Scotland’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy

The RSE has responded to the Scottish Government and The Data Lab’s joint consultation on the development of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy for Scotland.

Our response comments on the strategic aims; the importance of ensuring public participation and deliberative dialogue; identifies aspects of AI in which Scotland can potentially take the lead; how Scotland can learn from and influence AI developments at the UK and international levels; the implications of AI for employment and re-skilling; and on AI regulation and ethics.

The development of the strategy builds upon the joint work undertaken by RSE, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), ScotlandIS and BT Scotland. Ms Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, launched the Scottish Government’s plans for developing the AI Strategy at the RSE in September 2019.

Paper Summary

The RSE is delighted that the Scottish Government agreed with our recommendation in our joint report with SCDI, ScotlandIS and BT Scotland that Scotland should have a national strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI). We would be pleased to discuss with the Scottish Government and The Data Lab how we can further support the development of Scotland’s AI Strategy. We are well placed to use our convening power to bring together a range of different perspectives to help inform and shape Scotland’s approach to AI.

Key strategic aims, including the AI strategy being ‘people centred’ and AI being used as a ‘trusted, responsible and ethical tool’ require further consideration and development. Ethics is not a feature of an AI system, but a feature of the behaviour that people engage in when using the technology. Achievement of the strategic aims will require continual engagement between the public and the emerging technology as the envelope of the technology expands and poses new questions.

With further work on the strategy to be undertaken by thematic working groups, the current call for evidence should be considered a pre-consultation. This would allow for a more developed consultation to be brought forward in the light of the activities and deliberations of the working groups, and help ensure that Scotland’s approach to AI is informed by a longer-term deliberative engagement process.

The scoping document states that while robotics and automation have links to and can make use of AI, they will not be specifically included in the strategy. Our preference would be for an overarching strategy encompassing AI, automation and robotics given the interconnections between these components. If these are to be separate strategies, it will be crucially important to ensure that there is a read-across from one to the other, and a close relationship between those involved in preparing and implementing them.

This could, for example, be facilitated by the creation of a joint strategic steering group. Given that national strategies for AI often include similar aims and ambitions, we would have expected the scoping document to be clearer on where Scotland can potentially derive a first-mover advantage in AI. The development of a fair work strategy for new technologies, the application of AI in healthcare given Scotland’s strengths and assets in this area, and putting in place a highly participatory process that enables citizens to engage critically with AI are areas in which Scotland can take an active lead.

Regulation is under active consideration at the national and international levels but an overarching system of global regulation of AI is unlikely to be implemented soon. UK regulation of AI is likely to be heavily influenced by the commitments in the White Paper on Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the recently created Regulatory Horizon Council. It will be important that Scotland is able to influence regulatory developments at the UK level while also identifying opportunities within this new framework to develop its own approach. Scotland’s AI Strategy will need to be sufficiently flexible and nuanced about the opportunities and challenges, including those related to ethics and regulation, associated with different technologies.

While the consultation refers to the role that universities can play in supporting the strategy, there is no reference to the contribution of Scotland’s colleges. Colleges will have a crucially important role in reskilling and upskilling workers to meet Scotland’s future skills needs, including the delivery and application of AI.