Qld govt funds new AI hub

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Queensland government has pledged seed funding for a new artificial intelligence hub being built to address the skills shortage in the tech sector.

As part of its $650 million Advance Queensland initiative, the Queensland government has earmarked “millions” for a dedicated AI training and networking hub as part of the expansion of Brisbane startup hub, The Precinct.

The hub will offer specialised training courses for the local industry and public sector organisations.

In addition to its initial seed funding, the state government is calling for co-investment from the private sector.

Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones said the state had already received expressions of interest from major international companies, as well as Australian companies and universities.

“Not only will this hub create jobs for Queenslanders by upskilling them to fill the AI skills gap, it will also help AI startups to scale up to meet global demand for this technology,” she said.

“The AI Hub will provide a co-working space for startups along with mentoring and international networking opportunities.

“It will also help to attract investment into Queensland startups and innovative local companies with AI-based solutions for global markets.”

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision chief operating officer Sue Keay said the Queensland government’s attention toward AI marks its forward-thinking support for the sector.

“The AI Hub is an invaluable step on the road to developing a vibrant technology cluster in Queensland,” she said.

“A good example of this can be seen in the transformation of Pittsburgh in the United States, where a cluster of small-to-medium sized enterprises secured $499 million venture capital in 2014-15 alone,” she said.

“Similar to Queensland, Pittsburgh’s key to success was the existence of a well-established robotics-focused university, opening the door to cutting-edge innovation and collaboration.”

IntelliHQ founder and Griffith University Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems adjunct associate professor Kelvin Ross believes the Queensland government’s foray into AI would help drive a much needed conversation within the local sector.

“We need these initiatives more so to get industry and community collaborating. Government aren’t the driver of this but they certainly can see these initiatives will get people together,” he said.

“The idea of having a centre is about creating that critical mass, conversations, and collaborations. When you are an AI startup it’s good to have those common threads with others because what you find is that, as a startup, the success rate is pretty low.

“But if you’ve got enough critical mass then the people in those experiences from that startup might transition into the next one.”

Although by comparison to other nations around the world, Australia’s effort in AI is still in its infancy in what Mr Ross described is fast becoming a bullish market that is gaining plenty of attention from venture capitalists.

“Government has got to start investing in this area to develop skills and create the next round of incumbents,” he said.

“Internationally, we’re seeing other governments take a lead in the space and in some ways Australia has been a bit slower.

“If you look at a country like China, they recently announced their national policy in AI and that was a big move in their part. At MIT in Boston, they just announced a $1 billion college for AI on the campus.”

But it’s not just government that needs to pay attention. Mr Ross said universities need to look ahead, too.

“It’s a real challenge for universities to keep up with this pace of change. With accreditation, they’re always almost five years behind, so some of the biggest improvements in capabilities in expertise are coming through industry-based programs like the Young Women Leaders in AI program that we received federal government funding for,” he said.

“Not only do we need to need to make sure it’s about developing those AI skills, but making sure those skills address diversity because within AI there is a particular problem that without diversity bias gets built into algorithms.”

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