Humanities in review: understand the past, explain the present, imagine a better future

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Cosmos has invited the Australian learned academies to review 2023 and explore 2024 in this end of year series.

By Inga Davis

Executive Director

Australian Academy of Humanities

The Australian Academy of the Humanities advances the agenda of a powerhouse of disciplines, from cultural studies and Indigenous studies, to languages, Asian studies, history, philosophy and many more.  A humanities education helps students develop their ability to interpret, critically, and provides access to a range of perspectives, developing empathy and understanding of different points of view. With the rise in prominence of misinformation, the role of the humanities in framing our understanding of deeply complex issues, is as critical today, as it always has been.

We released two landmark reports in 2023, the Australia’s China Knowledge Capability Report, and the Generative AI Rapid Research Report (for the Australian Chief Scientist) the result of a fruitful collaboration with The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA); the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Academy of Science (AAS).

Our Australia’s China Knowledge Capability report considers how Australia can best develop a long-term capability which adapts and adjusts with the changes in both Australia and China over coming decades.

Our work with ACOLA, ATSE and AAS for the Australian Chief Scientist, positions humanities scholars at the forefront of providing advice about AI, to support Australians to become confident and capable users of trustworthy AI.  This project was led by Professor Genevieve Bell, Professor Julian Thomas, Professor Jean Burgess, and Professor Shazia Sadiq. It was a great to see this report taken up by Minister Ed Husic in his leadership of AI regulation.

Kylie genevieve inga academy dinner
Director of Policy and Research, Dr Kylie Brass, with Professor Genevieve Bell and Executive Director Inga Davis at the Academy Dinner in November. (AAH)

Review: 2024 to overcome the AI and misinformation crisis…

In the context of geopolitical volatility and the accelerated uptake of generative AI, misrepresentation of evidence is on the rise. Poor-quality datasets being used to train AI will amplify the problem.

This crisis is not a matter that science on its own can address; it is a philosophical matter, and it is a social matter. Humanities forms of enquiry bring unique perspectives to the table.

There are great opportunities such as unprecedented abilities to utilise digital and cultural collections, but also high-stakes consequences and questions around the ethical creation of generative AI, large language models and multi-modal models, and digital human rights.

We look forward to working with our STEM colleagues to help society navigate this complex space in 2024.

What dream does the Academy want to come true in 2024…

We have but three R&D dreams for 2024:

  • Australia’s expenditure on R&D to rise to at least the OECD average of 2.7% to contribute to better health and environmental outcomes and help shape a truly inclusive society.
  • We would love to see an uptick in the number of ARC Centres of Excellence being led by Humanities scholars – to maximise societal translation and benefit, and;
  • The introduction of a superstars of SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities, Arts for People and Environment) program, to match the Superstars of STEM program, celebrating, supporting and growing the integral contribution of humanities, arts, and social sciences scholars in Australia.

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