Edinburgh could be global data leader

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Edinburgh can take a leading global role in tackling ethical challenges around data, a major conference heard yesterday.

Jarmo Eskelinen, executive director of the city’s Data Driven Innovation (DDI) programme, told the Doing Data Right conference that the capacity to forge a leadership role was within Edinburgh’s grasp.

Pic Lisa Ferguson. ''Scotsman Conference - Doing Data Right: Through people and partnerships''John McIntyre Confernce Centre - University of Edinburgh

Pic Lisa Ferguson. ''Scotsman Conference - Doing Data Right: Through people and partnerships''John McIntyre Confernce Centre - University of Edinburgh

Summarising at the end of the event at The University of Edinburgh, he said: “Can we be global leaders in Doing Data Right and cracking these ethical challenges? Yes, we can be a place that leads the global discussion in the tradition of Edinburgh leading peace-making at the time of the Cold War.”

The conference covered data ethics, data governance, data ownership and control - and the management of privacy.

Firas Khnaisser of the Data Marketing Association Scotland asked how do we go from data to value, while a range of expert speakers examined how we make the shift from questions to meaningful actions at a time of rapid change.

Ed Broussard, CEO of artificial intelligence business Mudano, said we needed to look at the future in timeframes of no more than 15 years due to the pace of technological change. He also argued that human beings would affect the future by what they choose to build and we did not have to be afraid of a dystopian vision where we are all controlled by robots.

“We need to be agile, to adjust our plans because things will change incredibly quickly,” said Eskelinen. “We do not know what is going to happen during the course of the DDI programme, but we need to be ready when disruptive transformation takes place.”

A campaigner for the better use of data to promote equality told the conference that seeing the issue as “a numbers game” was crucial to delivering change.

Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In a World Designed for Men, outlined her work showing how data could be used much more effectively to ensure equality. She urged delegates to move away from using white, Caucasian ‘Reference Man’ as their constant standard and stressed the enormous value of diversity in driving productivity, profitability and innovation.

“We need to take the emotion out of it and turn it into a numbers game [by using hard data] as that seems the best way to explain it,” she said. “We continue building and designing our world around the lives and bodies of men, because it’s simpler and cheaper.”

Poppy Gerrard-Abbott, who launched the Women in Data project at the conference, said: “If we want to see inclusive growth and innovation, we must give women the same authority we give to men in the world and the workplace,” she said. “If we exclude women’s voices, we are perpetuating women’s exclusion as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.”

See The Scotsman’s report on the event on Friday September 13th.