Australia needs a national approach to AI strategy
An open letter by ACS, BCA, Ai Group, Tech Council, ACCI, and COSBOA.
By Australian Computer Society, Business Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ai Group, Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, and Tech Council of Australia on Oct 23 2023 11:44 PM
Australians are keen users of new technologies.
We were early adopters of digital payments and have high rates of streaming adoption.
Many of us marvelled at the wonders of new generative artificial intelligence (AI) models and within two months of its release, an estimated one million Australians were using ChatGPT.
We’ve started to see the benefits of these generative AI technologies.
Businesses have begun embedding these models in their service offerings and individuals are enjoying efficiencies from assistance with tasks like drafting emails or practicing their approach to hard conversations.
But many Australians also have concerns about challenges and risks that may come with adoption of AI.
Schools are grappling with what this technology means for how students learn and can be fairly assessed.
Healthcare providers are faced with questions about how this technology can be adopted without compromising patient privacy.
As we continue to adopt AI, it’s imperative that we have the right mechanisms to address these challenges collectively.
This is why business groups including Business Council of Australia (BCA), Ai Group, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), Australian Computer Society (ACS) and the Tech Council of Australia (TCA) have united to offer the government the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with those at the forefront of the AI revolution, to effectively manage its benefits and risks.
Australia needs national leadership to usher in collaboration on safe and responsible AI adoption and that begins with a plan, building on the work already underway across government.
Australia needs a clear plan for safely adopting and regulating AI.
Without a whole-of-government approach to reviewing and reforming our existing legal framework, in combination with measures such as industry standards, assurance and training, we will not be able to protect Australians effectively.
The breadth of AI applications is what makes it so powerful.
However, this complexity also means that effective regulation and collaboration is necessary if we want to utilise AI to its full potential.
It is important to note that there is already regulation of AI in Australia.
Existing legal frameworks, including consumer protection law and anti-discrimination laws, set out obligations and guardrails for the use of AI – like any other technology, product or service.
However, there may be new applications of AI that necessitate different regulatory approaches or tools.
Developing a clear understanding of those gaps and figuring out practical solutions is often complex and best done together.
In the absence of national leadership, Australia will fall behind the world in seizing the economic opportunity of AI, and fail to prepare our workers with the skills they need to use it in their jobs.
In many ways, managing the integration of AI into Australian work and society is similar to managing the transition to net zero.
Just as reducing our carbon emissions requires a considered, coordinated approach across the economy, developing a framework that will allow us to realise the benefits of AI requires national leadership.
That is why business groups across the economy are offering to work with the federal government to develop the coordinated, consistent model we need.
This includes support for reforms in a number of key areas.
Firstly, we’re calling on the government to develop an economic plan to support Australia to realise the economic and productivity opportunities from AI.
This must include a plan to encourage investment and uptake, including by small and medium business, and to develop a thriving local AI ecosystem.
It must also include a clear training and workforce plan to develop specialist skills and to support workers across the economy to do their jobs.
Second, we support the government publishing a whole-of-government strategy for how it will regulate AI while also supporting economic opportunity, as the UK Government has done, and establishing a whole-of-government taskforce to coordinate activity.
This strategy needs to firstly clarify the many instances where existing laws are already regulating AI, and how the government will raise awareness of the protections already in place today with Australians and businesses.
We also support reform of existing laws to keep pace with AI and keep Australians safe, including in key areas such as privacy law, liability law and administrative law.
We support the government coordinating with sector-specific regulators to identify reforms or issue guidelines in their domain areas for AI, as the UK government has done.
We support the government identifying where there are other gaps in law or practice. We offer to work in partnership with the government and other stakeholder groups to address them, including through the development of standards, codes, assurance practices, training and education programs.
To engage on these reforms, businesses and other stakeholders need a whole-of-government process and options to engage with.
That’s why we support the federal government establishing a whole-of-government taskforce to coordinate a truly national response, and moving quickly to lay out the key areas of work underway across the government, and explain how it will take a consultative and inclusive approach to working with all stakeholders.
This proposal is not only supported by businesses – regulators and unions have also called for a coordinated model.
This strong consensus for action and reform across many AI stakeholder groups in Australia gives us a unique opportunity to create a truly national plan that will benefit the country for generations.
But it will require a national, whole-of-government leadership role from the federal government to develop and realise it.