Ian Oppermann on govt AI assurance frameworks


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Artificial intelligence experts will advise the NSW government on how the technology should be used by the state through an AI advisory committee revealed Wednesday. Initially the group will develop a world first AI assurance framework for government projects.

The eleven member NSW Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee is chaired by NSW chief data scientist Dr Ian Oppermann and includes academics, Big Tech executives and human rights representatives.

The committee is dominated by data and AI ethicists and independent experts. Its chair has said it will advocate for a “cautious but deliberate” approach to the use of the technology as NSW accelerates its own AI strategy.

Ian Oppermann
Ian Oppermann: Leading efforts to create the world’s first AI assurance frameworks

“We will not do the move fast and break things approach,” Dr Oppermann told InnovationAus.

“We are trying to do the exact opposite. We will deliberately keep moving forward but we will do it in a way that is cautious but deliberate.”

Dr Opperman said the committee has a depth and breadth of expertise covering both the technical “bits” of AI technology, as well as the guiding principles and ethics to ensure it does no harm. Most of the committee members were also involved in earlier stages of the NSW strategy.

“We sought most folks on the committee for their diversity of experience, and depth of understanding of data driven issues,” said Dr Opperman, noting each holds strong views on the technology.

The group’s primary focus will be to develop an assurance framework for AI use to be applied to current and potential AI projects. The framework will continuously evolve, according to Dr Oppermann, to ensure AI is “colouring in within the lines”.

“Since, to some extent, we’re relying on a machine to generate insights, we want to make sure that as and when we need to the assurance framework can help us see how those decisions are made so we can unpack the decisions.

“But also, to ensure that the policy outcomes are actually what we expect them to be as opposed to things just happening.”

Currently, there is no generic assurance framework for AI anywhere in the world.

The inaugural appointees of the NSW Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee are:

  • Theresa Anderson – School of Illinois, data & AI ethicist, research fellow, member of International Council Committee on Data (CODATA), Sydney ambassador for Women in Data Science Network
  • Fang Chen – UTS executive director data science/distinguished professor
  • Lee Hickin – Microsoft Australia national technology officer
  • Aurelie Jacquet – Australian Standards Committee on Artificial Intelligence chair
  • Peter Leonard – Data Synergies principal and NSW Business School professor of practice
  • Maria Milosavljevic – Services Australia inaugural Chief Data Officer
  • Dr Ian Oppermann – NSW chief data scientist
  • Edward Santow – Australian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Commissioner
  • Bill Simpson Young – Gradient Institute co-founder and chief executive
  • Neil Soderlund – Quantium Health & Government chief executive
  • Martin Stewart-Weeks  – Public Purpose Pty Ltd, principal

Additional experts with knowledge in a particular area may be invited to contribute to the committee.

The NSW government released an AI strategy late last year as part of its ongoing push to make the state the “digital capital of the Southern Hemisphere” also laying out policies for IoT and smart infrastructure.

The state government insists any of its use of AI would be guided by three pillars of privacy, transparency and security.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello, who has led the push for an AI strategy, has also said the controversial technology would not be used to make unilateral decisions that impact NSW citizens or their human rights, and decisions made using AI will be reviewable.

But there is also an urgency from NSW Government to capture the value from the technology, widely regarded to be transformational.

“AI is becoming more prevalent in our day-to-day life and the NSW Government is determined to lead the way in its use and to drive improvements wherever possible, while ensuring it’s done in an ethical way,” said Minister Dominello on Wednesday.

Dr Opperman is confident the government would be responsive to its advice because of the years of work on the NSW AI policy, including industry summits and several AI “masterclasses” on specific use cases ¬– a process that was “not all roses”.

He says the committee would issue friendly but fearless advice on potential uses of AI by the NSW government as well as reviewing current AI programs

“The issue, of course, is who is listening,” Dr Oppermann told InnovationAus. “That’s always the weakness of advisory committees of any description.”

“Minister Dominello is directly going to be involved, and there will be a role… [of] providing solid advice about new projects before they are initiated. We’ll see how well that mechanism works, but I’m pretty confident with the support of Minister Dominello that mechanism will actually be effective.”

Already the state government is using AI for things like identifying endangered plant species and predictive maintenance of public transport. But higher risk projects like analyzing deidentified patient records are also underway.

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