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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 994


Mr ROBERT BROWN —I ask the Minister for Science whether he would explain to the House what is meant by 'fifth generation computers'. Is any significant degree of research being undertaken in Australia in relation to those computers? If so, is there any interest on the part of the Government in this research? Will any form of assistance be provided by the Government? Finally, do these fifth generation computers have anything to do with artificial intelligence? If they do, and if the Commonwealth Government provides financial assistance towards their development, will the Minister ensure that some of them at least are made available to the Opposition?


Mr BARRY JONES —Where natural intelligence fails, artificial intelligence, like artificial insemination in another context, may be the only way out. The essential form of the so-called fifth generation computers is that they are 'smart' machines, computers not dependent on software. The point about conventional computers as we have become used to them-the so-called 'Von Neumann' machines-is that one has to give software with very precise sets of instructions to the computer. Without this precise set of instructions the computer fouls up and one does not get an appropriate answer. This is where the natural intelligence of human beings has the advantage over artificial intelligence. Because humans have a wider range of reference, we can do things that computers cannot yet do. Computers are wonderful at number crunching but they have not been good at things like pattern recognition-reading maps or photographs-or in cases where it is necessary to extract information from them, for example, on matters such as drug control. The point about--


Mr Cadman —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I wonder whether we could adjourn this lecture to one of the Committee rooms of the Parliament.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I must warn the honourable member for Mitchell again. He persists not in taking points of order but in making statements. While the honourable member may not be interested in the subject matter, the question is a proper question under the Standing Orders and is within the Minister's areas of responsibility. I call the Minister.


Mr BARRY JONES —It is very important to us to involve ourselves in fifth generation research because, if fifth generation computers are perfected, it means that software will become irrelevant. If we can instruct computers through using plain language, just by inserting a letter or by telling it what to do without having to provide software, an area which has been a very important area of growth in Australia will simply disappear. There will be enormous economic implications for the nation which is there first in developing fifth generation computing.

We are very fortunate to have attracted and, thanks to the foresight of the Commonwealth Government, to have retained the services of a group of key personnel led by Dr Jean-Louis Lassez, who are internationally recognised and who are making a very significant contribution. There is a collective involvement among Melbourne University and Monash University, the New South Wales Institute of Technology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. I pay tribute to that group. We are well in there. Despite the small size of our nation, I think that we are in an excellent position to make a significant contribution to fifth generation computing.