EPIC, 3Ai and greater EU & AUS collaboration: An AI conversation

The latest OECD report Trends Shaping Education 2019 cites five ‘big picture issues’ for the world. The first is a shift in global gravity with the rise of India and China; the second concerns public matters involving citizenship and democracy; the third involves security in an uncertain and unstable world; the fourth suggests the impacts of living longer underpinned by a need for populations to live better; and the fifth notes the rise of individualism and the role of education to equip people with the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes to thrive in their modern and professional lives (pp.10-11). Link to the full report is here.

The role of technology in particular Artificial Intelligence or AI is omnipresent in these five predictions. In a recent forum held at the ANU most of the OECD trends were touched on in discussions around AI. The EPIC project the focus of the forum is an example that speaks to such global movements and illustrates ICT research focused on a collaboration between Europe – Pacific partners (Australia, Singapore and New Zealand) funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Grant.

See this short film about EPIC.

Interested people from Australia and Europe gathered for a day at the Crawford School of Public Policy to examine how public policy, research and industry are approaching opportunities and risks of AI in international contexts. As the US and China dominant the AI race the forum sought to find ways to move ahead with greater EU-AUS collaboration around AI. With Horizon 2020 coming to an end and Horizon 2021-2027 just around the corner what kind of role could AUS partnering with the EU mean post Brexit? For example: what, if anything, might change?

In this quick post I provide a few highlights from the day. I was listening to each speaker with my education lens and pondering what this might mean for schools in Australia. The forum was hosted by the 3Ai (the Autonomy, Agency & Assurance Innovation Institute). It’s a strategic priority of ANU. It was terrific to hear Associate Professor Katherine Daniell’s update on their interdisciplinary activities and projects. Please note the following details are taken from Katherine’s slides shown on the day.

The Reimagine Project is a key part of the 3Ai as is its intellectual leadership alongside building a new applied science through the creation of a new body of knowledge, engaging with a diverse community of stakeholders and transmitting what they learn in order to build knowledge in these new arenas.

Five critical questions underpin the work, they are:

1.How do we think about the notion of autonomy and how to we build for it?

2.What degree of ‘self’ empowerment do we give autonomous systems?

3.Will these systems be safe?

4.How might we interface with technologies, systems and each other in this context?

5.What are the metrics by which we might measure the performance and success of such systems?

Katherine explained: “Cyber-physical systems are crucial … what that means is that the world needs safe ethical and effective design, integration, management and regulation of cyber-physical systems and cyber-physical technologies and this is the work we are doing”. Watch this space.

Elizabeth Kelly, Deputy Secretary from Department of Industry, Innovation and Science outlined the focus of the Department’s current work. She conceded that government involvement in the AI space in Australia “had not been what it should be especially in terms of establishing ethical policies”, while emphasising the need for Australia to be globally competitive citing an overall productivity decline of 3%. Links were made to a recent Data 61 report – see here. Elizabeth also shared comments about an AI in schools program – on closer examination this is still under development instead directing me to the Digital Technologies Hub. Again, watch this space.

Ben Reid from New Zealand provided details of strategies for AI and AI-based innovation in New Zealand while consular ambassadors from Italy, Switzerland and Germany emphasised how their countries are making AI a priority. For example: Angela Merkel has signalled the appointment of 100 AI professorial positions in the coming months to ‘kick start’ their push with “AI Made in Germany”. Open data is a common issue across Europe. The need to target education and training in AI together with the necessity for regulation, better understanding of AI’s labour market implications and the complexity surrounding AI, data ethics and cyber-security.

After lunch Professor Dana Petcu from Romania highlighted the challenges in her country in higher education that involve technical challenges like building the AI-human interface, its current limitations to certain tasks, software malfunctions, features that support new experiences, virtual lecturers who can react like humans and the large scale deployment of learning environments. This will require investment by the Romanian government as well as building trust in AI, having high expectations, changing the role of the teachers, the way of learning and its connection to the academic world. Link to her work here.

In my 10 minutes at the forum I was able to refer to recent work at UTS and the 2018 submission to the Human Rights Commission. My main provocation concerned AI in the school education space and the need to hone in on end users – this is a much needed conversation. Here, I suggest there are four central issues in AI in school education and these are the places where we might problematise the space and start to strategically fix our gaze; and that means, one, consulting the profession at large – it has commenced; two, understanding what an automated world might mean for school infrastructure and investment; and three, for young children who are entering school now – what does AI mean for teachers and teaching; and four, how can higher education and industry support schools to be responsive to the rapidly changing world of AI?

With great power comes great responsibility – the tech companies are racing ahead – reported to be valued at USD362bil this coming year … the EPIC project is an imaginative, collaborative and creative response.

And finally, EPIC … it’s a space you might want to keep watching.

Note: Other speakers on the day included Dr Amy McLennan from ANU, Dr Sue Keay from Data 61, Dr Jurgen Leitner from QUT, Lubi Thomas from Ars Electronica Australia and more.