Ground-breaking research informs NSW AI inquiry

18 March 2024
Analysing the use of automated systems in NSW government sectors.
Sydney Law School researchers have provided evidence on the use of automated decision-making in state and local government sectors in New South Wales (NSW) at the NSW Artificial Intelligence Inquiry.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) have partnered with the New South Wales Ombudsman to map and analyse the use of automated systems in state and local government sectors in New South Wales (NSW). Sydney Law School researchers provided evidence on the use of ADM in the NSW Artificial Intelligence Inquiry.

This ground-breaking ADM+S project brought together universities and government to support the development of responsible, ethical, and inclusive automated decision-making in the public sector. The project aimed to map the use of automated systems in NSW state and local government agencies.

This research was a partnership between ADM+S and the NSW Ombudsman. It sought better visibility on when and how ADM systems are used to support or replace the work of NSW public servants. It was the first attempt to undertake a systematic mapping of ADM in any jurisdiction in Australia and one of very few attempts across the world.

Findings were presented at the first hearing of the NSW Artificial Intelligence Inquiry in NSW Parliamentin early March. The hearing examined the impact of artificial intelligence on people’s lives. It sought to ensure NSW is well positioned to navigate the opportunities, risks and challenges this technology presents.

“Automation is widespread and increasing, across both state government and local councils. Our hope is that we’ve provided useful insights into where automation is at in NSW, as well as a basis for a better informed, ongoing conversation about automation and artificial intelligence in government,” said Professor Kimberlee Weatherall, Sydney Law School Professor and ADM+S Chief Investigator.

“This project has been a unique and really exciting opportunity to provide some transparency around how automated decision-making systems are being used in government in NSW.”

Key findings from the report include:

• The NSW government sector use of ADM systems is widespread and increasing. 

• NSW government organisations are interested in AI, with many organisations planning, or experimenting, with natural language processing and generative AI. But, for now, simpler forms of automation and data linkage and matching are more widespread in government decision-making.

• Government bodies are making extensive use of sensors, computer vision and analysis; this includes a range of uses by local councils.

• Currently, automated systems are mostly informing or guiding, rather than making decisions: but further automation is a short step away.

• There may be a need for wider expertise and testing at the development stage of ADM systems: including legal assessment and testing to ensure systems are accessible to people with disabilities.

The research was co-ordinated from the University of Sydney and involved researchers from other ADM+S partner institutions: the University of Queensland, RMIT and Monash University, as well as Macquarie University. The research reports produced by ADM+S have been published as part of a special report from the NSW Ombudsman, and a compendium, or list of ADM systems used by NSW government bodies.

“We expect this project to set an example for other State and Commonwealth jurisdictions to improve transparency and oversight of automated decision-making,” said Doctor José-Miguel Bello y Villarino, Sydney Law School Senior Research Fellow.

NSW Ombudsman, Paul Miller PSM said, “Visibility is necessary for people to properly consider and exercise any decision review rights as well as for proper oversight. It is also key to supporting an informed debate about what assurance and regulatory frameworks may be appropriate for ADM use now and into the future.”

Evidence presented by Professor Kimberlee Weatherall and Doctor José-Miguel Bello y Villarino came from research reported in Automated Decision-Making in NSW: Mapping and analysis of the use of ADM systems by state and local governments and their expertise in the AI space.

The ARC Centre of Excellence on Automated Decision-Making and Society is a cross-disciplinary, national research centre funded by the Australian Research Council.

Media Office

Related articles