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AI Forum

Time for urgency – research shows the value of AI for wellbeing, sustainability and the economy

New research published today by the Artificial Intelligence Forum of New Zealand (AI Forum) is calling for urgent action to progress the use of AI to address some of New Zealand’s most pressing social, environmental and economic challenges, and not wait for a formal Government led national strategy.

The study called ‘Towards Our Intelligent Future’ positions AI as a fundamental tool to tackle issues highlighted by the Treasury’s new Living Standards Framework for Wellbeing, launched in December 2018, and also the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

It reveals how New Zealand can benefit from AI supporting wellbeing and sustainability, along with the multi-billion dollar boost to the economy it could provide by 2030.

By then, models from McKinsey and PwC show global GDP could be 14 percent higher with AI, and New Zealand could gain between 5.6 and 10.4 percent of total GDP, compared to a scenario without AI.

It also shows New Zealand is performing reasonably well in the international AI discussion, but highlights an urgent need to invest more and secure a supply of home grown talent.  

Ben Reid, Executive Director of the AI Forum, says the global AI discussion is not just about business and productivity but how to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges including: poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental decay, clean energy, better healthcare, food production and education.

“This research will inspire New Zealand to benefit fully from the age of AI – we want to encourage greater investment, both public and private, convince organisations and individuals to invest more time and energy, foster more research and development, open up more data and motivate creativity and innovation to bring about a new AI-enabled vision for New Zealand.

“As a general purpose technology it means we won’t be able to live without it, just like electricity or the Internet – artificial intelligence is going to be just as important.   

“Our research pinpoints specific New Zealand opportunities where we can succeed –  we have identified significant opportunities in health, conservation and road safety as clear candidates for national AI investment. 

“But to take full advantage we need to act now, be the agile innovators we are and not wait for a fully-formed national strategy to arrive first,” Ben Reid says.

The study provides a better general explanation of AI, local AI case studies of AI in action, analysis of what’s needed to boost its acceptance and adoption, and the first examination of Māori attitudes, perceptions of and engagement in AI.

It follows a previous study by the AI Forum of New Zealand in 2018,  ‘Artificial Intelligence: Shaping a Future New Zealand.’ The key recommendation from this report was for NZ to develop a national AI strategy, which to date has not been forthcoming.

AI is already becoming embedded in our lives in consumer services such as finding the quickest route home or watching streaming video services.  This will increase as it becomes more prevalent in diverse business operations like customer service, predictive maintenance and environmental monitoring.

Over the last three years twenty countries have launched national strategies for AI, recognising it as a fundamental backbone technology for their country’s future.

However, even without a national strategy innovators abound in New Zealand with some world class AI luminaries and early adopters including Spark, ANZ, Xtracta, Faceme, Ambit, Precision Driven Health, RoboticsPlus and Air New Zealand.   

“There have been several sizeable investment deals into New Zealand AI companies; major banks and telcos have identified AI investments and the Government has delivered significant pieces of AI related policy work, including the Algorithm Review and most recently the Christchurch Call to stop extremist content spreading online.

“It also sits well with our current national discussion about wellbeing.  AI is for everyone, not just technologists or businesses,” he says.

“However, our relative progress appears challenged as AI technologies internationally have continued to evolve and diffuse at accelerated speed and scale,” he says.

“Economic modelling shows early adopters will gain significantly more than those that wait,” Reid says.   

‘Towards Our Intelligent Future’ has been made possible with the support from many organisations including Principal partners, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, ANZ, Google, IAG, Microsoft and Spark. 

Significant New Zealand AI projects include:

Microsoft – Sustainable Coastlines, a registered New Zealand Charity, was recently awarded a Microsoft AI for Earth grant for its efforts to raise awareness of marine litter and inspire communities to take care of beaches and waterways. A national marine litter database is being established so schools, Iwi, community groups and businesses can view the data and trends in their area. The intelligent platform also evaluates international weather, tide and ocean current data to help predict future litter accumulation.

Google – Google is a founding partner of Global Fishing Watch ( This service brings big satellite data, the latest machine learning, and cloud computing technology to bear on human interactions with the oceans’ natural resources. The resulting near real-time map shows where vessels are fishing, allowing better monitoring of global fish reserves, including the seas around New Zealand.

Spark – using AI to analyse increasingly complex sets of data to streamline operations and improve customer segmentation, churn, lifetime value prediction, recommendation engines and customer sentiment analysis.

ANZ – in partnership with Soul Machines creating Jamie, a digital assistant, to answer the 30 most frequently questions searched.  In the first 100 days, Jamie had 1200 conversations and the pilot has been extended.

MBIE – is supporting a range of contestable investment funds, including: weather analysis and forecasting (Met Service), machine learning (Landcare NZ), mapping and environment friendly control of weeds (AgResearch), autonomous Forest Pruning and technology for screening blindness.  The Ministry aims to support projects including AgTech, environment, urban planning, space industry, health sector (ie: precision health) and energy.

The AI Forum of New Zealand was established in 2017 and is a non-government association with a mission to harness the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help bring about a prosperous and inclusive future New Zealand.  This year it formally adopted its Te Reo Maori name, Te Kahui Atamai Iahiko o Aotearoa. In two years its membership has reached 144 organisations from industry, government and universities, it holds regular events nationwide, hosts an annual showcase conference and fosters vibrant conversation and debate.  The Forum brings together citizens, business, academia and the government connecting, promoting and advancing Aotearoa’s AI ecosystem. 

For further information, please contact:

Jonathan Tudor – 021 790 475

AI Forum The AI Forum brings together New Zealand’s artificial intelligence community, working together to harness the power of AI technologies to enable a prosperous, inclusive and thriving future New Zealand.