AI framework is a ‘soft stick’ to guide govt: Oppermann

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The New South Wales Government’s new artificial intelligence assurance framework is a “soft stick” intended at providing the guard rails for the use of the technology, the state’s chief data scientist says.

Speaking at the CyberCon conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, NSW government chief data scientist Dr Ian Oppermann revealed that the new AI assurance framework has been applied to vendors bidding to develop a face-matching digital identity service for the state.

Ian Oppermann
Ian Oppermann: Led efforts to create a world’s first AI assurance framework

Dr Oppermann led the development of the AI assurance framework, which was unveiled earlier this year. The framework aims to help agencies establish a clear governance and accountability measure when using AI in policy or decisions.

An 11-member NSW Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee has also been established to advise on the use of the technology by the state government and to review the application of the framework.

In conversation at CyberCon with Marina Yastreboff, the president of the Australasian Society for Computers and the Law, (AusCL), Dr Oppermann said the framework was meant to be more of a carrot than a stick, and that agencies and departments face no tangible punishment if they don’t apply it – but that they may be left in the cold if things go wrong.

“The practical reality is the assurance framework helps people to have the right conversation in the first place. It gives people the practical guide rails to do something useful,” Dr Oppermann said.

“The carrot side is this is how you can step into your use of AI with more confidence. It’s not intended to be a stick, but the stick is that if you don’t apply it or follow the recommendations of the AI committee, then you’re on your own,” he said.

“It’s a soft stick but the idea is if you want to be on the positive side of AI going forward, you apply the framework.”

The state government went to market late last year for companies to provide two new digital identity systems offering liveness detection and face-matching. This is to prove identity for services requiring identity proofing level three.

This will be launched through a face-matching digital identity system to allow NSW residents to apply for or renew a working with children check. The state government recently applied its own AI assurance framework to the shortlisted bidders, Dr Oppermann said.

“We recently applied the assurance framework to vendors bidding for a particularly sensitive AI project for the NSW government, a face-matching digital ID system for working with children checks,” he said.

“Rather than going into Service NSW, you will soon be able to scan your face and renew your working with children check.

“That’s a sensitive use of AI, so we’ve asked the vendor to participate in the assurance process and the goal of ensuring the risks identified carry across the vendor threshold into government.”

Dr Oppermann is the chief data scientist for the NSW Government and launched the state’s data strategy in mid-2021.

“People got the point that data and analytics are useful a couple of years ago. We’ve seen what supermarkets and internet companies and governments are able to do,” he said.

“There is always a point where we get too specific, too granular or have too powerful insights. Exactly like our assurance framework, we’re trying to work out where we need to position the relative consequences and our sensitivity to data and its use.

“Is there a threshold we’re comfortable with? That’s the sort of thing we need to establish a community benchmark for.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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