Speaking today (6th September) at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Kate Forbes MSP, Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, outlined the Scottish Government’s first AI strategy – its ambitious vision for how the nation can unlock the social and economic potential of artificial intelligence.
The development of the strategy will be led by The Data Lab and draws upon key recommendations from the report, ‘Building a World-Leading AI and Data Strategy for an Inclusive Scotland‘ – compiled and published earlier this year by ScotlandIS, BT Scotland, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI).
The strategy will explore how the nation can place itself at the forefront of global AI development, which Forbes certainly believes is an area Scotland can excel in; drawing upon its flourishing technology sector and academic institutions.
“Scotland is well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us, whether that’s opportunities in data as an enabler of economic growth, or as data as an enabler for public services,” she said.
“We’re not starting with a blank slate. We are starting with a number of exciting initiatives and programmes that are already ongoing which are aimed at improving outcomes for people, providing better experiences and making better use of resources.”
Already, the minister explained, exciting initiatives focused on data and artificial intelligence are underway across Scotland. Funding of £1.5 million has been provided to establish the data for children collaborative with UNICEF, which aims to use data to improve the health and wellbeing of children across Scotland.
Similarly, the Scottish Government has signalled its intent to support data-driven innovation through a £300 million investment in the Edinburgh and South East City Regional Deal. Around £60 million of this funding has been earmarked for innovation projects across the region but Forbes believes yet more can be achieved in years to come.
“Our vision is to use Scotland’s data to its full potential by driving innovation to improve public services, and unlock economic value to save time, to save money and to save lives,” she said. “We think we can do more and go further when it comes to unlocking that potential, as well as unlocking how data is used to deliver real benefits for Scotland and beyond,” Forbes added.
Today’s event followed the recent publication of the 2019-20 Programme for Government, which placed a significant focus on technology.
Technology’s use in renewable energy and transport infrastructure featured heavily in the Programme, while emphasis was also placed on boosting skills – a topic which has, at times, been a cause for concern in Scotland’s technology sector.
The Scottish Government also launched a new Foreign Direct Investment plan to attract new investment in key sectors of the economy.
With both these announcements taking place this week, the Scottish Government has certainly outlined its ambition and desire to become a world-leading nation in tech, Forbes suggested.
Moving forward with these plans won’t be plain sailing, however. Securing public support for the increased use of data and emerging technologies is a significant challenge, Forbes conceded. Amidst an era consumed by hype, hyperbole and tales of massive societal shifts due to technology and automation, she insisted that bringing the public into discussions on technology will be key.
“As a politician speaking to my constituents and people who are often looking for infrastructure or public services be delivered, I am struck when it comes to discussing things like AI or emerging technologies – there can often be a sense of intimidation at those words and titles,” she said.
Further efforts to develop, deploy and use data or artificial intelligence in industries and sectors throughout Scotland will require a “buy-in” from citizens and businesses alike. One of the core guiding principles of the Government’s AI Strategy will be to focus on the benefits of emerging technologies for citizens, Forbes insisted.
“I think there’s a fascinating challenge before us in terms of taking people with us,” she said. “If we really believe that AI has the potential to improve public services or unlock economic opportunities, then there’s a challenge there in how we take the public – and businesses – with use and how we equip them and help them to make use of AI.”