ANU announces major expansion to drive societal response to the AI revolution

Australian National University

Monday, 04 September, 2017


The Australian National University (ANU) has announced a major 10-year program to drive an artificial intelligence revolution in Australia. The expansion will be led by one of the world’s top technologists, Professor Genevieve Bell, and will be based within the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Professor Bell recently joined ANU from Intel as the first of five appointments under the ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Entrepreneurial Fellows scheme. She has also been appointed the inaugural Florence Violet McKenzie Chair at ANU, named in honour of Australia’s first female electrical engineer.

Under the expansion, Professor Bell will lead a new Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute, to be known as the 3A Institute, co-founded with CSIRO’s Data61, Australia’s largest data innovation network.

The 3A Institute will bring together the best researchers from around the world and a range of disciplines to tackle complex problems around artificial intelligence, data and technology, and managing their impact on humanity.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said ANU was committed to help solve the most pressing problems facing the world and the new institute will drive innovation, research and policy responses.

“It isn’t just about engineering and computer science, it’s also about anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, philosophy, public policy and many other disciplines — you have got to put it all together to get to the best answers possible,” he said.

“Professor Bell’s extraordinary experience and depth of knowledge in this area will ensure Australia remains prepared to meet the big social, cultural and political questions around our technological future.”

Data61 CEO Adrian Turner said the 3A Institute would build on Australia’s strengths in cyber systems.

“Australia has an opportunity to be a leader and to seed new industries of global relevance as IT, biological and advanced materials disciplines converge and become data-driven,” he said. “Building on our national strengths in cyberphysical systems, interdisciplinary research is needed now more than ever to understand how we can integrate resulting new technologies into our lives for economic and societal benefit.

“The 3A Institute will be an important way for us to achieve this and move the nation forward. Data61 is delighted to be contributing talent and resources towards this collaboration as founding partner.”

Professor Bell said there was a critical set of questions to be answered around autonomy, agency and assurance if the world is to meet the challenges of future technology.

“We, as humans, are simultaneously terrified, optimistic and ultimately ambivalent about what it’s going to be like,” she said. “How are we going to feel in a world where autonomous agents are doing things and we aren’t? How are we going to be safe in this world?

“We will be looking closely at risk, indemnity, privacy, trust — things that fall under this broad term ‘assurance’.”

Dean of the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science Professor Elanor Huntington said the appointment of Professor Bell will ensure ANU is recognised for shaping the way the world responds to technological change.

“It’s tremendously exciting to be leading the development of such an important field of exploration,” Professor Huntington said.

Professor Huntington also welcomed the announcement that Professor Bell will present the ABC’s 2017 Boyer Lectures. Each year since 1959, the lectures have sparked national discussion about critical ideas.

In October, Professor Bell continues this proud tradition by interrogating what it means to be human, and Australian, in a digital world. Subscribe to the Boyer Lectures wherever you get your podcasts or visit abc.net.au/boyerlectures.

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