Govt unveils AI capability centres plan a year after announcement

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The federal government will provide four artificial intelligence capability centres with $44 million to help commercialise the technology and support SMEs. Each of the centres will be industry-run and focus on one of the government’s manufacturing or digital priority areas.

Details of the AI Digital Capability Centres (DCC) were revealed Thursday, nearly a year after the centres were first announced by the government as part of its AI Action Plan.

Applicants for the competitive grants now have six weeks to apply for a competitive assessment process, with the Science and Technology minister to have final say on who gets funding up to $11 million each.

The grants will be available to cover up to 75 per cent of project expenditure, with applicants needing to partner with at least one other industry player and build on an existing technology, manufacturing hub or university.

Each centre will focus on a particular area in specific applications of AI that support the Government’s National Manufacturing Priorities or its growth priorities under the Digital Economy Strategy.

In an announcement on Thursday, Science and Technology minister Melissa Price said the DCCs will drive the commercialisation of Australia’s leading AI research into domestic and global markets, and help SMEs to access expertise for help using the technologies themselves.

“The Centres will act as a front door for SMEs to improve their AI skills in order to adopt AI products in their businesses,” Ms Price said in a statement.

“They will draw together industries, research institutions, innovation hubs and businesses to create an ecosystem that drives innovation, commercialisation and adoption of AI.”

Ms Price said the DCCs would focus on particular priority areas from the government’s existing manufacturing and digital economy strategies to improve sovereign manufacturing capabilities.

The National Manufacturing Priorities are resources technology & critical minerals processing, food and beverage, medical products, recycling and clean energy, defence, and space.

The government’s Digital Growth Priorities are digital SMEs, modern industry sectors, dynamic and emerging tech sector, and digital government services.

The AI DCCs were first revealed as part of the government’s AI Action Plan, which also includes a CSIRO run National AI Centre, grant and graduate programs.

The speed of the roll out of the Action Plan has been criticised by the local technology industry, which warned it was contributing to an AI talent exodus. The DCCs, the last part of the Action plan to be revealed, are also the only part of it to focus primarily on commercialising AI technologies.

Australian Information Industry Association general manager policy and advocacy Simon Bush has been calling for the centres to be fast tracked and to focus on commercialisation. On Thursday he said it was pleasing the government had finally heard the sector’s call.

“It is pleasing that government has accepted our recommendations that commercialisation needs to be a focus for the centres,” Mr Bush told InnovationAus.

“This was lacking in the AI strategy previously released so we are pleased by the announcement made today. Industry involvement must be core to executing on this objective.”

Applicants for the $11 million grants need to be an entity incorporated in Australia or a publicly funded research organisation. Applications are open now and close 12 May.

A committee including technical experts and industry will assess applications and make recommendations to the minister, who will make the final decision on grant recipients and amount. The earliest a DCC project can start will be July this year.

CSIROs National AI Centre unveiled its plan to increase AI skills and adoption earlier this month.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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