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Will NZ fall behind on AI?

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 03 September 2019, 2:43 pm

The AI Forum is calling for urgent action on the development of AI in New Zealand, and has today released a study into how this 'general purpose technology' can address social, environment and economic challenges.

The economic gains alone are forecast to be significant. Models from McKinsey and PwC show global GDP could be 14 percent higher with AI, and New Zealand could gain between 5.6 and 10.4 percent of total GDP, compared to a scenario without AI.

AI Forum Executive Director Ben Reid says the study, Towards Our Intelligent Future, is intended to "inspire New Zealand to benefit fully from the age of AI - we want to encourage greater investment, both public and private, convince organisations and individuals to invest more time and energy, foster more research and development, open up more data and motivate creativity and innovation to bring about a new AI-enabled vision for New Zealand."

At least 20 countries, most notably the USA and China, have announced national AI strategies backed by significant public investments. But we have yet to see one eventuate from the New Zealand Government.

"Primarily, New Zealand still has no national AI strategy and no targeted activity in Government to create one. This is despite indications a year ago that the New Zealand Government would move quickly on developing an AI action plan," the study notes.

The AI Forum released a report last year recommending that the Government get started on shaping a national strategy, and has provided the basis for drafting one, but this is a largely voluntary effort and a significant amount of work remains. It also notes that the Chief Technology Officer position, which presumably might have helped inform work in this area, remains unfilled.

There is also no research funding targeted specifically for AI projects or PhDs. "Although there is $49 million earmarked over seven years in the Government Strategic Science Investment Fund for big data research, this was not awarded in 2018, and was only in May 2019 open for proposals. The low levels of AI research funding is a notable gap compared to some of our usual international comparators such as the UK where the NZ$1.9 billion AI Sector Deal alone includes data science and AI research funding of over NZ$800 million," the report notes.

Reid says that organisations should press on with AI initiatives and not wait for the Government. "To take full advantage we need to act now, be the agile innovators we are and not wait for a fully-formed national strategy to arrive first," he says.

You can read the full report here.


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