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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3972


Ms McHUGH —Will the Minister for Science explain to the House the international significance of artificial intelligence? What are the economic, social and employment implications of AI? Is Australia's participation in this area a case of too little, too late?


Mr BARRY JONES —Artificial intelligence is the name applied to the development of expert systems in computing, which parallel in some limited respect the way the human brain works. It is known by the initials AI, although that has a different significance for members of the National Party. Computers right up to the powerful fourth generation computers rely essentially on linear processing-that is, in the same way that pocket calculators work. Essentially they are very fast number crunchers and data sorters, but essentially dumb machines which lack the capacity to do the things that are very easy for us, like handling natural language, recognising patterns, or identifying faces on a photograph or reading maps.

The fifth generation computing involves the concept of parallel processing, as in the human brain, where diversities of bits of data are pro- cessed simultaneously, adding to knowledge and providing capacity to make judgments. More than half our mental capacity is taken up in sorting out sensory data and in servicing our language capacity. All those things in parallel processing are second nature to us in driving, shopping or carrying out our ordinary activities.


Mr Hawke —More for some than for others.


Mr BARRY JONES —As the Prime Minister points out, more for some than for others. We can distinguish, almost without thinking, between large objects which appear small because of distance and small objects which appear large because of proximity. To give two obvious examples: It would be of tremendous benefit to users if computers could respond to instructions in plain language, either written or spoken, or if we had pocket machines which could provide simultaneous translation in foreign languages. The nations which develop these machines first will have access to an enormous-almost an incalculable-market. We are already using AI in Australia in medical diagnostics. The Garvan Institute of Medical Research at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney has devised one of only four medical expert systems in regular use world wide. This expert system gathers the pathology results of endocrinology tests and makes a diagnosis on the basis of programmed knowledge of thyroid problems. After two years in use the system is claimed to be 99.8 per cent accurate in its conclusions.

In Melbourne last week the first Australian AI conference was held and was regarded as a great success. This is very important because for the first time we are starting to get political and public recognition of just how big AI could be. A number of our universities, technical institutions, the CSIRO and various departments, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Bureau of Meteorology, are now deeply involved in artificial intelligence. My Department has just published a handbook of research and researchers in artificial intelligence in Australia which I commend to honourable members. Unless we give a high priority to this vital area-I do not just mean government but the private sector as well-we will miss out very seriously.