New Zealand urged to get its head in the AI game

New Zealand companies are only "dipping their toes" into artificial intelligence rather than "diving in", a new report says.

Forsyth Barr has released its first annual corporate AI survey, which asked 58 New Zealand firms about their adoption and use of artificial intelligence (AI).

It highlighted four NZX-listed companies which were leading the use of AI — Serko, Pushpay, Plexure and Spark — but said New Zealand was largely behind the curve.

The one of the report’s authors, Forsyth Barr senior analyst Aaron Ibbotson said New Zealand companies were under-investing in AI.

Use of the technology was starting to gain momentum and it could have the same "transformation implications" that the internet had when it was introduced 25 years ago, he said.

The "vast majority" of companies surveyed had started to do something in the AI space, such as starting a pilot, or were in the early stages of applying the technology.

"When you look at the concrete investments they are making, it is very modest," he said.

Companies generally only had one, or sometimes two, full-time staff working on AI and invested less than $1million.

For the larger companies, that was not enough to have commercial breakthroughs.

Mr Ibbotson believed New Zealand was not performing to its full potential.

Compared with other countries around the world, it was seen as a very attractive place to live.

That meant it should have no problem attracting skilled overseas talent to move to the country and help develop AI technologies.

"We’ve got a really good backdrop to bring them here ... and in that context, I think it is a little bit disappointing that we don’t pay more attention to it."

There was a risk that if New Zealand did not up its game, the country could lose talent to competitors such as Australia or Europe.

Financial services and healthcare were two sectors that New Zealand could take advantage of the AI technology available, Mr Ibbotson said.

Sharesies was an example of a company which had embraced AI in the financial services sector and it was paying off, he said.

"New Zealand lends itself to really build on healthcare, where we already have a strong presence, and try to implement it there."

It was difficult for New Zealand, due to its size, to start making headwinds in the AI space, but it had multiple universities that could be leveraged off for commercial development projects.

The Government had "well-written" policies and strategies for AI, but the sector was not communicated as important in government policy compared with how it was in other countries such as China or the United States.

"They know this is something they need to focus on and we should follow suit," Mr Ibbotson said.

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