Blog | AI

The New Zealand AI Economy

I’ve been getting a few questions off the back of my Qrious appointment media release about just what did I mean when I talked about the ’AI Economy’. I thought I’d share my thinking here.

Ultimately, when I refer to the AI economy, I’m talking about creating the supply chain (so the technical capability and the people capability) based on AI as a foundational technology and creating AI tools directly in NZ – made by us, for us, but with a clear view on leveraging the best from elsewhere and their broader application in other markets.

Why is this important? There are two big reasons:

  • The future we can create.
  • Quality and New Zealandness.


1. The future we can create

New Zealanders are early adopters. As a nation we have a good track record of adopting new technology from elsewhere and there are signs that that is true of consumer AI as well.

Think of imported examples such as Siri and Google maps - all are well used in NZ, and they are great tools.

Some companies in NZ are also using AI, such as making the most of machine learning targeting available through advertising via Google or Facebook, or using sentiment detection services to understand communications.

The key point here is: AI built elsewhere and used here.

I subscribe to the view that AI is a foundational technology that is impacting every industry. Andrew Ng commented that AI is like electricity and the internet in that it is transforming every industry. I particularly like the internet analogy, starting off as a tool for scientists and becoming something that is part of daily life. On the way it went through many phases and is now creating businesses that are impossible without it.

Given AI is going to be so foundational in so much of our lives, I want New Zealand to be a place where a wide variety of people can be involved in creating those foundations.

An industry example: With his experience of living and working in Europe @Christopher likens this to the automotive industry in Germany. Yes of course there are people doing manufacturing of cars, but there are also designers, marketers, executives, accountants, research scientists, salespeople and many more that participate in that industry, shape it and create it. There is an entire supply chain of small and large organisations that support the automotive industry.

A personal example: I would not describe myself as a technologist, but I am in the tech industry. And being part of that industry has provided many opportunities for me and my family. Having an AI industry in New Zealand will create far more opportunities and far broader opportunities than simply adopting from elsewhere.

Qrious and I want many others to have those opportunities and more in New Zealand. When we talk about creating the AI economy, we are talking about creating that supply chain based on AI as a foundational technology here, in New Zealand.

2. Quality Data and New Zealandness
New Zealand is small and we are unique. We have a wide range of accents, a particular genetic make-up, a mix of cultures, our landscape and environment can be challenging, we have fauna and flora found nowhere else. I could go on.

AI relies on data. If that data is not representative, then the result is going to be flawed.

So, we need to leverage the incredible advances that companies like Google, Amazon, Apple and others are making and create AI that is right for us.

I want the New Zealand diversity to be a part of the AI economy.
If there is a development in healthcare that relies on genetics - we better make sure it understands our genetics. If we deploy speech recognition - we better make sure it recognises the accents here.

This creates an amazing opportunity for organisations in New Zealand to create AI that is right for us, not part of a solution developed for the larger countries and cultures in the world.

Building the AI economy in New Zealand was one of the critical reasons @Christopher and I joined Qrious, and I think that Qrious, with our backing from Spark, is incredibly well-placed to make this happen. But this isn't a sales pitch - Qrious is one of several organisations with capabilities in this space, and we are keen to work with others.

3. Growing the pie

These two aspects of creating the AI economy – the future we can create along with quality data and New Zealandness - really lead to a mindset where we ought to focus on creating the market for AI as a transformational technology, regardless of which organisation actually ends up building any particular piece.

New Zealand doesn’t necessarily have any natural advantages in building AI such as we do for other industries such as agriculture or tourism. The only way we'll create this is by being deliberate and working together to both use and build AI.

It’s about growing the AI pie for everyone in NZ and we're confident that in doing that we'll grow our business as well.

Christopher and I joined Qrious specifically because we saw that they share this clear ambition to not just grow the market for its own profit, but to grow the entire supply chain - the AI economy - for New Zealand.

We wanted to be a part of that.

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