Microsoft’s former bigwig has a plan to revive Australia’s AI industry

“Previously, among the Australian crowd in the US, there was a sense that coming home was ‘giving up’ on career opportunities. This is changing and being accelerated by the pandemic normalizing virtual work,” he said. she stated.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity to have a dream career from any location and for the emergence of new technology leaders.

“Geographical location is no longer a limit. Given Australia’s existing strengths in AI, the window of opportunity is even wider for us.

Break down the barriers

Ms. Solar spent more than a decade at Microsoft and previously worked for Lenovo and IBM.

She started at Microsoft in product marketing, but then moved on to cloud development, Internet of Things, and eventually AI.

She said one of her biggest priorities for the National AI Center was to unify the AI ​​industry in Australia, breaking down barriers between industry and research, and divisions between different fields. AI such as machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision.

Chance to be a world leader

“My ultimate mission is to embed AI into the national fabric and have a powerful ecosystem responsible for inclusive AI and creating opportunities for every person, business and country,” Ms. Solar said.

She said Australia was fortunate to be a world leader in areas of AI such as autonomous robotics, combining AI with the contextual thinking of humans and the integration of core human values ​​into algorithms. of AI.

A team made up of members of CSIRO’s Data61, CSIRO-spin-off robotics company Emesent, and the Georgia Institute of Technology placed second last year at the “Robotics Olympics” – a competition held over a period of three years by the Department of Defense of the United States government. Advanced Research Projects Agency – although most team members cannot travel due to COVID-19.

Teams were tasked with remotely operating robots in an underground environment that simulated a real-life scenario, including locating models of lost or injured humans, backpacks, and phones, as well as varying conditions such as pockets of gas.

Ms Solar said Australia needed to get better at translating its cutting-edge AI research into business opportunities.

Stanford University’s AI Dynamism Tool ranked the country fifth for AI research and science, but only 11th for innovation.

The marketing challenge

“We have incredibly strong minds. But the opportunity comes from how we translate that into value, commercialize those ideas and strengthen our position,” she said.

“Australians are half as likely to be in the process of starting a business as Americans, and have a higher fear factor of doing so.

“There are also factors such as Australian companies preparing for international markets earlier to increase their total addressable market, and recognizing the acceleration of commercialization that American companies are experiencing in the “tech cities” where it there is a critical mass of tech workers to collaborate with.”

Boosting the nation’s innovation output has been a key focus of CSIRO CEO Dr Marshall since he took over as head of the cutting-edge science body in 2015.

Dr Marshall, who set up six companies in Silicon Valley before returning to Australia, says it was to tackle this problem that he returned home to Australia.

“We just don’t invest in our own innovations, so they go overseas, like Stela and I did,” he said.

“Our great potential is to attract multinationals like Microsoft, Boeing and Google to establish a local presence here.

“In a kind of dark silver lining, COVID-19 also played a part… [It has] brought our expatriates home in “the big brain gain”. They discover a much more digitally connected and networked ecosystem than when they left. »

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