Denham Sadler
September 2, 2019

Science and tech council meets again

Science

Science and tech council meets again

Genevieve Bell: The National Science and Technology Committee has discussed STEM

The government’s peak advisory body on tech and science has turned its attention to the development of an artificial intelligence ethics framework and lifelong learning of STEM skills.

The National Science and Technology Council met for the third time in Brisbane last week, after it was launched to replace the Commonwealth Science Council in February this year.

The meeting was chaired by Industry Minister Karen Andrews, with education minister Dan Tehan also in attendance.

Council members include Professor Genevieve Bell, Professor Barbara Howlett, Professor Debra Henly and Professor Brian Schmidt.

They were briefed on the government’s progress in developing a national artificial intelligence ethics framework, and the “strong engagement” from stakeholders during consultation.

“The Department...will continue to refine the ethics principles and will engage with the Council as this work progresses,” the Council’s communique said.

CSIRO’s data arm Data61 released a draft ethical framework for AI in April, with a focus on economic, environmental and societal benefits. There is no set date on when the final framework will be presented, with consultations closing at the end of May.

The group also discussed a draft analysis of the opportunities on offer for Australia in an artificial intelligence manufacturing research challenge, with members providing feedback on its development going forward.

The final analysis of this challenge will be considered at the Council’s fourth meeting in Canberra in November.

STEM education and skills were also a central focus at the meeting. The Council members agreed that lifelong learning and STEM skills are “critical to securing meaningful jobs for Australians in the face of new and increasingly sophisticated technologies in our workplaces”, and considered current government policy work related to this.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews told InnovationAus.com that maximising the growth of STEM skills was a key priority for the National Science and Technology Committee and that Professor Debra Henly had been leading the committee’s work.

“Dan Tehan as Education Minister attended that part of the meeting, and what’s very clear is that we have to work very hard across all portfolios to make sure that we are maximising the growth in STEM skills,” Mrs Andrews said.

“What’s also very clear is that focusing just in encouraging students to do maths and science at school has only had a limited impact and so we do have to modify our strategy,” the minister said.

“The advice that I have been getting from many stakeholders is that we are better to be working with students on the ‘jobs of the future’ and pointing out to them that the best way to access these jobs is through the study of maths and sciences at school.”

According to the communique, the members agreed that they would remain engaged in these matters to ensure there continues to be a strong focus on science and technology skills training.

Professor Henly also presented her work in developing STEM student engagement and argued for the need to keep developing the national evidence base and building capacity in teachers.

Mr Tehan focused on the work his department is doing in these areas, and said he would engage further with the COAG Education Council and consider what else can be done to engage parents and industry in helping to keep students interested in STEM subjects.

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