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AI: Urgent action needed to address NZ challenges

There are calls for urgent action to progress the use of artificial intelligence to address some of New Zealand's most pressing social, environmental and economic challenges.

New research from the Artificial Intelligence Forum of New Zealand shows the value of AI for wellbeing, sustainability and the economy, and the forum says urgent action is required and we cannot wait for a formal Government led national strategy.

The study, Towards Our Intelligent Future, positions AI as a fundamental tool to tackle issues highlighted by the Treasury's new Living Standards Framework for Wellbeing, launched in December 2018, and also the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

It reveals how New Zealand can benefit from AI supporting wellbeing and sustainability, along with the multi-billion dollar boost to the economy it could provide by 2030.

By then, models from McKinsey and PwC show global GDP could be 14% higher with AI, and New Zealand could gain between 5.6 and 10.4 percent of total GDP, compared to a scenario without AI.

It also shows New Zealand is performing reasonably well in the international AI discussion, but highlights an urgent need to invest more and secure a supply of home grown talent.

Ben Reid, executive director of the AI Forum, says the global AI discussion is not just about business and productivity but how to help solve some of the world's greatest challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental decay, clean energy, better healthcare, food production and education.

"This research will 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," Reid explains. 

"As a general purpose technology, it means we won't be able to live without it - just like electricity or the internet. Artificial intelligence is going to be just as important," he says. 

"Our research pinpoints specific New Zealand opportunities where we can succeed - we have identified significant opportunities in health, conservation and road safety as clear candidates for national AI investment," Reid says.

"But 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."

The study provides a better general explanation of AI, local AI case studies of AI in action, analysis of what is needed to boost its acceptance and adoption, and the first examination of attitudes, 
perceptions of and engagement in AI.

It follows a previous study by the AI Forum of New Zealand in 2018, Artificial Intelligence: Shaping a Future New Zealand. The key recommendation from this report was for New Zealand to develop a national AI strategy, which to date has not been forthcoming.

"AI is already becoming embedded in our lives in consumer services such as finding the quickest route home or watching streaming video services," says Reid.

"This will increase as it becomes more prevalent in diverse business operations like customer service, predictive maintenance and environmental monitoring.

"Over the last three years 20 countries have launched national strategies for AI, recognising it as a fundamental backbone technology for their country's future," he says. 

"However, even without a national strategy innovators abound in New Zealand with some world class AI luminaries and early adopters, including Spark, ANZ, Xtracta, Faceme, Ambit, Precision Driven Health, RoboticsPlus and Air New Zealand," says Reid.

Reid says there have been several sizeable investment deals into New Zealand AI companies; major banks and telcos have identified AI investments and the Government has delivered significant pieces of AI related policy work, including the Algorithm Review and most recently the Christchurch Call to stop extremist content spreading online.

"It also sits well with our current national discussion about wellbeing. AI is for everyone, not just technologists or businesses," he says.

"However, our relative progress appears challenged as AI technologies internationally have continued to evolve and diffuse at accelerated speed and scale," Reid adds. 

"Economic modelling shows early adopters will gain significantly more than those that wait."

Towards Our Intelligent Future was made possible with the support from many organisations including Principal partners, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, ANZ, Google, IAG, Microsoft and Spark