NSW govt delays release of first-ever AI strategy

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NSW govt delays release of first-ever AI strategy

Gives itself more time to wrangle ‘complex issues’.

The NSW government has pushed back the release of the state’s first-ever artificial intelligence strategy to give itself more time to consider the complex ethical implications of the technology.

The Department of Customer Service began developing the strategy, as well as a complementary ethics policy framework, last year to govern the use of AI in the public sector.

The strategy aims to help agencies “harness the power of AI” to improve service delivery, while ensuring basic human rights around privacy and security aren’t trampled in the process.

It will outline the government's vision and key actions to be implemented at both a whole-of-government and agency level over the next 12 months.

The department has worked with other agencies, as well as industry and academia, over the past couple of months to understand potential risks and opportunities with the technology.

The strategy was expected to be released in February, alongside a complementary AI user guide and AI policy statement.

But all mention of the February launch date has since disappeared from the digital.nsw website and replaced with “mid-2020”.

The department has similarly “revised” the release of its smart infrastructure policy and the NSW Telco Authority’s operational communications strategy to mid-2020.

A spokesperson told iTnews the department was forced to delay the release of the AI strategy to further consider the ethical implications and the role of the technology in the public service.

“While the stakeholder and community engagement undertaken to date has been encouraging, it has also reinforced the complexity of issues at stake,” the spokesperson said.

“As such, we have had to allow more time for development of the framework and internal consultation on its application.”

A number of agencies across government, including Service NSW, Transport for NSW (TfNSW) and Revenue NSW, are already using AI and machine learning for aspects of their day-to-day operations.

At Service NSW, AI is currently used to improve the knowledge available to staff when they interact with citizens, though the agency is looking to provide AI-powered service directly to citizens in the future.

TfNSW, however, is using machine learning technology from Amazon Web Services to plan and cope with sudden changes across Sydney’s public transport network.

While the government will take more time to develop the AI strategy, it has recently released a new Internet of Things policy as part of its updated Beyond Digital strategy.

The policy provides public servants with “guidance on how to deliver IoT-enabled solutions, build capability and encourage innovation across the sector”.

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