UNSW pushes ahead with new AI research institute


A new artificial intelligence institute at the University of New South Wales hopes to forge interdisciplinary connections between researchers and improve commercialisation opportunities.

The UNSW AI Institute launched on Tuesday to bring together the more than 300 academics working in AI across the university’s various faculties.

“Our objective… is to synergise the activities of researchers working in AI, machine learning, and data science, to maximise our collective impact,” Interim director Associate Professor Haris Aziz said.

He said this would include “fostering interdisciplinary connections for both teaching and research, participation in public dialogue on AI, and driving the commercialisation of our research”.

UNSW AI Institute chief scientist Toby Walsh and interim director Associate Professor Haris Aziz. Credit: UNSW

“The UNSW AI Institute is a platform to help connect UNSW AI researchers with each other and the rest of the world,” Associate Professor Aziz said.

“We have a wealth of world-class researchers working on fundamental AI problems or applying AI techniques to their respective domains.

“The main consideration for setting up the institute was to make sure that we capitalise on our strengths and make it easier for the world to engage with us.”

The institute will also have a role in explaining the opportunities and risks that AI poses to society as it becomes more intrenched, according to UNSW vice-chancellor Professor Attila Brungs.

“It will play its part in explaining to the broader community how AI can be of benefit to society, but also encourage debate about its use and limitations, including appropriate regulation,” he said.

UNSW Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor of AI Toby Walsh will take up the role of UNSW AI Institute Chief Scientist at what he describes as the “most exciting time to be working in the field”.

“We are seeing these technologies leave the laboratory and enter our homes, offices, and factories,” he said. “The role of the UNSW AI Institute is to facilitate this transfer and ensure AI is deployed responsibly, that benefits all members of society.”

One area where UNSW is “well-positioned to make a significant impact” is health and medicine-related AI, particularly AI-empowered biomedicine, according to Associate Professor Aziz.

He said there had been $28.9 billion in global private AI investment in health and medicine over the last five years.

Earlier this month, a report from the Tech Council of Australia found AI receives relatively less funding compared to global VC funding trends.

Other experts at the launch included National AI Centre director Stela Solar, Google Research Australia head Professor Peter Barlett, and NSW government chief data scientist Dr Ian Oppermann.

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