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Australian businesses bullish on AI

Demand for artificial intelligence technology is growing in Australia amid looming fears over job losses

Over half of Australian organisations with more than 20 employees are exploring the use of artificial intelligence (AI) despite an “undercurrent of fear” about the technology, according to a report from Telsyte.

AI and automation technology in the form of physical robots, digital assistants and chatbots are already being deployed in Australia, while almost two-thirds of businesses are dabbling in machine learning.

The report noted that artificially intelligent finance applications are in strong demand, with 65% of CIOs singling out use cases in financial modelling and fraud detection.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they planned to use cognitive computing in some form, including customer-facing apps such as chatbots.

“AI intentions are running at two speeds in the Australian market, with businesses much more bullish about using automation technology than consumers,” said Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi.

“There is an undercurrent of fear in the average consumer about the impact of AI on jobs and future prospects for later generations in a highly automated world,” he added.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Ceda) had previously said that up to 40% of the workforce – or more than 5 million jobs – could be replaced by automation by 2035.

“It is likely some tough decisions about the Australian labour market will need to be made in the next decade; we’ve already had a taste of this with the decline of the car manufacturing industry,” said Ceda’s chief executive Stephen Martin in a June 2015 report.

“However, if we develop the right policies now, we have the potential to reduce the impact of these challenges and ensure our economy remains robust,” he added.

Meanwhile, organisations across Australia are not standing still in their ongoing efforts to improve business outcomes with AI.

UBank, the digital-only arm of NAB, one of Australia’s big four banks, announced earlier this year that it had deployed the IBM Watson-powered RoboChat to guide users through home loan applications.

The next iteration of RoboChat will use a tone analyser to understand the sentiment of applicants, according to Jeremy Hubbard, UBank’s head of digital and technology.

During a presentation at an IBM Watson forum in Sydney, Hubbard said UBank was established to disrupt traditional banking, and that AI is a core part of that mandate.

He said the bank is now experimenting with different touch points so customers can access RoboChat from Facebook Messenger or Google Home.

In the future, he envisaged the AI platform being used to complete the entire home loan process, parts of which are currently handled by call centre agents.

Read more about AI in Australia

Healthcare is another area that could benefit from AI. Terry Sweeney, IBM’s regional Watson health executive, who spoke at the same forum, noted that with the volume of health-related data doubling every 73 days, it was important to glean insights from all that data to deliver efficient and effective health services.

IBM is already developing specialised applications based on the Watson AI platform, and has been working with the Melanoma Institute, MoleMap and the NSW Department of Health to train Watson to identify melanomas, a type of skin cancer.

Sweeney said one Australian dies of melanoma every six hours, but survival rates could be as high as 98% with early detection.

While doctors could typically identify 65 to 75% of melanomas, Sweeney said the Watson for melanoma service, which has not been commercialised, was achieving accuracy rates of above 90%.

In June 2017, Icon Group, a provider of specialist cancer care, said it was using IBM’s Watson for oncology to support clinical decision making, further underscoring the growing use of AI and machine learning in Australia’s healthcare industry.

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