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Why accelerating the uptake of tech in the NZ economy is crucial

23 Apr 2019

The Productivity Commission’s new inquiry into the impact of tech on the future of work in New Zealand is a valuable first step for the government to be better informed about the effect of tech developments when making policy, the national artificial intelligence organisation, the AI Forum NZ, says.

The commission released an issues paper last week and is seeking input for considering how tech will change the nature of work in New Zealand.

AI Forum NZ executive director Ben Reid says he is encouraged to see deep thinking starting to happen in government about the impact of tech change on New Zealand’s society and economy.

“Overall, we feel there has been a lack of public policy work to date which anticipates the potential effects of exponential technologies. Yet when we look around the globe accelerating tech change is one of the major, if not the biggest, trends which is shaping the future world we will live in,” Reid says.

The AI Forum NZ is a not-for-profit organisation which brings together players from across New Zealand’s AI ecosystem including technology companies, corporates, startups, government and academic researchers.

“We want to harness the potential of artificial intelligence and deep learning tech to help bring about a prosperous and inclusive future New Zealand,” Reid says.

The Productivity Commission paper identifies four possible scenarios which explore the impacts of technology on the workforce in New Zealand.

Reid says the most optimistic scenario, which the commission identifies, explores how technological advances could create more tasks and jobs.

“In our view, this outcome - a future with more automation and more work - should be actively targeted by government and industry.

“But this will need the correct public policy settings in place which accelerate the diffusion of these technologies throughout the economy. It also needs forward thinking about opportunities for supporting workers to re-skill as the nature of work tasks continues to change.

“We are constantly seeing symptoms that tech-change actually creates more work, not less. When was the last time any of us had an empty email inbox? But we need to use new technologies which enable us to work smarter, not harder.

“Around the world, the two AI superpowers the US and China, along with Canada, Singapore, UK, Germany, France and Australia are putting significant public funding into coordinated national development strategies for artificial intelligence research, skills development and industrialisation. The scale of international investment is huge.

“Historically, New Zealand has been more of a tech taker than a tech leader. We are also suffering from an extended period of low productivity growth. The AI Forum NZ sees that increasing and accelerating the uptake of technologies within our economy is a key policy lever to improving productivity and remaining competitive on the international stage,” Reid says.

The AI Forum’s upcoming research project, due out in the middle of this year, will explore in detail how AI and machine learning technologies can be applied within New Zealand’s wider economy including financial services, health, agriculture, tourism, transport as well as in government.

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