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Making Artificial Intelligence Work for Us

Most of us have heard the rumours and read the articles that spell out the doom and gloom of a future where artificial intelligence (AI) replaces jobs, and the Terminator movies come to life. Personally I’m a little torn because I love those movies. But the reality is that AI is already with us and we need to understand it so that we can harness its capacity for our maximum benefit.

So far we discussed Digital Literacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Communities, and Remote Community Access to Technology as a means to providing the hard and soft infrastructure to close the digital divide. Most recently we wrote about Capacity Augmentation for Digital Inclusion as a vehicle for us to use technology to compliment human capacity. This article drills down into AI - one of the technological tools we can use in our communities free up time for other tasks and interests.

Defining artificial intelligence goes like this:

Ask 10 different experts what artificial intelligence is, and you'll get 10 different answers. But one definition we like comes from Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind, an AI startup acquired by Google. Hassabis calls AI the "science of making machines smart." Basically, we can teach machines to be like humans. We can give them the ability to see, hear, speak, move, and write. (

As I said previously, AI is already with us in our mobile phones, in our social media, even in Netflix, although I’m not sure this GPS is market ready from Black Comedy (language warning!).

There are examples of AI being used by Aboriginal People and organisations in collaborative projects like the Kakadu National Park project to better manage the ecosystem. Artificial intelligence performed the critical roles of collecting and reviewing vast amounts of data and providing results an analysis for real time decision making. This kind of skill augmentation allows the scarce and critical resources of Aboriginal Rangers to use their formidable knowledge in areas that put the project results into immediate action, and let them get onto other import work.

According to Dr Cathy Robinson, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO: “This is a unique project. We’ve allowed AI to sit next to Indigenous knowledge, to inform adaptive approaches to caring for this land.

The Traditional Custodians of the land and seas along the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Straits could be using AI to monitor the health of the reef and manage fish and wildlife stocks. This would provide inputs to the tourism and primary industries in the area as well as allowing us to perform our cultural responsibilities for our Countries, while protecting one of our greatest and arguably most economically productive resources.

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations were farming long before Woolies became the fresh food people. The knowledge of our traditional farming practices exists within our Communities waiting for the right opportunities to emerge where we can show the world what we can do while protecting our intellectual property form overzealous capitalists, see Gumby Gumby. Our Communities can be using AI to monitor our environmental management systems and traditional seasonal calendars to maximise yields from farmed products using technology to compliment the oldest sustainable farming methodologies on the planet. There isn’t a high end restaurant in the world that wouldn’t want some of those ingredients on their menu.

Cultural responsibilities and caring for Country need not be the only focus in our Communities. We can also investigate renewably powered manufacturing as an economic driver in Communities that also uses AI to augment human capacity and promote productivity. Imagine all the small renewable manufacturing plants that Aboriginal Communities can develop to be used to process spinifex across the Northern parts of Australia… making condoms and many other products. Local recycling projects using small scale plastic recycling can be developed make the best use of the waste generated, and contribute to the 10,000 new jobs from the $600 million waste recycling stimulus scheme.

The other side effect of these positive uses of AI by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People is that it helps us push back on and influence some of the current negative impacts and biases detected in some AI applications at present. Facial recognition being used to predict criminals, and the lack of accuracy on people with dark skin reflect the lack of diversity of the development team. If we have the skills and knowledge around AI we will be better equipped to be involved in the ironing out of these problems and biases.

Artificial intelligence is already here… it’s time we made it work with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Communities.

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