Research on Artificial Intelligence – released at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland yesterday – emphasises the need for a greater focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Australia.

The research – commissioned by technology company, Infosys – involved a survey of 1,600 business leaders from across Australia the USA, UK, France, Germany, China and India.

The study found Australian businesses are spending big on Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, investing on average $6m last year – behind only the US.

However, it also found that Australia is ranked last in the world when it comes to accessing the skills needed to deploy AI technologies.

Reports have shown that within 10-15 years, nearly 40{fa76ff8d89001c4e403402728e1a7786cd25c7bdb58a18ff0a8051c7751c2729} of Australian jobs will be automated. This has prompted the Federal Government, schools and private industries to collaborate in a push to improve students’ STEM education and ensure they’re ready for the jobs of the future.

The latest data presented at the WEF showed that while 32{fa76ff8d89001c4e403402728e1a7786cd25c7bdb58a18ff0a8051c7751c2729} of businesses surveyed are utilising AI within their financial departments, 23{fa76ff8d89001c4e403402728e1a7786cd25c7bdb58a18ff0a8051c7751c2729} still don’t have any AI related skills in their business – and for future school-leavers, this can be problematic.

Andrew Groth, senior vice president & regional head, Infosys Australia and New Zealand, pointed out that though many Australian’s may not recognise it, AI is all around us.

“Using complex algorithms, Australian businesses are programming computers to analyse, learn and action vast volumes of data to help combat credit card fraud, speed up new medicine discoveries or even improve your online shopping experience,” he said at the forum.

Nicholas Wyman, CEO of Skilling Australia Foundation (SAF), told The Educator that the world was rapidly changing and this alone called for a new approach as to how schools motivate and link students with promising career opportunities.

“Australia has definitely dropped the ball in terms of manufacturing because we’re not focusing in the right place…on the right kind of manufacturing,” he explained.

Wyman referred to Andrew Liveris, the Australian-born CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, who told the Federal Government five years ago that Australia must become more involved in high-tech manufacturing due to high labour costs.

“In Australia, we need to ask ‘what is our thing?’ There are 1.1 million people employed in service industries, but we need to seek out other industries that will be in demand once kids leave school,” he said.

According to the latest report, one of these in-demand industries is shaping up to be AI. Groth said this field of expertise is likely to play an important role in the jobs of the future.

“We’re seeing robotics AI in the form of driverless trucks that improve safety for Australian mine workers, autonomous machines manufacturing high-tech products and even a robotic pharmacist being used at a Perth hospital to order and dispense lifesaving drugs,” he said.

“The nature of work is evolving faster than ever before and this is only going to accelerate in Australia as more businesses look to AI for productivity, safety and cost saving benefits.”

Groth said he recognised that many school leavers may be worried that the jobs they’re interested in securing might be taken by robots, but was optimistic.

“It is understandable that some people might have concerns about their current job, but what we’re seeing globally is AI being used to automate the mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing people to focus on higher value creative work that can only be done with human imagination,” he said.

“The more that Australian businesses engage with AI, the more they will see that AI technology is really a platform to enhance workers, not replace them. Jobs will be evolving.”
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