Australia needs to look beyond roadmaps and encourage business to invest in artificial intelligence, tech community leaders have warned.

Speaking on a Sky News panel lead by ACS CEO Andrew Johnson, Associate Dean of Research Strategy and Management at UTS, Michael Blumenstein, said while Australia leads the world in AI research on a per-capita basis, a failure to commercialise academia’s work threatens the nation’s position.

“I believe we have a long way to go to increase our investment in AI,” said Blumenstein. “It’s really great to look at roadmaps because they are a snapshot of the current status.

"By ranking of the number of scientific publications and the research output we create in this country, we are number one by capita. The challenge there is the translation of that research. We have the top ranking by research in the world in AI – the next big step is investing and growing that pie.”

Blumenstein’s warning follows an DATA61 AI roadmap released last year, estimating AI could be worth $22.17 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Israel could provide some clues on how to encourage investment by building links between researchers and industry, Blumstein believes.

“In Israel, they are putting a billion into cybersercurity alone. I believe the state and Federal governments are putting another billion into AI, now. We have to look at all those things, the investment not just from government but the industry sector. We have to grow the large industry players who can open up research labs that can then nurture the startup sector within.”

However last year’s Data61 report found Australia is well behind international peers in building a local industry and flagged the sector would need 161,000 new specialised workers by 2030.

The looming AI skills shortage was highlighted by the panel with Neil Alexander, co-founder of Sydney’s Tech Insite, flagging the need to make careers in the sector more attractive to students.

“We have to change as quickly as possible,” Alexander stated. “It takes time to change the human capital in a society and what we really need to do is focus on creating a pathway to allow students to visualise how and why they need to understand technology, and why that’s a future career path for them.

“If they can’t imagine a career, they won’t pursue and we’ll continue to drop behind.”