The federal government will spend $17 million to help Australian small businesses upskill in artificial intelligence, as Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic prepares to hand down his verdict on whether new AI laws and regulations are needed.
Husic will unveil the new funding on Friday, which will be used to establish up to five AI Adopt centres nationally that will act as a “front door” for AI use and training for businesses.
Ed Husic is preparing the government’s response to an AI inquiry.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The centres will provide specialist training around AI skills and help reverse concerning statistics that rank Australia near the bottom of the table for business AI adoption globally, Husic said.
AI training will be provided without charge to eligible businesses, he said, adding that small businesses were often unsure how best to deploy AI in their workloads.
It comes at a pivotal moment for the technology globally, as tech giants including Microsoft and Google race to quickly build out their products and increase adoption, despite some experts warning about widespread job losses caused by automation, as well as a rise in socioeconomic inequality and algorithmic bias caused by bad data.
Governments are weighing how to best handle AI and the Australian government earlier this year launched an inquiry into what regulations might be needed to ensure its safe development and usage.
The inquiry received more than 500 submissions, including from Google, OpenAI and Microsoft, with industry groups and consumers identifying trust as a key issue. Husic said the government will issue its response in coming weeks.
The government in August extended its consultation period after receiving more submissions than it expected. “The government has identified trust as a key issue and a barrier to the adoption of AI,” Husic said.
“We know smaller businesses are not using AI because it seems too complex, we want to help them weave it into day-to-day work.”
“Using AI can give businesses an edge to help them compete … We can’t have a lack of trust in technology hold the economy back.
“We’re setting up these centres is to answer [small and medium enterprises’] questions and doubts, and then supercharge these companies,” he added. The government is seeking applications from local businesses, industry partners and research institutions to deliver the training to businesses.
A recent University of Queensland and KPMG Australia study found only 40 per cent of Australians trust the use of AI at work.
According to Simon Bush, the chief executive of industry body Australian Information Industry Association, Australia ranks near the bottom of business AI adoption tables globally.
“This new government program is a necessary and important investment by the government to ensure Australian businesses have the skills and confidence to adopt generative AI technologies,” Bush said.
“We are pleased to be able to support the official launch of new AI Adopt Centres as a tangible way to help Australia move up the AI adoption ladder so that the Australian economy can reap the benefits that we know AI can bring.”
Bush added that Deloitte has estimated more than a quarter of the Australian economy – some $600 billion worth of economic activity – faces rapid and significant disruption from generative AI.
“This funding will assist in ensuring that Australian businesses don’t miss out on harnessing the massive productivity benefits that AI and generate AI will bring to their businesses and the wider economy,” he said.
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