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Australia Needs AI Regulation

Technology and Human Rights
Two people stand in a hallway surrounded by computers

The Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) is pleased to announce its submission to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources in response to the Supporting Responsible AI: Discussion Paper.

Human rights risks 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to improve our lives in meaningful ways. However if it is not developed and deployed safely, it can also threaten our human rights.

Currently, AI operates in a regulatory environment that is patchwork at best. This has allowed AI to proliferate in a landscape that has not protected people from human rights harms. The Commission is especially concerned about emerging harms such as:

  • Privacy
  • Algorithmic discrimination
  • Automation bias
  • Misinformation and disinformation. 

However, the human rights risks extend far beyond these topics because AI is an increasingly interoperable technology. For example, AI may also pose a risk to human rights when it is combined with neurotechnology or metaverse and extended reality technologies.

Regulating AI

Immediate steps must be taken to regulate AI to protect individuals from the unique risks posed by this technology. Australia must get regulation right. 

Australia already has several pieces of legislation regulating AI usage in specific settings or circumstances. However, the regulatory environment for AI is patchwork, and regulatory gaps likely exist. 

Although the Commission supports the creation of an AI-specific piece of legislation, any proposed AI Act mustn't duplicate existing legislation.

To this end, the Commission has recommended that the government must first conduct a regulatory gaps analysis to determine relevant legislation's application to AI. Where gaps are identified in specific pieces of legislation, that legislation should be reviewed and modernised to address AI.

The proposed AI Act should only be introduced to regulate AI where legislative gaps are identified and cannot be addressed by existing legislation. 

AI Commissioner

To assist in the development of best practices and guidance on the development and deployment of AI, the Commission has reinforced its recommendation to create an AI Commissioner. 

This body would function as a source of expertise on AI, by providing guidance to the government and the private sector on how to comply with laws surrounding the development and use of AI. The Commission first recommended the creation of an AI Commissioner (or AI Safety Commissioner) in its Final Report in 2021.

However, the creation of such a body will take time. In the meantime, Australia must build upon the capacity of existing regulators to assist in promoting human rights-centred AI.

Our submission

Ultimately if Australia is to reap the benefits of AI while mitigating the profound human rights harms detailed in our submission, Australia needs to modernise its approach. The Federal government should commit to reviews of existing legislation, and then address shortfalls in AI-specific legislation. 

Ethical AI is essential to protecting human rights and improving trust in AI. Although modernising Australia's approach to AI will not be easy, it must be done.