30 July 2019

Far from a future fantasy, University of South Australia Professor of Sociology, Anthony Elliott says the Artificial Intelligence revolution is right here, right now. 

Co-author of a report - The effective and ethical development of artificial intelligence - commissioned by the National Science and Technology Council and Australia’s Chief Scientist and released in Canberra today, Prof Elliott says Australian governments and industries need to integrate an understanding of the impacts of AI into their planning swiftly. 

“We are already witnessing the spread of advanced AI which is mobile, situationally aware and adaptive and is in real-time communication with other intelligent machines,” Prof Elliott says.  

“Robots move boxes in factories as well as conduct shelf-auditing in supermarkets, and complex algorithms complete tax returns and trade on financial markets - this is all happening now. 

“We have to be much more interventionist, and craft policy-thinking to cope with the unexpected, unanticipated shifts stemming from the digital revolution.” 

The report, undertaken by the Australian Council of Learned Academies and supported by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Research Council, and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science – sets out a far-reaching series of findings seeking to improve Australia’s economic, societal and environmental well-being.  

Author of a major new book The Culture of AI, Professor Elliott, says the ACOLA report will be highly significant for the governance and harnessing of AI for 21st-Century Australia. 

“Australia has come to this review quite late – most advanced countries have already completed government-sponsored reviews of AI,” Prof Elliott says. 

“In the UK, the House of Lords Select Committee on AI really set the bench-mark for the kind of policy-rich analysis that governments require.” 

He says now that the ACOLA report has been delivered it is an important start for public discussion in Australia about AI. 

“What is now urgently needed is a national summit on AI – involving politicians, policy-makers, business and industry leaders, and community representatives,” Prof Elliott says.  

“A summit would provide an opportunity to consider how Australia might best fashion a common framework for the ethical development of AI, both at the domestic and global levels.” 

The ACOLA report sets out parameters for a clear national AI framework which will be vital to a range of emerging ethical, legal and social issues facing Australia this century.   

The main elements of that national framework include: 

  • Educational offerings that foster public understanding and awareness of AI. 
  • Guidelines and advice for procurement of AI, especially for the public sector and SMEs. 
  • Enhanced and responsive governance and regulatory mechanisms to deal with issues arising from cyber-physical systems and AI. 
  • Integrated interdisciplinary design and development requirements for AI and cyber-physical systems that have positive social impacts. 
  • Investment in the core science of AI and translational research, as well as in AI skills. 

Prof Elliott says the real challenge ahead for Australia is finding a balance between innovation and risk. 

“We need to find a way to balance the promise of unprecedented technological transformation of manufacturing, infrastructure and the economy on the one side, and the growing risks of technological unemployment and autonomous weapons on the other,” he says. 

UniSA media contact: Michèle Nardelli phone: +61 418 823 673 or +61 882960854 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

Contact for media interview: Prof Anthony Elliott, 0434187617, email: anthony.elliott@unisa.edu.au 

About ACOLA Report: The effective and ethical development of artificial intelligence

ACOLA’s Horizon Scanning reports are commissioned by the National Science and Technology Council and Australia’s Chief Scientist to present timely interdisciplinary analyses to guide decision-making through the decade ahead. This report is the fourth in ACOLA's Horizon Scanning Series and was supported by the Australian Research Council (project number CS170100008); the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

 About Anthony Elliott:

Professor Anthony Elliott is Executive Director of the Hawke EU Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Dean of External Engagement at the University of South Australia.  His most recent book is The Culture of AI (Routledge, 2019), hailed by Lord Anthony Giddens as “a unique and original contribution to the debate about AI now unfolding across the world”. 

Through awards from the Erasmus+ Jean Monnet Programme, the Australian Research Council, the Toyota Foundation, the Japan Foundation, and the Australia Japan Foundation, Professor Elliott currently leads an international team – working across Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Finland, Ireland, the UK and Japan – investigating the social impact of digital technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence.  In 2018, Professor Elliott was appointed to the Expert Working Group of the Academy of the Council of Learned Academies in Australia to investigate AI and the future of Australia. The project has been commissioned by the Chief Scientist of Australia at the request of the Prime Minister’s Commonwealth Science Council, and with support from the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.  

Professor Elliott is Visiting SuperGlobal Professor of Sociology at Keio University, Japan and Visiting Professor of Sociology at UCD, Ireland.  He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, a Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, and a member of King’s College, Cambridge.


He is the author and editor of some 40 books, which have been translated or are forthcoming in over a dozen languages.  He contributes to media worldwide: among others, he has recently been interviewed by the BBC World Service, The Sunday Times, ABC Radio National, The Australian, BBC Radio 4, GMTV Sunday, as well as European and North American radio and television networks.



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