, you can’t ignore what is happening in China – they’re developing AI and putting it into practice faster than anyone else.

China have also developed a plan for AI standardisation, with lofty goals like producing AI that is on par with the world’s finest by 2020 and having AI as the primary driver for the Chinese industry by 2025. With the knowledge, uptake and the aspirations to make AI happen in the next few years, China is the one to watch.

AI needs heart

A resounding message from all of our experts was that AI and people need to leverage one another’s strengths. Where humans are biased, AI can learn to be unbiased (with the right data). Where AI has only IQ, humans have EQ as well. In the spaces where humans and AI interact, there is great potential for error, but there is also so much opportunity.

“We need to be talking about these things now, because the decisions made now will have great implications for the future that we build together,” says Knock.

What’s next?

DFSI is working on how to support NSW Government agencies to exploit the opportunities of AI, automated decision making and machine learning. The key focus is to ensure we achieve ethical and equitable outcomes for the people of NSW.

The NSW Government Policy Lab is looking to develop a whole-of-government AI Ethics Policy Framework. This project kicked off on 28 February with a workshop that brought AI and machine learning experts from industry, academia and the non-profit sector, together with professional ethicists and current and potential users of AI from across the NSW Government.

The Policy Lab is intending to collaborate with the AI experts from the Gradient Institute as we work with experts and government AI users to co-design and deliver the Framework. We’re now planning what that process will look like.  

Are you using AI in your team? Do you want to?

We want to hear about it! Whether you’re in planning phase, already implementing, or compiling learnings, send an email to digital@finance.nsw.gov.au to let us know.

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