Global talent to drive NSW AI ambitions


James Riley
Editorial Director

A funny thing happened in New South Wales last Friday. Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello unveiled the state’s first ever artificial intelligence strategy at an afternoon event in Sydney and three television crews turned up.

One swallow does not make a spring I suppose, but that fact alone is an indicator of the mainstreaming of the discussion about artificial intelligence in NSW, if not the rest of the country. While development of the AI strategy was started before COVID, the progress of that public discussion has accelerated as a result of the pandemic and the general strangeness of 2020.

The mainstream interest in the release of the AI strategy is a marker. The acceleration of its implementation comes with additional resources via the NSW government’s $1.6 billion economic stimulus package over the next three years being directed at building the state’s digital infrastructure.

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Victor Dominello flagged the need for a state AI strategy more than a year ago. After complaining that the federal government was not moving fast enough on AI, Mr Dominello appointed NSW chief digital officer Ian Oppermann last August to bring together “the best and bright” to develop a framework from which the strategy has been drawn.

Mr Dominello said the strategy outlines a roadmap for the “trusted, tested and transparent use” of artificial intelligence.

Most significantly, the new strategy includes the outlines of citizen review process. Mr Dominello said a new NSW Government AI Review Committee would be established to oversee the use of AI in government, to be chaired by Dr Oppermann.

It is not yet clear who else will be on that review committee.

“This strategy brings together the three key pillars of privacy, transparency and security, within the prism of ethics,” Mr Dominello said.

The strategy itself also outlines the principle of citizen review, with responsibility for decision-making remaining with the agency and for citizens impacted by a decision able to access a review of that decision.

“AI will not be used to make unilateral decisions that impact our citizens or their human rights. We need to carefully monitor the consequences of decisions that AI might inform. AI is a tool to assist in decision-making, and service delivery, but any AI-informed decision remains the responsibility of the agency using the technology,” the overarching strategy says.

“Further, the NSW Government approach is clear that no AI-informed decision will be made without those impacted being able to access a quick and efficient review. Citizens should be able to understand how their data is being used and for what purpose,” it said.

“Often, additional safeguards will need to be in place to ensure the right questions are being asked of the technology and that the correct legislative interpretation is informing the AI solution.”

The strategy also prioritises the development of AI skills in government and will strengthen industry partnerships through a consistent approach to procurement of AI products and services.

Mr Dominello said the state would invest heavily in building local capability to drive AI in both the public and private sectors. But with NSW pressing hard to make Sydney and NSW a centre of excellence in the next three years, he said the state would seek to import top tier talent from around the world.

The AI strategy is the third pillar of the state’s commitment to making NSW the digital capital of the southern hemisphere, having recently launched policies on the Internet of Things and Smart Infrastructure.

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