CSIRO backs US partnership with $9m step up on AI, climate

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The Australian and US national science agencies have deepened ties by joint-funding AI and sustainability research projects, and pledging to run more interdisciplinary international collaborations that focus on challenges like AI ethics and decarbonisation.

The CSIRO has matched $2 million in new grants and pledged another $7 million to a US-led Global Centres Program, joining counterparts from the US, UK and Canada in the $100 million international climate science initiative.

Dr Larry Marshall, Minister Ed Husic and Sethuraman Panchanathan in Sydney on Monday. Image: CSIRO

Australia’s national science agency and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) have collaborated for decades, but the new initiatives mark a joint approach to global challenges, CSIRO chief Dr Larry Marshall said.

“This is really the first time we’ve formalised a partnership between the two countries to tackle some of the most important challenges that we face as a nation using cutting edge technology like artificial intelligence,” Dr Marshall said.

Three research projects involving Australian and US universities received the responsible and ethical AI grants. UNSW, RMIT, UTS and University of Melbourne researchers are among the three teams using AI minimise the impacts of pandemics, emissions and drought.

Sustainable materials grants under the CSIRO-NRF partnership were awarded in December with the University of Wollongong and Western Sydney University joining US counterparts to tackle plastic waste. While the University of Queensland is working with Stony Brook University on sustainable manufacturing.

The CSIRO is also now an anchor partner in the NSF Global Centres in Climate Change and Clean Energy, joining UK and Canadian agencies by contributing $7 million. The program aims to develop use-inspired applied research on climate change and clean energy.

The initiatives were announced Monday in conjunction with the visit of the head of the NSF, Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan, who met with Industry and Science minister Ed Husic, CSIRO chief executive Marshall and Australia’s chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley.

Mr Husic, who launched the partnership in Sydney at the CSIRO’s Data61 facility, said the research initiatives were about using advanced technologies to improve people’s quality of live.

“While there’ll be people from time to time that wonder about the impact of technology, we need to deal with concerns around technology. But we also need to make sure we’re using technology in a way that’s making a difference in people’s lives, improving the longer term running of the economy.”

Dr Panchanathan said the AI for social good grants program had been well received by the US-Australian research community.

“When we announced this joint funding opportunity, there were 45 proposals. What it tells you is the vibrancy of the teams coming together and wanting to work together solving societal problems, like the pandemic resilience or the disaster resilience or environmental challenges,” he said,

“That they all want to work together and really find common solutions that can impact us.”

The closer science ties with the US – which is also making large government investments in its science and industry – comes as the Albanese government reviews the way Australia’s science diplomacy is structured.

But Minister Husic said the review would have a strong regional focus as well.

“My big motivation is for us to build stronger links locally,” Mr Husic said.

“We’ll be working with people from all the countries in the regional neighborhood, working together on common problems. I think that when it comes to innovation, it shouldn’t just be about making a buck but making a difference.”

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