Google Australia is on the hunt for local talent to tackle new technology at its first research centre based in the local market as part of a $1 billion investment pledge.
The tech giant launched its Digital Future Initiative on 16 November, describing the $1 billion injection as a five-year investment in Australian infrastructure, research and partnerships that aims to strengthen local capabilities, support jobs and help build Australia’s digital economy for the future.
With the initiative’s launch comes the introduction of Google Research Australia – the company’s first ever research hub in Australia.
Partnering with the research community across the country and Google Research hubs around the world, Google plans to build a team of local researchers and engineers to explore ways artificial intelligence (AI) can help tackle issues that are important in Australia and further afield.
According to Mel Silva, Google Australia and New Zealand managing director, the company is on a hiring drive to recruit the talent needed to fill its new research hub with the skills needed to achieve its goals.
“We’ve got a couple of research hubs based around the world,” Silva said during a press conference. “This is the first in Australia. We’re hiring a team of local researchers and engineers based locally...to think about what sort of fundamental problems they want to solve.”
Part of the stated goal of the investment and the initiative driving it is to develop homegrown technology in Australia from which locals can benefit.
Larry Marshall, CEO of CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, also attended the launch of the Digital Future Initiative along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Silva. He noted that Australian innovation has sometimes resulted in limited returns for Australians.
Referring to CSIRO’s role in developing Wi-Fi technology, Marshall suggested that although Australia has made some financial returns from the technology, the lion’s share of the benefits, including jobs arising from the manufacture of Wi-Fi hardware, have been realised in overseas markets.
“CSIRO solves Australia’s greatest challenges through innovative science and technology, but our partnerships with industry are what makes those solutions real – because when industry innovates Australia grows,” Marshall said.
“CSIRO’s science makes life better for every Australian and when amplified by Google’s Technology it will catalyse collaborative projects across our entire national innovation system, driving opportunity for businesses of all sizes across every market,” he added.
As part of Google’s commitment under the initiative, it is investing in a multimillion-dollar partnership with CSIRO, to tackle challenges like natural hazard management, energy and protecting our precious Greater Barrier Reef.
Through this partnership, Google claimed it was exploring AI solutions to help the CSIRO analyse underwater images of crown-of-thorn starfish (COTS) – a species that feeds on coral and is threatening the reef.
More broadly, Google said it was partnering with the research community across the country, along with Australian organisations, to apply new technology solutions to “urgent challenges” faced by the country today.
“The Digital Future Initiative is about bringing significant technology resources and capabilities to Australia, investing in the infrastructure that benefits people and businesses, and helping the best talent thrive here,” Silva said.
“A strong digital future creates opportunities, improves the everyday and enables the extraordinary – and we’d love to help Australia and Australians make the most of the opportunity and build for tomorrow,” she added.
At the same time, Google said it would continue to invest in cloud infrastructure to help build a “digital-first future” in Australia and work to provide Australian businesses with a secure and robust platform for business transformation, faster innovation and growth.
Google’s newfound support for, and from, Australia and its government comes amid the same year that Silva warned the company may have to restrict certain services to Australians if the federal government pushed ahead with plans to introduce a news media bargaining code, which would force the internet giants to pay news publishers for linking to their sites.
Google would have “no real choice” but to cut Australian users off entirely from its flagship search engine, Silva told a parliamentary committee at the beginning of the year.
Late last year, in an open letter, Silva said: "You've always relied on Google Search and YouTube to show you what's most relevant and helpful to you. We could no longer guarantee that under this law.”
The proposed law "wouldn't just impact the way Google and YouTube work with news media businesses -- it would impact all of our Australian users" she wrote.
Google's posturing even saw arch-rival Microsoft step in to fill the vacuum should the former make good on its warning to restrict its search offering for Australians.
Microsoft president Brad Smith said in February that the company wanted to ramp up investment into its Bing search offering to make it “comparable” to its competitors.
While Smith made no mention at the time of Google specifically, it was clear that Microsoft was positioning itself to swoop in and pick up local search-related ad dollars should Google have gone ahead with its threat to cut off Australian users to its search engine.
Now, the very public spat with the government appears to be water under the bridge, with Silva talking up a new era of cooperation and collaboration with Canberra.
“I think we can look forward to working collaboratively with government as new regulatory frameworks emerge...we want to make sure we have good constructive relationships with the government,” she said.