NZTech calls for comprehensive tech strategy

Lack of government attention to AI "elephant in the room"

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NZTech has urged the government to set out a clear technology strategy, saying businesses need more guidance and commitment from the government on critical technologies.

NZTech CEO Graeme Muller cited the recent release by the government of its drone strategy and its cyber security strategy as examples of what the government could do, and called for this approach to embrace a wider range of technological issues, in particular artificial intelligence.

"The elephant in the room is the apparent lack of government attention on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI),” Muller said.

“If we could do with one cohesive strategy more than any other it would have to be artificial intelligence, given that this rapidly advancing technology is touching every sector and almost every piece of government policy.”

He added: "The Danish have a plan, Canada does, so do Australia, the UK, the US, China, France, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan… need I say more?”

In May 2018 the AI Forum of New Zealand, a not-for-profit NGO funded by memberships and part of the NZTech alliance, undertook a detailed study of the potential impact of AI on New Zealand. The key recommendation of the research was the need for a coordinated AI strategy for New Zealand.

Muller said strategies were also needed for fintech, blockchain and biotech, and a more cohesive approach.

“Where is the fintech strategy? A plan for the impact of technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrency on our financial system,” he said.

"How about a biotech strategy? A plan for economic growth through bio-based technologies, and how New Zealand intends to manage genetic modification.

"There are parts of the government that understand the impact that rapidly changing technology will have on New Zealand and they have put in place a roadmap for their part so the rest of government and industry can make confident decisions in line with a plan.”

Following the government’s aborted attempt to appoint a chief technology officer (CTO), Muller suggested attempts  to develop a coordinated tech strategy had stalled. “What work there is seems to be fragmented across the machinery of government."

The Government quietly announced in December 2018 that it had given up trying to find a CTO. Digital services minister Megan Woods said the Government had determined it would be difficult to find one person with the skill set to fulfil the role and the government would instead appoint a number of individuals to a small group to assist it in mapping policy to guide New Zealand's digital technology environment.

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