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Comment | Scotland’s AI Strategy Must Remain Human-Centred

Matthew Rice & Amy Shepherd


AI strategy

As the Scottish Government’s Strategy for Artificial Intelligence nears completion, Matthew Rice from the Open Rights Group and Amy Shepherd from Think Film Impact Production examine why the strategy must keep people at its core.

Artificial intelligence is powering the world. Machines that can process vast quantities of data at inconceivable scale and even learn for themselves decide every day what we should know and do, and even how we should think.

AI can help solve some of our most pressing concerns – including driving medical breakthroughs and combating climate change. But AI is also a potentially negative influence on society, exacerbating discrimination, eradicating jobs and fuelling polarisation.

As a society, we should be empowered by digital technology, not overpowered; so how can governments act to harness the benefits of AI’s cutting-edge developments while minimising the risks?

In 2020, the Scottish Government announced its aim to develop a Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. Now in the final stages of development, this strategy has high level ambitions and key targets for the next five years which will shape and potentially transform how Scotland innovates and leads in AI across crime, justice, education, healthcare and so much more.

On Monday 14th December, Open Rights Org will be holding a lively panel discussion on Scotland’s AI Strategy with exclusive clips from the new documentary on artificial intelligence, iHUMAN.

This is what you should know about the plans – and what you can do to take action.

AIs can be bad judges of character

Even with the best of intentions, algorithms can unfairly narrow your options and limit your chances. In 2015, an Amazon team based in Edinburgh tried to streamline recruitment by making an algorithm that could rapidly trawl the web and spot candidates worth hiring. The problem? The system was built with data from past successful hires – which meant it essentially went looking for (even more) white men.

Over time, the gender bias got increasingly aggressive – ultimately any CV with the word “woman” in it was downgraded and rejected. If AI is going to be a helpful tool, not an anti-diversity agent, it is critical to address fundamental issues in machine learning of implicit bias and discrimination potential.

Encouragingly, Scotland’s strategy recognises the ethical challenges and the need for strong ethics, policy and regulation in this space – but more can yet be done.

Any AI Strategy is an international one

Our lives are entwined with AI and each other. Amazon’s recruitment AI was developed in Edinburgh, but its disastrous results impacted hiring practices across the US. Imagine the risks of it being the other way round – if AI used in Edinburgh came from a country without ethics, regulation or good legal frameworks.

The core purpose of any national AI strategy is, or should be, to enable citizens to reap the benefits of AI technology as a trusted, responsible, ethical tool. At the same time, in an interconnected world where tech is shared and exported across borders, any national AI strategy must also be outward-facing.

This strategy gives Scotland a real opportunity to influence a global human-centred direction for AI. The UK’s approach to AI in Westminster appears focused primarily on trade and economics, seeking a deal over digital rights; strong commitments from Scotland to accountability and human rights could have a real, positive effect that goes far beyond the Borders and Highlands.

Artificial Intelligence is not a goal in itself

Scotland has some incredible tech innovators, of which it is rightly proud. To continue to promote AI and make it work for Scotland, it must meet Scottish rules and priorities.

Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) sets out 11 goals for the country – these elevate integral principles and priorities, including respecting and protecting human rights, and empowering communities and a globally competitive economy. Positively, the AI strategy must align with these goals.

Government has decided that digital societal transformation must be founded on existing values, and AI cannot simply claim its own bespoke rules.

But this choice must have teeth. Companies and individuals developing and deploying AI in Scotland will have their own interests which may counteract or conflict with the NPF. Headline government commitment to Scotland’s interest is encouraging, but must come with mechanisms to face down against AI operators undermining Scotland’s core values.

Human-centred AI regulation is possible

The tide on AI regulation is starting to turn, with global bodies making it clear that we must resist the idea of the inevitability of a digital-only future and put humans at the centre of AI innovation.

Scotland’s strategy is being developed in parallel with the European Union and Council of Europe efforts to develop human-centred approaches to AI regulation; leaders can learn from one another and work together to drive change.

Our AI future is in our hands

Few people know the true extent of AI, or what it is really doing to us – and experts can often only be candid about the true technology industry with filmmakers. With film showing insider perspectives, it can also be an invaluable tool for policymakers to provoke productive discussion and debate that drives forward positive change.

Film also shows a side of the technology industry to ordinary people, taking us deeper into the world that invisibly surrounds us. As AI technology advances, the line between machine and human is dissolving. To shape a human-centred AI future, we need to take charge, and be part of the conversation!

Ask questions, get to know how AI affects your daily life and the world around you. Demand that laws and frameworks – including Scotland’s strategy – protect human identity and values. And raise your voice – are you a citizen, or are you just being used?


Join the Open Rights Org’s iHUMAN virtual discussion event – with exclusive clips from the new documentary- on Monday 14th December 16:30-18:00 and have your say in what should be happening with AI in Scotland. Click to register

iHUMAN is in UK cinemas for physical and on-demand screenings from 10 December. Click for information and tickets

Amy Shepherd is Global Impact Director for Think Film Impact Production, a unique film impact consultancy and production company that harnesses the power of visual storytelling to drive forward political and social change.

Matthew Rice is the Scotland Director for the Open Rights Group, a digital rights campaigning organisation, working to protect your rights in the digital world.

Matthew Rice & Amy Shepherd

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