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National AI group launches to boost sector in New Zealand

The surge of AI tech in New Zealand has led to a forum being founded by NZTech and the government to help grow the AI community. The group will help Kiwi businesses navigate opportunities and challenges in the emerging space.

The forum is a collaboration between NZTech, the government and AI tech leaders within New Zealand that officially launches in Wellington today.

It aims to help guide New Zealand businesses into the future of the fast-moving AI tech through bringing together a community, exploring the opportunities and challenges involved and advancing innovation and economic growth.

Recently, there has been plenty of movings and shakings in the AI sector in New Zealand: IBM moved into Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter and made a “cheddarlova” with its Watson AI technology, Wellington-based Xero has a department specifically dedicated to AI that it is growing and Auckland-based Soul Machines recently raised US$7.5 million in a series A round, as well as rolling out the first commercialisation of its ‘Baby X’ tech that was five years in the making.

Unsure on what AI tech is ready for use for companies and what’s not? Check out Callaghan Innovation's infographic above.

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says AI is becoming increasingly prevalent in New Zealand across various industries.

 “The speedy birth of AI in New Zealand is happening right across the country. The future impacts on the economy and society will be significant, dramatic and disruptive. It’s such an exciting time to be involved,” Muller says.

The forum is being chaired by New Zealand Venture Investment Fund’s Stu Christie, who has previously emphasised the importance of having an industry body to help develop the AI industry in New Zealand.

“The rapid development of AI technologies presents innumerable opportunities and challenges for New Zealand. The forum is being launched to aid the direction of government policy, build base capability relevant to a future-state economy and drive positive social and economic outcomes for all New Zealanders,” Christie said.

AI adoption

One of the high-profile examples of AI being used within a New Zealand business is Air New Zealand’s artificial intelligence chatbot, Oscar.

Oscar assists the airline’s customers with a more personalised approach to online queries than just trawling through a FAQ page through an online chat service. The more customers engage with it in conversation, the better it gets at helping them through self-learning.

“There’s no doubt that AI is the future, allowing travellers to better self-serve within their channel of choice, further improving the customer experience,” Muller says.

Another example is SLI Systems, which creates AI search software for retailers like Harvey Norman, as to provide customers with information relevant to them.

“SLI Systems, NZX listed and one of New Zealand's top 100 tech exporters, has seen some e-commerce customers conversion rates improve by as much as 71 percent after they deploy their AI assisted search functionality on their sites and apps,” Muller says.

And one of the most exciting developments in the New Zealand AI scene is the previously mentioned Soul Machines, which has developed an emotionally intelligent AI avatar called Nadia for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Australia.


Nadia

But there’s room for AI to expand and grow outside of the tech sector.

Executive member of the NZ VR/AR Association and Blackeye VR CEO Jessica Manins previously spoke with Idealog about the how outside the tech industries, other sectors such as tourism, engineering, architecture and entertainment in New Zealand could explore the possibilities of tech like AI.

Muller echoed this, saying the exploration of AI is applicable to New Zealand’s economy in diverse industries such as retail, agriculture, healthcare and education.

“We are seeing so much AI appearing and changing our lives, we are committed to this coordinated approach. We’ll see big changes in our everyday activities this year and the next few years that many people cannot comprehend,” Muller says.

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