Do US tech firms fear the Australian government taking a tough stand on AI regulation? It’s an important question given past events. But the environment is changing.
Things turned ugly three years ago when The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission devised a tough News Media Bargaining Code that required US big tech pay for news they linked to.
At one stage Google threatened to withdraw search and Facebook threatened to leave Australia.
Then treasurer Josh Frydenberg held negotiations to cool things down. Regulation won out and big tech paid up.
Fast forward to 2023, and the US is noticeably concerned about coming AI regulation globally.
Proposed EU law bans remote facial recognition systems, social scoring systems, predictive policing tools and threats to health and safety. It requires compliance around AI accuracy. Proposed US law is based more around advisory measures.
The training of AI models on copyrighted material is also causing friction. Techspot last month reported that 8,000 US authors had signed a letter demanding compensation for their works being used to train generative AI models.
Former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, in his role as Facebook vice-president of global affairs, says training of its large-language model LLaMA amounts to fair dealing under copyright law (that may not be so in Australia).
Internally, the US Federal Trade Commission has launched a wide-ranging investigation into ChatGPT owner OpenAI’s operations, demanding years of company documents as its first step.
All of this is happening as Australia considers its response to regulating AI. Public submissions to a round of government consultations closed on August 4. Will Australian law reflect more the EU or US approach?
However there is little indication so far of Australians being aware of or caring about the AI copyright issue.
In the meantime, a circuit breaker has appeared: a report that reminds us of the massive role US tech firms play and will continue to play in developing Australia’s tech ecosystem. It suggests we need to look at a bigger picture.
The report, commissioned by Microsoft and LinkedIn in partnership with the Tech Council of Australia and Accenture, highlights a massive contribution made by US tech firms down under.
It says one in five Australian tech graduates are employed in a US tech firm, and one in two of Australia’s successful startups were started or scaled with experienced US tech talent.
US technologists also play a big role in Australia with 4000 US tech alumni transitioning to careers in Australian startups, industry or the public service each year.
Additionally, one in five experienced tech workers will have worked in a US tech firm by 2030, and 18 percent of tech grads will be employed at a US tech firm by 2030.
It notes the Australian government’s target of 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030 and says one in eight of these new jobs will be created by a US tech firm. Australia will need to both import more skilled migrants as well as offer local training to meet this goal.
There is also Australia’s closer strategic relationship to the US with Aukus and how the pact will affect the US and Australian tech sectors and sharing of advanced technologies.
Speaking at the launch, Australia’s Ambassador to the US, former prime minister Kevin Rudd says US and Australian legislators are working on “ a seamless US, Australia, UK defence, science and technology industry”. “This is quite revolutionary,” he said.
CEO of the Tech Council of Australia, Kate Pounder, also sees unity as a priority. This all suggests a carefully crafted Australian regulatory response to AI.
“The fact that US investors are the biggest investors in Australia,” says Pounder. “I think is evidence of the importance of the trade relationship. We think with the formation of new alliances such as Aukus and Quad, that relationship will only be cemented.”
Pounder says it’s in the interest of the US and Australia that technology managed in one country is appropriate for the other; nations are coming together to develop coherent standards around AI.
“There’s some work going on at the moment, for example, to develop some pretty important new AI standards that will apply globally and I think that’s where obviously we have to go”, she tells ChannelNews.
She says the strictness of some Australian law is “making it really hard to build foundational data sets and models in Australia, and that has long term consequences if we want sovereign AI based industry and to be developing micro technology”.
Economic counsellor for the US Embassy Michael Sullivan also expressed a preference for guidance rather than stringent government regulation.
Published by Channel News Australia.