As the Lead of AI for Missions (AI4M) at CSIRO’s Data61, Olivier Salvado is at the helm of accelerating technology and AI’s impact in tackling global challenges. Operating at the epicentre of technological progress, he says AI is set to revolutionise science and engineering within Australia, and globally. 

“Designing drugs, new materials and processes will become much more accurate and much faster as we rely more on learning from data, complementing physics-based approach and experimentation,” Olivier says.

“With enough of the right data, a computer will come up with a candidate of compounds for a particular disease. The speed at which we developed the vaccines for COVID is an example of how AI can help accelerate the development of medical technologies.”

And while the incredible outcomes AI enables are one thing, making sure the technology is harnessed ethically is another.

Transformation of this scale and importance requires leaders who are equipped to make this discission for maximum impact. And with a doctorate in biomedical engineering, decades of technical experience and an MBA (Executive) from AGSM @ UNSW Business School, Olivier is the right person for the role. 

Tackling Australia’s biggest challenges through AI 

In 2018, the CSIRO identified 12 missions to address Australia’s biggest challenges – from drought resilience and ending plastic waste, to supporting net zero carbon goals and building infectious disease resilience. The organisation also developed three AI programs that help power these missions. 

The Reinvent Science program explores how AI can advance scientific discovery. The Future Digital Manufacturing program aims to boost Australia’s manufacturing competitiveness and resilience through AI and technology. 

Olivier’s program, AI4M, supports CSIRO’s missions by developing new AI technologies through funding new projects, working in collaboration with the National AI Centre and nurturing AI talent through scholarships and graduate programs. 

As Lead, Olivier is responsible for organising and managing the projects and their funding and assessing their development. 

“My role is to identify and develop the AI research activities that support CSIRO’s missions, I’m also involved in lots of joint projects, networking discussions and workshopping,” Olivier says. 

“We want to leverage our investments to bring in organisations from outside CSIRO, so I’m also involved in developing key partnerships with government, technology companies and universities.”

As a highly technical and analytical person, developing authentic relationships is critical for Olivier as part of his role and his AGSM MBA gave him the tools and frameworks to build these communication skills.

“It’s an area I’m still working on, but the MBA Executive program and my fellow students taught me a lot – things like the importance of active listening. It’s something I now practice every day, and it has helped me become a better leader.”

The role of ethics in technology

Today, science and technology are well ahead of potential application – and regulation. Yet accessing emerging technologies has never been easier. And this is the source of much of the ethical dilemma that scientists and leaders like Olivier face.

“Everything that can be harmful in society is regulated. You can’t drive a car, fly a plane or buy a weapon without necessary certification. But that’s not the case when it comes to technology for some applications.”

As AI continues to progress and regulation lags, the role of ethics in technology is increasingly important. But it’s been difficult to develop a robust, formalised ethical assessment framework.

“There are many steps between research and an actual product. And every step is susceptible to ethical issues. We need to identify the different principles that are important for every step and have a framework that allows innovation – but at the same time identifies, if not addresses, those ethical issues.”

Earlier in 2021, CSIRO Data61 developed and published a set of eight principles that are now incorporated in a tool to assess all our projects, hopefully something that could be useful on a broader scale.

“We have identified eight principles for responsible AI covering all aspects of the value chain, from the design of the analysis model to the implementation and deployment into the market. 

“We are also developing a risk assessment framework that will assess projects against the eight principles. This will let us design interventions to mitigate risks when they are present – as well as identify the biggest risks and their impacts, and direct resources to developing methods to address them,” Olivier shares.

New technologies shaping Australia’s future

Developing partnerships and networks to allow access to the right data is imperative in developing and deploying AI at an impactful scale, according to Olivier. 

Thanks to its partnerships, the AI4M program has already produced some exciting new developments. For instance, through its partnership with Google and the National AI Centre, CSIRO is working on technologies to assess the health of the Great Barrier Reef.  

“The goal of one of the Barrier Reef projects is to develop a glider that surveys the reef, mapping and noting fish species and the ecosystem,” Olivier explains. 

“With advanced imaging we can look at the health of the reef. Instead of having a few divers doing very limited and slow sampling, we can have autonomous underwater vehicles cruising along and systematically mapping entire ecosystem in 3D”

This technology provides vastly more coverage and information, helping scientists and environmental experts track the health of the reef, design policies and report on the impact of climate change. 

Equipping technology leaders to lead with positive impact

In a rapidly accelerating world, executives need the right skills, knowledge and perspectives to face new challenges confidently.

AGSM’s MBA Executive program goes beyond simply mastering technical skills – it also provides the skills to lead with ethical expertise. 

Olivier had the technical skill to lead his Biomedical Informatics Group at CSIRO. But having focused his entire career on these elements of his work, he was keen to improve his communication skills and develop a more diverse view of leadership. 

He was looking for a world-class program that had flexibility around locations, as his work required him to travel a lot. That’s why he enrolled in the AGSM MBA (Executive) program

“As a world-leading business school, AGSM offers one of the top executive MBAs, so it immediately made it to the top of my shortlist,” Olivier explains.

“The fact that I could attend classes in different locations across the country worked really well with my schedule. It was very convenient to be able to attend a class in Melbourne and go back to Brisbane for the next one.”

Today, Olivier knows he made the right choice in AGSM.

“I work with a very diverse group of stakeholders, coming from different industries and roles. The AGSM program equipped me to deal with that diversity and embrace and leverage it. I find working with such a diverse group of people with different mindsets a very enriching experience.”

Olivier recognises the value of his AGSM MBA in helping him become a well-rounded leader. 

“It helped me understand my own limitations and strengths. I learned a lot from my fellow students and faculty on how to express myself and listen.”

On top of the tools and frameworks to help improve communication, Olivier also highly valued the opportunity for networking.

“Interacting with lots of smart people from various corporate groups and industries in one place was so helpful. The networking has been really valuable as well later in my career. Even though it's been almost 10 years since I did the program, I recently reconnected with an AGSM alumnus, which led to a work discussion around a potential new project collaboration between us. This would not have happened without AGSM.”


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