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Should you incorporate an AI strategy into your business?

With both government and companies eagerly adopting artificial intelligence (AI) strategies, we explore how AI could also streamline and scale your business. We examine the potential opportunities and risks that come with using AI, and what the future of AI and business looks like.

What is artificial intelligence?

The CSIRO defines AI as “a collection of interrelated technologies used to solve problems autonomously and perform tasks to achieve defined objectives, in some cases without explicit guidance from a human being.”

Subfields of AI include machine learning, computer vision, human language technologies, robotics, knowledge representation and other scientific fields.

For instance, AI is already being used in autonomous emergency breaking (helping reduce 1,137 vehicle-related deaths per year) and in maintaining Sydney Harbour Bridge (using machine-learning and predictive analytics to identify priority locations for maintenance).

Australia’s AI roadmap, developed by CSIRO’s Data61, estimated that AI would be worth AU$22.17 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Digital technologies, including AI, could potentially inject AU$315 billion into the Australian economy by 2028.

For example, the on-farm agricultural robot Agbot II could save Australia’s farm sector AU$1.3 billion per year by automating weed removal.

Moreover, job creation in the information, communications and technology sector will be boosted under increased AI usage. Currently, Australia employs 663,100 workers in AI-related fields. This would grow to 758,800 workers by 2023, at a rate of 20,000 additional workers per year.

“If Australia can focus its AI activities on areas of great need that matter to all Australians, like drought and food production, areas where we already have world-leading expertise, then we can achieve the greatest impact,” said Dr Larry Marshall, CEO of the CSIRO, in Australia’s AI roadmap foreword.

“AI is already a well-established technology, with applications across many industries starting to take shape. However, the success of our industries of the future will be determined by whether AI is simply used to cut costs, or whether we take full advantage of this powerful technology to grow new opportunities and create new value.”

Using AI in data processing and sharing

Both federal and state governments have been rushing to incorporate AI in data processing and service delivery.

This week, the Federal Government published an exposure draft of the Data Availability and Transparency Bill, detailing data-sharing between public sector entities. The reforms aim to streamline data-sharing for government service delivery, government policy and programs, and research and development.

It includes data-sharing between entities such as Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Public sector information could also be shared with “accredited” bodies such as universities, businesses and not-for-profits.

Earlier this month, the NSW government released its first ever AI strategy to improve data processing and service delivery. The Victorian government has also enlisted tech giants IBM and Salesforce to manage health data and contact tracing amidst a second outbreak.

Antoine Acklin, Head of Architecture & Professional Services APJ at Rackspace Technology, welcomed the use of AI in the public sector.

“The NSW Government has taken a significant step in its digital journey with the introduction of an AI strategy. While it generalises the data privacy concern and oversimplifies delivery, it does promise to not only build out an exciting, next-generation capability but also create easier pathways for innovations that provide a positive impact to the lives of NSW citizens.

“Extending AI solutions to supply value based, cost effective public services that are more than chatbot services and traffic management is the promise NSW citizens deserve and are anxiously awaiting to consume.”

Cyber security and data privacy risks

However the uptake of any new technology presents risks.

Research released this month from Australia’s eSafety Commission revealed that Australian adults are not confident managing specific online risks. The report surveyed 3,700 Australian adults and found that 64 per cent of Australian adults were not confident on how to protect their privacy online, 59 per cent were uncertain about determining if online information was reliable and 56 per cent were unsure of how to deal with cyber bullying or harassment.

Moreover, AI has unique security risks. For instance, there has been a rise in attacks on AI models such as facial recognition systems.

“Sometimes known as “Adversarial Machine Learning” or AML, model hacking is the study and design of adversarial attacks targeting Artificial Intelligence (AI) models—and this is something we expect to see on the rise,” said Joel Camissar, Regional Director at MVISION Cloud APAC, McAfee.

“Putting this into practice, McAfee was able to “model hack” a facial recognition system, intended to further the conversation around security concerns inherent to applications of AI and machine learning. Cyber-attacks of this kind don’t discriminate and can occur on a small or large scale.

“While AI brings incredible opportunity for advancements, it is important SMEs are proactive in addressing the potential risks and security concerns that accompany it.”

These risks are not confined to big tech or government agencies. Defending against cybercriminals should be actively considered by small to medium sized businesses.

“[An AI strategy] will be critical for small to medium businesses, startups, and enterprises to consider as advanced cybercriminals are using this technology to target high-stake systems. SMEs must have a robust cyber and cloud security platform to protect their innovative IP from cyber criminals,” said Mr Camissar.

The future of AI in business

Despite the uptake of AI in public and private service delivery, Australian businesses are still underutilising digital strategies.

Dean Vocisano, Country Manager Australia at ShopFully, attributes this to a widespread misunderstanding of what AI is and what its capabilities are.

“[T]here still seems to be a level of misunderstanding at both the public and private sector level of what artificial intelligence is. More needs to be done in terms of education and measurable impact over the next 12 months.”

Mr Vocisano also argues that many Australians have a misplaced fear of AI.

“Many people believe AI will negatively affect the already-precarious Australian job market, when in reality it can achieve the opposite. Incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning within digital strategies can create new roles as there is room to step back from the day to day, optimise workloads, and be more strategic in long term business decisions.

“These technologies provide opportunities for businesses of all sizes to innovate and remain competitive within their industries. In retail, for instance, we are seeing more and more businesses leveraging AI, data science, automated insights, and digital catalogues to improve their end customer experience.

“By offering a more personalised, and somewhat intuitive and intelligent shopping experience, retailers can surprise customers by showing they’re not only listening to their wants and needs, they are also anticipating them. Understanding these behaviours and the digital customer experience becomes even more critical at a time where up to 62% of in-store purchases are influenced by online browsing.”

Tips for incorporating AI into your business

For businesses thinking of adopting AI, it is important to have a clear governance structure on how AI will be used and an ethical policy surrounding its usage.

“The big challenge for small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, is crafting a robust, adaptable, culture-changing strategy that delivers real ROI. These challenges are all the more acute in the era of COVID-19,” said Jeff Olson, Head of Applied AI & Analytics ANZ at Cognizant.

“Another barrier to full-scale adoption is determining governance structures and practices needed to achieve responsible AI — the point at which AI is consistent with user expectations. This includes the ethical use of AI, which ensures security, privacy and transparency are paramount.

“The reality is that AI is evolving rapidly. Australian businesses are experiencing shortages of talent that can understand, develop and implement these technologies. As outlined in the strategy, a collaboration between industry and academia is one way to address this challenge, and should certainly be encouraged.”

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Ann Wen

Ann Wen

Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business.

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