New centre boosts AIML’s advanced machine learning research and innovation
Australia’s advanced AI and machine learning capability has received a boost from a new $20m research and innovation initiative now underway at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML).
Launched last Friday by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall, the Centre for Augmented Reasoning has been established to help build the expertise Australia needs in order to compete in the machine learning-enabled global economy.
The four-year program was funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment in the 2020-21 federal budget and will create new postdoctoral positions across four research themes at the frontier of machine learning, provide scholarships to support PhD students, and also facilitate AI commercialisation opportunities.
Augmented reasoning is a new and emerging field of AI that combines an advanced ability for computers to recognise patterns using traditional machine learning, with an ability for them to apply reasoning and learn from prior information and by interacting with people.
The centre is headquartered within AIML at South Australia’s innovation precinct, Lot Fourteen. AIML was founded in 2018 as a strategic partnership between the University of Adelaide and the South Australian government to support the state’s transition to a more modern economy, deliver education and skills, as well as improve the productivity and efficiency of government services.
From next year the centre will deliver a $3.5m innovation fund to support AI commercialisation opportunities; with seed funding for start-ups, collaborations with business and industry to develop AI-enabled products, and projects to extend the reach and impact of the centre’s research. These innovation activities will further boost AIML’s existing partnership projects that have enabled businesses and government agencies to realise the opportunities that machine learning delivers.
Speaking at the centre’s launch event last Friday, the Premier acknowledged the role AIML had played in attracting global companies to establish operations in Adelaide and join the Lot Fourteen innovation ecosystem.
“What's happening here on Lot Fourteen, (and) more broadly across South Australia, with great magnets like the Australian Institute for Machine Learning, makes it the logical place for these companies to bring and set up very significant operations,” the Premier said.
“We already know that the Australian Institute for Machine Learning, which opened back in 2018, has really kicked some massive goals and been recognised right around the world.”
Independent Senator for South Australia Rex Patrick, who has been a strong advocate for building Australia’s core AI capability and lobbied for the centre to be established at AIML, also spoke at the launch on Friday.
“We want to have sovereign control, the ability to be able to produce products around AI, to be able to modify products around AI, and that's why it's important to have this particular centre opening,” Senator Patrick said.
“I am pleased to have played a part in delivering this centre for South Australia. It will be a major drawcard for the smartest young minds in the state to stay here in SA.”
The centre’s director, Professor Anton van den Hengel, was previously AIML’s founding director before commencing at Amazon in 2020 as Director of Applied Science, where he leads a small machine learning research team.
Professor van den Hengel said that AI was already bringing change to business and industry across a range of sectors, and stressed the importance of Australia taking active steps to grow its core AI capability.
“Artificial intelligence is right now being used to improve the productivity of every industry sector. If Australia wants to participate in a future AI-enabled global economy, we need to be applying AI to improve our productivity. That's the way that we maintain Australian jobs,” Professor van den Hengel said.
“In every industry, the jobs that AI supports aren't AI jobs. They’re jobs in mining, agriculture, building and service industries. All of those industries will be impacted by the productivity gains from AI,” he said.
University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj recognised the impact that AI was having across the University.
“AI is already having an impact on every academic area of the University. Just as computers are now the standard tool in all workplaces, machine learning will soon become a new standard for every industry. It’s a critical part of the future,” Professor Høj said.
The centre will also deliver community engagement activities to help increase artificial intelligence literacy in Australia and improve the global visibility of Australia’s machine learning capability.
Working with the Art Intelligence Agency, one postdoctoral researcher will collaborate with international artists and musicians to create new machine learning ideas and algorithms in deep learning applications such as music and voice generation, and natural language models. (In 2020 the Art Intelligence Agency hosted its first artist-in-residence, New York-based avant-garde pioneer Laurie Anderson.)
The centre has also implemented a diversity strategy to help address the poor representation of women in the machine learning sector. The centre’s Program Manager Dr Angela Noack says that unique scholarship opportunities will help attract researchers from other science specialisations—such as health, medicine or the biological and earth sciences—who might not have otherwise considered a research career in machine learning.
“We know that women are underrepresented in computer science at all levels. By offering an additional year of scholarship funding to the right candidates, researchers from other science disciplines can use that time to quickly get their core machine learning or mathematics skills up to speed before transitioning to a machine learning PhD,” Dr Noack says.
“You don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in computer science to pursue machine learning research. We already have researchers with backgrounds in medicine, radiology and engineering.”
The centre is currently recruiting 16 postdoctoral researchers to commence working next year across 12 machine learning projects. Information about the centre’s innovation fund and community engagement programs is expected in 2022.