Can Scotland lead an ‘innovative and ethical’ fourth industrial revolution?

A report launched today champions the opportunities Scotland’s people and businesses have to harness the potential provided by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and data.

Following their influential report, Automatic…For the people? published early in 2018, SCDI, BT, ScotlandIS, and RSE, have again joined forces in Building a World-Leading AI and Data Strategy for an Inclusive Scotland which aims to help define a public policy action plan for Scotland in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The authors say that public trust has been dented by recent data scandals and that there is concern about both business models which exploit behavioural data and technological unemployment.

However, the report proposes that government and industry have a great opportunity to harness new technologies to address these challenges and inspire other countries by building a national strategy with all elements of Scottish society and industry, which includes an ethical approach to data driven innovation and a Fair Work strategy for new technologies.

The report recommends twenty actions across four themes of National Strategy; Innovative and Ethical Data; Business Growth; and Employment, Skills and Education. These include:

  • The introduction of a scheme, to teach a growing percentage of citizens the basics of AI, inspired by Finland’s “1 percent scheme”
  • The establishment of an independent advisory body which would advise on the evolving regulatory frameworks, opportunities for Scotland to adapt them (e.g. through the creative use of standards) to stimulate innovation and attract investment, and obsolete legislation which is a barrier to beneficial innovation.
  • Exploring the potential for AI technologies and open data to support easy to understand  information and advice about employment, fair work and skills development opportunities and funding. Chatbots, working alongside human coaches, could help to maintain participation in online courses, and a new open data tool could be developed for jobseekers, including data such as real-time job adverts and future skills demand forecasts.
  • The Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) should be developed to bridge the investment gap for scale-ups, and work with the British Business Bank, to improve commercial funders’ understanding of the funding and pace of decision-making required by scale-ups and disruptive business models. The opportunities created by AI technologies should be understood across each of the missions suggested for the SNIB – low carbon, ageing society and place.

“Scotland needs to be at the frontier of academic and industrial excellence, but as importantly of civic participation, drawing on our collective values and learning,” said Matt Lancashire, director of policy at SCDI.

“In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, weaving innovation and ethics throughout Scotland’s policy-making, businesses and society can be a competitive advantage.

“This report recommends a range of key actions – but Scotland’s aim, as an agile country and community, should be to develop a gold standard for bringing together society with Fourth Industrial Revolution businesses to articulate a shared values-based vision and agenda.”

Mark Dames, head of policy and public affairs, BT Group, added: “Whilst there are no quick policy fixes to Scotland’s productivity challenge, consensus and collaboration among political parties, policymakers, business and unions are necessary if Scotland is to harness the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to increase economic and social prosperity.

“Automation presents a huge economic opportunity – and one Scotland is increasingly well placed to capitalise on. The most important thing is to make sure that everyone has the skills they need to feel included as the world advances. AI is a fundamental feature of how the world is going to operate, and we need to embrace it.”

Polly Purvis, chief executive at ScotlandIS, commented: “Scotland has an exceptional opportunity to build new businesses and industries by exploiting the power of data and developing technologies such as AI, but we need to ensure that we bring society with us, build a strong ethics framework. and create new jobs for the future.

“We already have exceptional tech companies developing great products and services and internationally recognised universities and colleges.  These are tremendous foundations to build on and the report signposts how we can all collaborate to harness data technologies for economic advantage and societal good.”

Rebekah Widdowfield, RSE’s chief executive, said: “The opportunity exists for Scotland to take a leading role in developing and harnessing AI technologies.

“This requires a commitment to including AI as part of a lifelong learning strategy and on-going engagement with the public to understand their views and inform the development of appropriate ethical and regulatory frameworks. This combined with the necessary investment in AI research and business development will ensure that Scotland is well positioned to harness AI to good effect.”