Gradient Institute to create ethically aware artificial intelligence

13 December 2018
The University of Sydney has partnered with IAG and the CSIRO's Data61 to create the Gradient Institute, a not-for-profit organisation which will promote the creation of ethical artificial intelligence within both the private and public sectors.
The University of Sydney has partnered with IAG and the CSIRO's Data61 to create a not-for-profit.

The University of Sydney has partnered with IAG and the CSIRO's Data61 to create the not-for-profit ethical AI organisation.


Alongside IAG and CSIRO’s Data61, The University of Sydney has today announced the creation of the Gradient Institute. The Institute will be an independent not-for-profit organisation founded to research the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) and develop ethical AI-based systems that will provide better outcomes for both individuals and society as a whole.

The focus for the Institute will be to create a ‘world where all systems behave ethically’. This will be done not just through research, but also through practice, policy advocacy, public awareness and training people in ethical development and use of AI.

The Institute will use research findings to create open source ethical AI tools that can be adopted and adapted by business and government.

Solutions-focused approach to ethical artificial intelligence

Leading the Institute as CEO will be Bill Simpson-Young, following a transition from Director of Engineering and Design at CSIRO’s Data61. He will lead in partnership with Dr Tiberio Caetano, Co-founder and Chief Scientist at Ambiata, a wholly owned subsidiary of IAG, who will direct the Institute’s research into ethical AI as Chief Scientist.

Mr Simpson-Young said artificial intelligence today poses a challenge and an opportunity to discover which design choices for AI will lead to positive outcomes for people and society.

“Artificial Intelligence learns from data and data reflects the past – at the Gradient Institute we want the future to be better than the past. By embedding ethics into AI, we believe we will be able to choose ways to avoid the mistakes of the past by creating better outcomes through ethically-aware machine learning.

“For example, in recruitment when automated systems use historical data to guide decision making they can bias against subgroups who have historically been underrepresented in certain occupations.

“By embedding ethics in the creation of AI we can mitigate these biases which are evident today in industries like retail, telecommunications and financial services,” Mr Simpson-Young said.

Government, industry and academia collaborate as founding partners

Julie Batch, Chief Customer Officer at IAG, Australia’s largest general insurer, said being lead partner of Gradient Institute reflects IAG’s focus on embracing innovation to create better customer experiences.

“Leaning into the challenges and opportunities of AI requires considered thinking about fairness and equality. No government or business can do this alone. We need to work together across sector and we need to do this with urgency, which is why we’re proud to be founding partners with two of Australia’s strongest science and academic leaders - Data61 and University of Sydney.

“Ethical AI will improve trust in how automated machines make decisions. IAG hopes to be an early adopter of the techniques and tools the Institute develops so we can provide better experiences for our customers,” Ms. Batch said.

“Establishing the Gradient Institute as an independent not for profit organisation is critical in bringing its purpose to life and we hope that other organisations will join us to contribute to this research.”

Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO’s Data61, the digital innovation arm of Australia’s national science agency, said Gradient Institute is an important step, as AI and machine learning will impact society and every sector of Australia’s economy.

“As AI becomes more widely adopted, it’s critical to ensure technologies are developed with ethical considerations in mind. We need to get this right as a country, to reap the benefits of AI from productivity gains to new-to-the-world value.

“We are pleased to be a founding partner of Gradient Institute, which combines some of the country’s greatest minds in AI. This is a great example of Data61’s national network model, operating with porous organisational boundaries to help bring coherence and accelerated, national-scale outcomes for data-related research challenges, for the benefit of Australia,” Mr Turner said.

University of Sydney Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Duncan Ivison said there is a need to build an ethical framework for AI that combines deep knowledge of the technological possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence, but also ensures it is primarily shaped by human needs and interests.

“Research intensive universities like the University of Sydney – who are able to draw on their deep intellectual resources across the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences – are well placed to work collaboratively with government, industry and community groups to achieve this approach.

“We need to collaborate, critique each other and engage the community to tackle what is emerging as one of the great ethical challenges of our time,” Professor Ivison said.

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