Aust warned of complacency as AI infiltrates workplaces

The tech world often urges people to think of artificial intelligence like electricity, and one expert believes Australia is at risk of being left in the dark.

The public release of ChatGPT triggered relentless media coverage, and Australian AI expert Michael Kollo says perception is shaped accordingly.

“The media narrative in this country and many others has very much been tilted towards the risks and the dangers,” the CEO of Evolved Reasoning says.

Others have embraced the technology. In the United Arab Emirates, there’s a minister of artificial intelligence.

“They’ve seen the writing on the wall with oil and gas, so they’ve started to invest massively in AI,” Dr Kollo says.

A 2023 survey by the University of Queensland and KPMG shows less than half of Australian workers are comfortable with and trust using AI, and only a minority believe the benefits outweigh the risks.

“In terms of usage of AI, 37 per cent of Australian workers said they use AI in their workplace,” Dr Kollo says.

“For China, that number was 90 per cent, for Singapore, that number was 68 per cent.”

In countries where efforts are being made to improve AI literacy, such as Finland and Estonia, more than half of workers reported using the technology.

The electricity analogy points to AI’s disruptive reach far beyond the tech sector, and its link with automation.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that roughly two-thirds of occupations in the US are exposed to some degree of automation by AI.

“Although the impact of AI on the labour market is likely to be significant, most jobs and industries are only partially exposed to automation and are thus more likely to be complemented rather than substituted by AI,” they said in a report published in April.

The threat of automation is closely tied to productivity, Dr Kollo believes.

“On average across the economy, automation and its impact on the workforce happens very, very slowly … around 0.5 to 0.7 per cent of the workforce annually,”

“As long as you have two per cent (economic) growth or thereabouts, you keep your head above water.”

He believes automation can be managed ethically if workers are supported to reskill, enabling them to use AI to enhance their work.

“You’re not a fanboy of data and technology, all you’re doing is just asking very pragmatic questions about can this actually help me improve my life and on what grounds?” he says.

“The danger is that you stop looking for tools, that you basically go ‘you know what, I’m just going to keep doing it the same way forever, and hoping that that’s going to be enough’.”

“As long as you think about it as an improvement of productivity, then I think AI will come very naturally.”

Dr Kollo says AI will transform the lives of Australians in the years to come.

And to make his point, he predicts the current generation of school students will be the last to be taught solely by human teachers.

“With language models, let’s say that I can teach year three or year four science or maths … and as long as they are able to sit there and read the text and engage with it … then essentially it will customise to their rhythms and their needs,” he said.

“It will be patient and positive, it’ll do all the things that you want it to as it’s conveying that information.”

Developing something like human consciousness is way beyond the realms of current technology, but Dr Kollo says AI is able to replicate human language and engagement, and therefore elicit emotional responses.

“I’m not necessarily thinking about this as a kind of dystopian future where we’re being mindlessly controlled, but it does mean we have to create … a space in our society for these digital agents – we might call them helpers,” he said.

“While I’m not sure that we’re going to be there in the next five years, I think ChatGPT was such a surprise in the capability it was able to demonstrate … I wouldn’t even want to guess how fast AI is going to develop.”

Evolved Reasoning is an education and an advisory company aimed at helping organisations adopt AI tools.

Dr Kollo will be a keynote speaker alongside former foreign minister Bob Carr and others at #CapTech2023, an event for start-ups, investors and venture capitalists, to held in Sydney in October.


Nick Gibbs
(Australian Associated Press)


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