For a company that is struggling with a decrease in its letter business, Australia Post is not shy about wanting to have a stab at any venture that could make it money. Unlike the whacky blockchain voting proposal it put forward in 2016, the postal service's latest plan seems much more closer to the company's core business. Speaking to Senate Estimates on Tuesday, Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate said the company had been working with Swiss Post. "In some countries ... they are using drones to be able to carry blood to points of accident -- and Swiss Post are doing that," Holgate said. "We are actually working with Swiss Post, and in fact in just a few weeks time I'm meeting again with the CEO of Swiss Post to see what we can learn from what they have done, and to see how we too can offer those services for accident and emergency."
The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is closely monitoring 14 high-cost IT projects currently underway by federal government entities. The DTA in early 2017 was charged with looking into the structure of existing Australian government technology projects over AU$10 million, and currently, there are 80 "non-secret" IT-related projects that fit the bill. The DTA "monitors, verifies, and engages" with the programs, it said, and labels them as at one of those three stages. Getting on the agency's "engage" list means the project, already exceeding AU$10 million in government expenditure, is either highly complex, has a wide community reach, or the DTA has highlighted a declining confidence in delivery. Here are the projects featured on the engage list at some stage.
The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has revealed its intention to probe the use of blockchain for Centrelink welfare payment delivery. Acting CEO Randall Brugeaud told the CeBIT Australia conference in Sydney on Wednesday that a prototype could be in the market come mid-2019. "Our plan is to look for use cases across the Commonwealth with an initial focus on the welfare payment delivery system, then working with our digital service standard, we'll conduct user research with a view to having a prototype by the end of next financial year," he explained. The DTA was given AU$700,000 to explore distributed ledger technology as part of the 2018-19 Budget last week, and according to Brugeaud, it gives the innovation agency an opportunity to explore innovative ways to securely and efficiently deliver government services using blockchain. Pointing to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) replacement Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS) project, Brugeaud said the DTA is looking to existing instances across both government and the private sector to determine the best way forward for blockchain-based Commonwealth service delivery.
As artificial intelligence continues to creep into everyday life, the Australian government has pledged $29.9 million over four years to enhance local AI capabilities. Treasurer Scott Morrison announced in Tuesday night's budget that "research in artificial intelligence" was to be included as part of the Government's $2.4 billion investment into Australia's science and technology capacity. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will receive the bulk of the funding ($26 million), alongside the CSIRO ($2.3 million) and the Department of Education and Training ($1.5 million). "This measure will support Cooperative Research Centre projects, PhD scholarships and school-related learning to increase knowledge and develop the skills needed for AI and machine learning," the budget papers state. Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales and ACS AI Ethics Committee Member, Professor Toby Walsh, welcomed the funding, but questioned whether it was enough to poise Australia as a global leader in the field.
The Australian government has confirmed its own space agency under the 2018-19 Federal Budget, with AU$41 million in funding committed to the project. As part of the "growing the Australian space industry" tranche of its massive Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan unveiled in Tuesday's Budget, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will get AU$5.7 million in 2018-19, AU$9.8 million in 2019-20, AU$11.8 million in 2020-21, and AU$13.7 million in 2021-22. "This includes funding of AU$26 million over four years from 2018-19 to establish a National Space Agency, which will coordinate domestic space activities for Australia; and AU$15 million over three years from 2019-20 to establish the International Space Investment project, which will provide grants to strategic space projects that generate employment and business opportunities for Australians," the Budget papers explained. According to the government, having a national space agency will "help Australian businesses capture more of the US$340 billion a year global space industry". The announcement follows reports from the ABC last week that the government would be pumping AU$50 million into creating a space agency.
The Australian government's 2018-19 Budget has earmarked a massive AU$2.4 billion for technology and science over the next 12 years in a bid to support "a stronger and smarter economy". "The government will invest more than AU$2.4 billion in Australia's public technology infrastructure," Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his Budget speech on Tuesday night. "This includes supercomputers, world-class satellite imagery, more accurate GPS across Australia, upgrading the Bureau of Meteorology's technology platform, a national space agency, and leading research in artificial intelligence." The government will invest AU$29.9 million over four years in AI and machine learning, which it said would support business innovation across digital health, digital agriculture, cybersecurity, energy, and mining. "This measure will also support Cooperative Research Centre projects, PhD scholarships, and school-related learning to increase knowledge and develop the skills needed for AI and machine learning."
The Department of Home Affairs has told a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that it has purchased a facial recognition algorithm from a vendor to be used for Australia's Face Identification Service (FIS). Notification on almost all goods and services procured by the Australian government is published for public consumption, but the department told the joint committee on Thursday that it will remain tight-lipped on the vendor contracted after receiving immunity. "The FIS enlivens significantly a threat to assumed identities, so that's security and law enforcement covert operatives and witnesses under protection, so we received an exemption under the Commonwealth procurement rules to not publish the identity, the name of the vendor that's providing the facial recognition service," Assistant Secretary of Identity Security Andrew Rice explained. Rice told the joint committee that as all of the vendors providing biometric or facial recognition services use different algorithms, naming the vendor employed would potentially increase the threat of attack. The Australian government in February introduced two Bills into the House of Representatives that would allow for the creation of a system to match photos against identities of citizens stored in various federal and state agencies: The Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 (IMS Bill) and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-matching Services) Bill 2018.
Victoria has threatened to pull out of a state and federal government agreement for the home affairs department to run a facial recognition system because the bill expands Peter Dutton's powers and allows access to information by the private sector and local governments. In October the Council of Australia Governments agreed to give federal and state police real-time access to passport, visa, citizenship and driver's licence images for a wide range of criminal investigations. The identity matching services bill, introduced in February, enables the home affairs department to collect, use and disclose identification information including facial biometric matching. In a submission to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, the Victorian special minister of state, Gavin Jennings, warned that the bill provided "significant scope" for the home affairs minister to expand his powers beyond what was agreed. This includes the ability to collect new types of identification information and expand identity matching services.
The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has announced entering three-year research and development (R&D) partnerships with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of Melbourne. Under what it called "major collaborative relationships", NBN said it would work with the two universities on Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), smart cities, programmable networks, data analytics and visualisation, wireless technologies, and "technology for social good" R&D projects. "These two new relationships will help NBN Co double down on our strong focus on technology innovation for customer experience and operational excellence," NBN CTO Ray Owen explained. "With these innovative institutions -- UoM and UTS -- we saw a natural fit in helping NBN Co further enable the digital economy." NBN added that the agreements are also expected to cover opportunities such as "student exchanges" and post-doctoral research collaboration by giving the universities "access to real-world telecoms network operational data".
IBM Australia has made its financial results for 2017 available, reporting to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission it raked in AU$40 million in after-tax profit, more than double its 2016 AU$16.8 million lull. Revenue for the 12 months to December 2017 was reported as AU$2.8 billion, a decrease from 2016's AU$3.2 billion. Receipts from customers totalled AU$2.6 billion, while AU$2.5 billion was paid out to suppliers and employees. During the 12-month period, the local arm of IBM paid AU$8.4 million in tax, almost half of the AU$13.9 IBM considers its principal continuing activities in Australia to be the provision of advanced information services, products, and technologies, including the marketing of imported and locally produced information processing equipment, software, and supplies.