Australian National University announces artificial intelligence expansion

Australian National University announces artificial intelligence expansion

An Australian National University professor will seek to create a new applied science aimed at helping humans navigate the impact of data and technology within the next five years.

The ANU has partnered with CSIRO innovation unit Data61 to launch the new Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute, known as the 3A Institute, headed by former Intel vice-president Genevieve Bell.

ANU Professor Genevieve Bell will head the new 3A Institute.

ANU Professor Genevieve Bell will head the new 3A Institute.Credit:Andrew Meares

Shortly after moving to Canberra, after being plucked from the Silicon Valley by ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt, Professor Bell made her bold plans clear.

"Part of what the institute's really about is how do we create a new body of knowledge to tackle the technological landscape we increasingly find ourselves moving into," she said.


"... I think we're moving into a new technological era, one that's characterised less by devices and more by data circulation, curation, collection and commodification ... and I think how we find the right tools both intellectually and arguably at a skill set level to tackle that's going to be a pressing problem.

"Computer science and engineering are two ways in but I think there's room for another way of handling that entire emerging constellation of AI, autonomous and semiautonomous machinery, big data algorithms, even IoT, and to start to frame an intellectual agenda.

"Basically, as bolshie as it sounds, [we need to] build a new applied science."

Professor Bell has looked at milestone moments to help inform her next step - times when whatever tools were available no longer cut it. She's confident Australia is in a good position having made bold moves in engineering in the 19th century, boasting one of the first computers in 1949 and pioneering in the field of computer science in the mid-20th century.

"The good news is this has been done before," she said.

"The bad news for me I guess as a human being is it's a lot of work."

Professor Bell will spend the next year helping hunt down and sweet talk top researchers from across the globe.

Professor Schmidt said: "It isn't just about engineering and computer science, it's also about anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, philosophy, public policy and many other disciplines - you have got to put it all together to get to the best answers possible."

The move to Canberra was something of a homecoming for Professor Bell. The cultural anthropologist's mother taught at the ANU and she attended Turner Primary, Lyneham High and Dickson College.

"It's weird," Professor Bell said.

"There are bits of Canberra - particularly on campus - where I walk into campus and they still smell the same and I have this bit where, you know, the 14-year-old in me goes 'Wow, did I ever leave?'."

Professor Bell left the Silicon Valley for Canberra in January. She was the first of five appointments under the ANU vice-chancellor's Entrepreneurial Fellows scheme and was also appointed the university's inaugural Florence Violet McKenzie Chair.

In October, Professor Bell will present the ABC's 2017 Boyer Lectures, interrogating what it means to be human, and Australian, in a digital world.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.

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