Artificial intelligence is a challenging policy area that’s moving towards the centre stage of public and government attention. Some experts emphasise the immense potential of AI, while others are deeply troubled about the ramifications the technology may have on humans.

AI has the potential to open up employment opportunities, but also to replace many jobs.

The Albanese government has recently begun consultations as it formulates a policy for seeking to ensure AI technology is both safe and responsible.

In this podcast, Ed Husic, the minister for industry and science, who is overseeing the AI policy development process, joins us to talk about this new frontier.

Husic is an enthusiast for what AI can deliver. “It’s been estimated […] it could potentially add up to $4 trillion to our economy by the early 2030s. But I look at it as the way in which it could change, particularly in terms of health.” He highlights how AI saved time in the pursuit of a COVID vaccine.

But, he says, “This is not about just plugging in a bit of technology, flicking the switch on and thinking that everything will be sorted out. It does require the pairing of human capacity to the capacity of people and their skills with the technology to get the outcomes we want and to think about how the technology will be used.

“We have a challenge within layers of management to understand, to have awareness about what technology is capable of, to then use that awareness to make investment decisions. And then when they’ve made those decisions, how to integrate technology in a way that is not hugely or unnecessarily disruptive.

“If we get it right, there is a potential for huge benefit.”

AI has experienced a boom of interest since the pandemic. Generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT are becoming smarter and more widespread. Students are using ChatGPT, which has worried some educators. The minister for education, Jason Clare, has commissioned work on a draft framework for the use of AI in schools.

Husic argues that AI can be incorporated into the education system and the workforce in a way that benefits everyone.

“AI can be used […] in personalising the way in which we are taught to take into account what our skills and capabilities are and then work out how to build and develop and improve those capabilities, not just for young people, but also I see a career transition benefiting from that re-training and having personalised training that suits individuals.”

A major concern about AI is the potential to create and spread misinformation and disinformation.

“I think that’s a genuine concern,” Husic says, highlighting the danger of “deepfakes”. “You’ll see something on a computer screen, on a phone or a TV and think this is a person that’s speaking to you doing something or saying something horrible or out of line. And it turns out it’s not. It’s been a manipulation of an image to make it look like that person.”

“It may influence people’s thinking or it may trigger a response out of government or authorities or create a climate that is forcing decisions to be made by governments that clearly it’s just wrong.

“We can’t afford to see that happen […] we will need to think about how we modernise or shape up our regulatory frameworks to avoid that, to tackle that and to give people confidence and comfort that what they’re saying is legitimate and that it’s not provoking decisions made of false or erroneous way.”