How Scotland’s AI strategy will carve out an ethical £13 billion economic niche

Scotland has the opportunity to carve out its own niche in the growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) economy through developing a reputation for doing data right, and Scotland’s AI strategy, which the Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative is contributing to, will provide the tools to build and protect what could become a robust economic advantage.
Picture: ShutterstockPicture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

The Scottish Government-backed strategy, which is being led by The Data Lab, aims to capitalise on the potential of AI for the country’s population as a whole, as well as unlocking a potential £13 billion in additional economic output.

The Scottish AI Alliance Leadership Circle, made up of representatives from across the Scottish data ecosystem, has been established to develop a playbook resource to consider how an AI powerhouse can be established, and also how the foundations for future success can be cemented.

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Professor Michael Rovatsos is director of the Bayes Centre and sits on the leadership circle, alongside colleague Dr Ewa Luger of the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

He says: “AI presents a big business opportunity and society has a growing expectation that these technologies should be used ethically.

“Employment in the AI sector will increase and not everybody who works in this sector will be from a tech background, as many will be involved in addressing the ethical issues associated with it.

“If Scotland is able to establish itself as the place to invest in ethical AI, then people need to know that ethics is in the lifeblood of its ecosystem.”

Gillian Docherty, chief executive of The Data Lab, agrees that the ethical approach is “critically important”.

She says: “The AI strategy’s tagline, ‘trustworthy, ethical, inclusive’, is critically important. It’s crucial that we lean positively into the recommendations outlined in the strategy, to embrace data and AI for the benefit of all, and I’m really excited to play my part in helping to deliver it through my role as the first chair of the AI Alliance.”

The Scottish AI Alliance Leadership Circle is made up of data experts with backgrounds in government, academia, business and law, and is currently focused on developing a playbook which will set out the ethical principles of Scotland’s approach to AI and provide a guide for people of all skill levels who have an interest in AI and its associated technologies.

Rovatsos says: “The playbook will help people navigate the AI landscape in Scotland and will be a combination of principles and resources.

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“People will be able to find out where they can get help with a problem that the technology can solve, or where they can go to improve their skills.

“It will also consider how the ethical principles that it sets out can be delivered upon.”

The leadership team is also considering how the foundations for success can be created in order to support Scotland’s unique ethical AI selling point, and also how to attract investment, increase skills and ensure that the Scottish ecosystem is driven by doing data right.

Rovatsos adds: “We need to go out into the world and tell people about the excellence that we have in this area in order to attract investment and create partnerships.

“By having a national approach with how we deal with data, we will be able to develop a set of standards for how data is held and shared so that it is in the public interest.”

Ritchie Somerville, the DDI’s head of strategy, also welcomes the national approach.

He says: “I expect to see some exciting things coming off the back of Scotland’s AI strategy.

“For the first time, a nation is approaching an AI strategy in a way that is incredibly open and inclusive.

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“There are a number of different layers of knowledge that you want people to have when it comes to AI and for people to understand how it is being used in the public good.”

Another core element of Scotland’s AI strategy is the development of an AI powerhouse that, according to Rovatsos, could become a national centre or institute which brings together Scotland’s AI ecosystem.

He says: “In my view, a national centre or institute, whether physical or virtual, could help bring together businesses, academics and government and act as a catalyst for establishing Scotland’s AI powerhouse.

“It could be in charge of the playbook and continues to update and change it as AI evolves.”

The AI strategies adopted by the main global players are polemic with the US and China adopting very different approaches.

America’s model is centred around promoting deregulation with the Chinese approach centered around government.

Jarmo Eskelinen, executive director of the DDI programme, says: “We are seeing two models of AI, either a totally government-led model as seen in China where neither companies or people have any role apart from that of being a subject.

“On the other side you have the US model, which is very industry dominated, where people have weak rights for protectingtheir own data.

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“Europe is on the right track to see beyond these models and is developing a healthy ecosystem.”

Eskelinen goes on to say that the ethical approach made good “business sense”. He explains: “There has to be a holistic framework when it comes to AI in which the key goal is people’s trust in the responsible use of data by government and companies.

“It is morally right and makes business sense. If people trust that data is being used in the right way then they trust the providers and they trust the governmentmeaning you get more opt in and less opt out of services.”