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AI Forum

Supporting pandemic response with national algorithm hub

New Zealand will be the first country, globally, to deploy a national algorithm management solution. Data scientists and researchers across New Zealand and the world are supporting the COVID-19 pandemic response with the development of new algorithms and models to assist in scenario modelling or risk prediction. For example, Orion Health has been awarded funding via the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) COVID-19 Acceleration Fund to deliver a New Zealand Algorithm Hub; supporting operational modelling and timely information dissemination to the Government, healthcare organisations and professionals.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) has reinforced the region at the forefront of the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare with the release of world leading AI Standards of Practice. The Standards provide a risk management framework to ensure the safe application of AI in radiology practice.

As we take important first steps in the development of our National AI Strategy it is encouraging to read that we are in good company with our desire for a national strategy. United States Congress representatives recently introduced a bipartisan House resolution calling for the creation of a national AI strategy. Within the resolution are five guiding principles:

1.    Maintaining global leadership in AI

2.    Preparing the workforce

3.    Strengthening national security

4.    Fostering mechanisms to address bias, fairness and privacy issues

5.    Advancing AI research and development.

A common theme among national strategies is the inclusion of guiding principles, cornerstones or pillars to focus efforts upon important economic and societal opportunities and of course tackle the ever present ethical concerns. It will be vital for New Zealand to follow suit with its own strategy cornerstones too.

As a Brit, I keep a keen eye on the United Kingdom (UK) and found the recent concerns surrounding the possibility of the UK not being granted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adequacy enlightening. The European Commission has produced its first two year GDPR review and it holds some significant lessons and considerations for New Zealand.

It is good to see AI and data projects are included in the successful applicants for the Endeavour Fund, which invests $187 million in 17 leading edge research projects. Two standouts in terms of AI are:

  • The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research was awarded $16.3 million for research in ways to use AI to more efficiently process harvested marine animals for the variety of valuable molecules. The Cyber-Marine research programme will develop AI-integrated sensor systems to tell us what’s in raw material, then use the information to direct optimised processing.
  • The University of Waikato was approved for $6 million to look into ways that “tikanga Māori (customary protocols) and Mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) [could] inform the construction of digital identities and relational responsibilities to data. We address these challenges through research to theorise, develop and test Māori approaches to collective privacy, collective benefit and governance in a digital environment; develop novel approaches to data classification, provenance, and valuation that ensure Māori data can be recognised, tracked, and valued within data infrastructures; and move beyond current efforts to reduce bias in algorithms to explore what it means to ‘decolonise’ algorithms that adversely affect Māori communities, and how Indigenous AI might be harnessed to realise Māori aspirations for self-determined development”.

Māori data sovereignty can teach the world plenty, so it is exciting to see very important research in this field being undertaken. 

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) has announced the winner of the Squirrel AI Award – Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity, honouring individuals whose work has had a transformative impact on society.  The winner, Regina Barzilay, a Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), is being recognised for her work in using AI to detect and diagnose breast cancer at early stages.

I will leave you with these words from Barzilay:

“Through my own life experience, I came to realize that we can create technology that can alleviate human suffering and change our understanding of diseases.”

Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.


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