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Scottish government AI strategy majors on ethics and inclusion

Scottish government announces artificial intelligence strategy that involves the creation of a Scottish AI Alliance to be drawn from across society, including trade unions and companies

The Scottish government has outlined an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy that puts ethics and inclusion first and foremost.

The strategy was put forth in a report entitled Scotland’s artificial intelligence strategy: Trustworthy, ethical and inclusive. It is said to complement the country’s digital strategy, an updated version of which was published earlier this month.

The government said the strategy would ensure that AI-driven technologies are “used for positive effect across the economy and society” and “highlight the opportunity to become a world leader in ethical AI”.

It put a big emphasis on committing to the expansion of “international collaboration on AI and children”, and on “upskilling and reskilling of displaced workers and people vulnerable to exclusion”.

“Our universities, research institutes and tech businesses are world-class – however, in the global race to adopt AI, we can’t afford to fall behind,” the report said. “Scotland should be a leader in AI technologies and we have identified the actions we’ll take to achieve this.”

Scottish government finance secretary Kate Forbes said artificial intelligence offered huge economic and social potential, and that with Scotland’s long history of academic excellence in AI development, it would be building on strong foundations.

“But ensuring everyone benefits from the data-driven revolution is about more than technological capability. If AI is to be truly inclusive and have a positive impact on all of us – regardless of age or background – we need to be clear on its role in our society and ensure trust is the ultimate marker of success.

“Ensuring everyone benefits from the data-driven revolution is about more than technological capability. If AI is to be truly inclusive and have a positive impact on all, we need to be clear on its role in our society and ensure trust is the ultimate marker of success”
Kate Forbes, MSP

“This strategy sets out that vision, the principles that will guide us and the actions we will take to further strengthen our AI ecosystem. By achieving this, AI will play its part in making Scotland fairer, greener, more prosperous and more successful in the global marketplace,” said Forbes.

A Scottish AI Alliance is to be established, chaired by Gillian Docherty, chief executive of The Data Lab. “It is a privilege to chair the Scottish AI Alliance and play my part in the delivery of the strategy, ensuring voices from across the country are heard,” she said.

The alliance is described as “an open-to-all stakeholder group with representation from across society” that will “provide a focus for dialogue, collaboration and action on all things AI in Scotland, allowing businesses, economists, trade unions and our UK and international partners to come together and help to shape our AI future”.

Docherty added: “Through the collective leadership of the alliance, we hope to tap into Scotland’s AI ecosystem to encourage collaboration and innovation across sectors, to ultimately contribute to our economic, social and environmental outcomes.

“Our ‘Team Scotland’ approach puts people at the heart of driving the strategy, providing learning opportunities and creating strong connections that position our country as a global leader in AI development.”

Meanwhile, the UK government, too, has announced plans to publish an AI strategy later in the year.

Opening The Turing Presents: AI UK conference today, the UK government’s Amanda Solloway, minister for science, research and innovation, said: “The end of this pandemic really is in sight, and in the summer there will be fresh energy and momentum to get us back on track and rebuild our economy.

“The government is determined to use this energy to become a scientific superpower fuelled by a strong, confident economy. This requires us to be at the forefront of the next scientific and technological breakthroughs, especially in AI and data science.

“We demonstrated to the world what our scientists are capable of, through our incredible vaccination programme,” she added. “Our intelligent use of data through the NHS’s Covid-19 data store is providing decision-makers with a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground and where resources are needed.”

Solloway made mention of the delivery of “1,000 AI-related PhDs, in London, Cardiff and Swansea for pure AI and computing, in Leeds in early cancer diagnosis, and in Edinburgh and Sheffield in speech and natural language processing – to name just a handful”.

“I am proud to tell you today about our 2,500 new masters conversion courses in AI and data science that are now being delivered. This is a very deliberate lever aimed directly at increasing diversity and representation in AI and data science,” she added.

“This specific programme includes up to 1,000 scholarships to help increase the number of people from under-represented groups and to encourage graduates from diverse backgrounds to consider a future in AI and data science. Of these, 76% of scholarship students were women, nearly half were black students and almost a quarter were disabled students,” said Solloway.

“Only the US and China are ahead of the UK, in terms of being the most promising countries for innovation, disruption and technological breakthroughs that have a global impact,” she added.

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