White paper calls for major focus on NZ's AI investment

Author
Andrea Fox, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Nov 2021, 4:09PM
White paper suggests need to focus AI strategy and resources on NZ economy's vital industries. (Photo / 123RF)
White paper suggests need to focus AI strategy and resources on NZ economy's vital industries. (Photo / 123RF)

White paper calls for major focus on NZ's AI investment

Author
Andrea Fox, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Nov 2021, 4:09PM

If New Zealand does not invest in artificial intelligence research, its AI capabilities will only be efficient software running in the cloud of large overseas companies, creating risk for the country's technology and data sovereignty independence. 

This is a conclusion of the first white paper issued by New Zealand's Artificial Intelligence Researchers Association, which says our universities and research institutes have very strong AI research with "huge breadth and potential". 

"It is imperative to create and invest in an AI ecosystem where industry and research organisations can work together more closely for the benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand," said the paper. 

AI was profoundly changing how people live and work, and its cumulative impact was likely to be comparable to transformative technologies such as electricity or the internet. 

"As a result it is imperative that we take a strategic approach to realising the potential benefits offered by AI and to protecting people against the potential risks," the paper said. 

It was important to invest in AI which was imbued with characteristics and values important to New Zealand. 

"Otherwise we risk being relegated to users of overseas technologies developed by countries with different values." 

Following the framework designed by the World Economic Forum, the authors discuss the AI capabilities of New Zealand, and propose recommendations how to establish this country "as an exemplar of excellence and trust in AI worldwide". 

"Our vision is that by 2030, Aotearoa New Zealand will have a community of cutting edge companies producing and exporting AI technologies, supported by a strong network of researchers involved in high-level fundamental and applied research ... 

"The labour force will be highly qualified, and Aotearoa New Zealand will be at the forefront of equitable AI education for diverse stakeholders. The realisation of this vision requires investment as well as concerted effort." 

In the area of scientific research, the paper proposes increasing funding for public AI research with the development of new research centres, hubs and programmes in basic and applied AI research. 

Other recommendations include doubling the number of researchers, lecturers and associate and professors in AI by 2024 and by 2030 doubling that number again. 

To develop AI talent, the paper recommends offering world-leading masters programmes in AI, onsite and online. Other recommendations in this area include doubling the number of PhDs and masters degrees by research students by 2025 and again by 2030, promoting industrial PhDs. 

To industrialise AI technologies, the paper recommends creating programmes to encourage private sector adoption of AI, including investments in strategic sectors, including primary industry, climate change, health, and high-value manufacturing. 

The paper said AI needed good infrastructure to be successful, and recommends an effective national data infrastructure with open data partnerships and datasets. 

"It is important to consider the strategic implications of AI for Aotearoa New Zealand. If we do not invest in AI research and adoption, we lose the ability to compete effectively with dominant platform first domiciled in large markets such as the US, China and the EU." 

New Zealand would risk losing its ability to tailor AI to its local needs, priorities and ethical standards. 

The Artificial Intelligence Researchers Association (Aira is a not-for-profit representative body established to support the production and dissemination of artificial intelligence research. 

Waikato, Auckland, Canterbury, Victoria, Massey and Lincoln university senior academics and Plant & Food Research were discussion partners in the paper.