Artificial intelligence key for NZ’s future

Jackie Clark
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AI Forum

New Zealand needs to seize new opportunities in 2019 and harness new AI technologies to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes, AI Forum New Zealand executive director Ben Reid says.

Reid has just returned from a major international conference in Bangkok which was hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org.

The conference involved representatives from around the world discussing opportunities to leverage powerful new AI tools to drive social and environmental impacts.

“AI is here and making giant leaps forwards in our lives. Some of the examples discussed at the Bangkok conference included using recycled mobile phones to listen to rainforest sounds and detect illegal logging activities; using machine learning to analyse aerial photos to closely monitor the endangered dugong (sea cow) populations in Australia; and employing AI to improve screening results for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes which affects vision.

“We are seeing so much potential for AI to solve some of our grand challenges in New Zealand, too. AI can be used to reduce road fatalities from more accurate analysis of accident hot spots and also from autonomous vehicles arriving on our roads very soon. In Sydney they have recently started trialling AI powered cameras to improve road safety.

“AI can be used to improve on current predictive analytics techniques for better social outcomes by training models from large datasets and case histories to better identify and recommend optimum courses of action.

“AI is helping to reduce cancer deaths from melanoma by assisting doctors to identify cancerous moles earlier and more accurately (and helping to alleviate the shortage of trained dermatologists)

“Researchers have looked at how AI can be used to reduce pollution – for example, by automatically identifying dairy cows which have strayed near waterways using machine vision on high resolution satellite images.

“It is being used to improve educational outcomes by providing students with a 24/7 AI maths tutor, making individual tuition accessible to everyone.

“And finally, AI will improve access to government services online whether via a simple chatbot on government websites or using AI to optimise digital customer journeys – enabling citizens to achieve what they want to do quicker and more efficiently.

“AI and machine learning are often seen only as business tools to drive bigger profits. However, what we’re clearly seeing now is that there are many opportunities to apply these technologies to achieve positive social and environmental outcomes.

“The variety of applications covered at this conference across health, social justice, conservation, sustainability and climate change. AI is applicable everywhere and the tools are now becoming so accessible with open source and cloud tools readily available for anyone to get started,” Reid says.

The AI Forum NZ is organising the AI-DAY conference in Auckland on March 27 and 28 which will showcase New Zealand and international case studies for how AI can be used to drive social and environmental outcomes. The event programme includes a two day AI for Good weekend hackathon.

For further information contact Make Lemonade editor-in-chief Kip Brook on 0275 030188