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​Disability system to tap IBM’s Watson

​Disability system to tap IBM’s Watson

Cognitive computing, avatars to drive national disability platform

Government agencies responsible for deploying the technology that will drive the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will soon gain access to the cognitive computing capabilities of IBM’s Watson.

Marie Johnson, head of technology authority at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and Department of Human Services’ CTO, Charles McHardie, last week returned from a trip to the United States to lock up access to advances in the burgeoning areas of contextual and human machine interfaces and cognitive computing.

Johnson and McHardie had discussions with staff at IBM Watson with a view to incorporating cognitive computing functions into a ‘fit for purpose’ technology platform that will support Australians with complex physical and intellectual disabilities under the $22 billion NDIS scheme. The system will touch around 2 million Australians through community support services when full coverage is achieved in 2019-20.

Johnson told CIO that the disability system will be truly intelligent and self-learning, enabling people with disabilities to interact through ‘gamified’ content or avatar interfaces, driven by Watson.

“This is the first application of Watson in this space to gain insights into the disability sector … it’s about having insight through the Watson technology that can evolve over time and to make the services continually more refined,” Johnson said.

Johnson and McHardie also met with Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The NDIA and DHS will engage with Berners-Lee’s web accessibility taskforces that aim to improve web standards and provide everyone with simple, affordable access to the Internet.

“We will be putting in place some ongoing partnerships through the taskforce [that is] working on accessibility. We will be one of the countries working on that,” Johnson told CIO.

“There’s worldwide interest in what we are doing for a number of reasons – not only because it’s the biggest social reform in Australia since the introduction of Medicare but the converging impact of disability and ageing on all governments and all budgets and the convergence of technology solutions for these areas.

“They see what we are doing as potentially achieving some breakthroughs in not only the service delivery models but the standards to drive these innovative interfaces,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Deloitte is also providing access to its GovLab, a think tank in Washington D.C., that focuses on innovation in the public sector.

Johnson and McHardie met with Bill Eggers, Deloitte’s global leader for public sector and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy.

“It’s a massive collaboration lab where different organisations – public sector leaders – can be brought in with Deloitte leaders and really break through some different concepts. They apply big data analytics to that process,” Johnson said.

Around $1 billion of the $22 billion spent on the NDIS over the next few years will be devoted to deploying assistive technologies, Johnson said.

“We are going to explode that by driving this ecosystem of interfaces. So it will be a commercially sustainable system opening up potentially bigger and newer markets,” Johnson said.

By July 1 next year, the government expects to have a foundation system ready to be deployed.

The basis of the system is around giving users ‘choice and control’ as some 60 per cent of users will have an intellectual disability, Johnson said.

“That’s the foundation principle for the NDIS. That’s not about government saying ‘here it is’, it’s about the participants engaging in their context. An example could be that the content for a particular person is gamified – they could have a Minecraft experience with their information. This will require a different rendering of information that would be otherwise presented,” Johnson said.

“As that person grows or changes their interests, that information can be re-rendered in different contexts.”

Johnson and McHardie will discuss national disability technology at the NDIA New World Conference in Brisbane from October 27 to 29.

“Gary Sterrenberg [DHS’ CIO], and I are really keen to showcase the thinking. I’ve always said that Australia is good at [innovation], and we need to draw on the world’s best, which we are. I think this is a great example to be celebrated that this is Australia at its best,” Johnson said.

Mark Sagar, director of the Laboratory for Animate Technology at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, will be presenting at the conference. Mark won an Academy Award for his work on James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar.

“We have had several meetings with him. We are looking to do work with Mark around piloting an avatar as part of a service delivery interface. Exactly what that ends up looking like is yet to be planned.

“The technology is there so what we are doing is looking at the ways in which of all these technologies can be brought together to deliver a different experience for a person with a disability,” Johnson said.

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Tags James CameronBill Eggersavatargovernment agenciesMarie JohnsonAuckland Bioengineering InstituteMark SagarNational Disability Insurance Schemetim berners-leeDeloittecognitive computingIBM WatsonNational Disability Insurance AgencyLaboratory for Animate TechnologyNDISMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCharles McHardieDepartment of Human Services

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