UNSW researchers have been awarded more than $1.6m in a joint Australian and US scheme to develop responsible and ethical artificial intelligence (AI) approaches to tackle drought, environmentally harmful emissions and infectious disease.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – US National Science Foundation (NSF) research collaboration program jointly funds bilateral research collaborations that have the potential to deliver transformative findings in the area of responsible and equitable AI.

Responsible and ethical AI concerns have grown sharply with the increasing availability of AI-powered technologies. Awards under the NSF-CSIRO partnership are expected to contribute to establishing ethical frameworks — and ultimately guidelines — to ensure AI algorithms and their deployments are safe, fair, and beneficial to all citizens.

Researchers from UNSW’s recently formed AI Institute will lead the Australian-based investigations on two of the three projects that have been funded.

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UNSW AI Institute Director Professor Haris Aziz and Chief Scientist Professor Toby Walsh will receive $829,646 to lead Australian research on the project ‘Fair Sequential Collective Decision-Making’. The project will develop artificial intelligence-powered approaches that enable responsible, fair and equitable solutions to challenging societal problems like drought, infectious disease, and environmentally harmful emissions. AI will be employed to determine equitable allocation of resources such as water, optimal placement of refuelling stations for non-fossil fuel vehicles, and vaccines and other medical supplies. The team will be joined by the CSIRO and NSF-funded researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Deputy Director of Engagement at UNSW’s AI Institute, Professor Flora Salim, will lead the Australian research team on the second project, ‘Understanding Bias in AI Models for the Prediction of Infectious Disease Spread’. This project has been awarded $844,854 to help mitigate bias in AI-powered modelling and prediction of disease spread for pandemic prevention and response. The team will investigate how biased data spreads to modelling pipelines and leads to biased AI solutions. UNSW researchers on the team are Professor Raina MacIntyre, Dr Helen Paik, Dr Hao Xue, and Associate Professor David Heslop. They will work alongside Dr Kacper Sokol at RMIT in Melbourne and NSF-funded researchers from Emory University, Arizona State University and George Mason University.

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NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said his organisation’s continuous efforts to form collaborations with nations across the world represent part of their core mission of ensuring that the research and discoveries that result from their investments benefit citizens everywhere. “I want to congratulate the Australian and US teams on their awards. There is much to be done in the field of responsible and fair artificial intelligence, and we are eager to see how your research accelerates and innovates solutions that help solve critical challenges across AI-powered technologies.”

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said: “CSIRO is proud to stand side-by-side with the NSF, committed to responsible and ethical AI not only through our own research but by catalysing new opportunities across the ecosystem.”

More information on the CSIRO – National Science Foundation AI Research Collaboration Program and other funded projects is available on the CSIRO website.