A 12-person expert panel has been appointed by the federal government to guide the introduction of “guardrails” for the use of artificial intelligence in high-risk settings.

Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic announced the establishment of the new AI Expert Group on Wednesday, and revealed it held its first meeting earlier this month.

The group includes renowned AI experts from the legal and tech sectors, and will provide advice to the Industry department on transparency, testing and accountability in AI over the next four months.

Husic said the “impressive group” will work on the next steps arising from the federal government’s interim response to its industry consultation on safe and responsible AI in Australia last year.

“This Artificial Intelligence Expert Group brings the right mix of skills to steer the formation of mandatory guardrails for high-risk AI settings,” Husic said in a statement.

“With expertise in law, ethics and technology, I’m confident this group will get the balance right. It’s imperative sophisticated models underpinning high-risk AI systems are transparent and well-tested.”

The panel’s 12 members are:

  1. UNSW.ai chief scientist and ACS AI Ethics Committee member, Professor Toby Walsh;
  2. National AI Standards Committee chair and ACS AI Ethics Committee co-chair, Aurélie Jacquet;
  3. ARC Centre of Excellence chief investigator and ACS AI Ethics Committee co-chair, Professor Kimberlee Weatherall;
  4. CSIRO chief scientist Professor Bronwyn Fox;
  5. International authority on Indigenous cultural and intellectual property Dr Terri Janke;
  6. Centre for AI and Digital Ethics professor Jeannie Paterson;
  7. Legal practitioner Angus Lang SC;
  8. Director of the Australian Institute for Machine Learning at the University of Adelaide, Professor Simon Lucey;
  9. Co-founder of the Human Technology Institute, Professor Ed Santow;
  10. Digital technologies expert Professor Nicolas Suzor;
  11. Human-centred AI expert Professor Peta Wyeth;
  12. and CEO of Gradient Institute Bill Simpson Young.

Walsh said the expert group “recognises the rapidly growing importance of AI across our society”.

“I hope that the government responds positively to the advice it receives from the expert group, invests more greatly in AI to seize the opportunity and at the same time, puts in place suitable guardrails to ensure AI has minimal negative impacts,” Walsh said.

The government’s safe AI plan involves the planned regulation of high-risk use of AI and a more hands-off approach to more common and safe uses of the technology in an effort to boost economic gains and innovation.

The interim plan is the result of industry consultation launched mid-last year, with the government receiving more than 500 submissions.

It plans to take a risk-based approach involving the introduction of guardrails around the use of AI in high-risk settings such as health and law enforcement.

The newly appointed panel has been tasked at investigating what uses of AI should be defined as high-risk, and what regulations should be in place around them.

Urgent need to act

The group will be in place until the end of June, with Husic saying the government needs to move quickly on this issue.

“We are sending a very clear signal that the community is expecting action and we need to get moving on it,” Husic told Sky News.

Following the unveiling of the safe AI plan, industry urged the government to act quickly, with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering saying there needs to be “swift action” and there is an “urgent need to move forward now”.

But Shadow Minister for Science and Arts Paul Fletcher said he has concerns about the longevity of the expert group.

“The new advisory body is comprised of esteemed individuals but how can the public and industry expect serious public policy advice to be given to government on AI when the body is scheduled to cease on 30 June 2024?” Fletcher said in a statement.

“This is another example of the Albanese government putting a complex policy issue in the too hard basket. After a lengthy consultation and industry submissions, the best Labor can do is announce an advisory body. Labor wasted 2023 and it looks like 2024 isn’t shaping up to be any better.

“What we’re seeing from Labor is an incompetent and slow government that is allowing Australia to be left behind other countries when it comes to AI.”