Scientia Professor Toby Walsh, from Computer Science and Engineering and CSIRO’s Data61, has been awarded one of the 14 prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowships from the Australian Research Council (ARC), announced by the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan.

UNSW leads the state, receiving five of the six Fellowships in New South Wales. The Fellowships awarded at UNSW span law, art and design, computer science and engineering, chemical science, and humanities and languages.

The scheme supports Australia’s highest quality researchers who play a significant, sustained leadership and mentoring role in building the country’s internationally competitive research capacity. The 14 Fellows will share $44.2 million to lead research projects over five years across Australia.

Scientia Professor Walsh will receive over $3.1 million to fund research into understanding how to build AI systems that humans can trust.

Increasingly, humans are handing decisions over to machines, such as determining who gets welfare, who is shortlisted for a job or how water rights are shared between farmers. 

This project will study how to build and verify that an AI system makes fair decisions, which can be explained and audited, and are respectful of people’s privacy. Outputs will include tools to build trustworthy AI systems as well as policy recommendations to complement the technical tools. The project will provide significant economic and societal benefits to Australia as high-stake decisions in both the public and private sector are automated.

In a press release, Mr Tehan said, “Our government is strategically investing in research in the national interest, with a focus on turning ideas into jobs, productivity gains and economic growth.

“Our government is investing in Australian researchers who are doing world-leading work that is delivering a real benefit to the nation. I congratulate the recipients of an Australian Laureate Fellowship, who have been recognised for their innovative work.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated UNSW’s new Laureate Fellows.

“Laureate Fellowships are regarded as the pinnacle of achievement and highly coveted in the research sector,” Professor Fisk said. “No one is more deserving than these leaders in their fields, ranging from a highly advanced digital platform, to nanoparticles, AI, data regulation and world history writing.

“Having five successful candidates is the best result ever for UNSW, and testimony both to the calibre of UNSW’s researchers and a university environment supporting research excellence. I am particularly pleased to see the breadth of fellowships across five faculties, with UNSW securing three of the four Fellowships nationally in non-STEM areas.”