Nicola Sturgeon has committed to the use of ‘ethical data’ to support government policy goals at the annual Data Summit conference.

The First Minister’s appearance reinforces a government drive to Scotland become a world leader in data and artificial intelligence (AI) at the event organised by The Data Lab in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Speaking to an international audience of data and AI professionals, the First Minister outlined the support that Scottish Government has committed to the country’s vibrant tech sector; aiming to expand the use of AI and data across the economy, as well as ensuring that AI and data are used ethically by the private and public sector to build trust.

During her address to delegates, the First Minister also stressed that ethical data will be vital in informing future health and care policy, in addition to highlighting data’s role in fighting climate change through better energy-usage predictions and aiding future infrastructure investment decisions.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are already using data in so many ways to improve decision making – saving time, money and lives. For instance, many decisions taken during the Covid crisis have been data-driven. It will continue to inform our decisions as we tackle some of the most challenging issues of our day – including ensuring a fair recovery from the pandemic and a just transition towards achieving our net zero ambitions.

“At the core of our approach always has been, and always will be, the need to use data and AI ethically and in a way which ensures and retains public trust.”

However, in a poll of more than 180 delegates, attendees were split on whether Scotland was on track to achieve its vision of becoming a world leader in the development or use of ethical and inclusive AI – with 57% agreeing and 43% disagreeing.

Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO, The Data Lab, said: “This year’s Data Summit is my last as chief executive of The Data Lab, and in many ways, it was our most important event to date. The conversations that are taking place right now across the globe into the ethical uses of data will shape future society and have the potential to challenge democracy if not managed effectively – this was reinforced in our delegates poll yesterday.

“Whilst this is a global challenge, Scotland has a fantastic potential to lead the world in tackling these issues and it is an exciting time to be involved in reimagining technology’s role in society as we look ahead to the global recovery post-pandemic.”

This year’s Data Summit took place in Edinburgh and focused on Our Data, highlighting how it can be used to grow the economy, address social issues and increase Scotland’s knowledge base.

Delegates also heard from a distinguished line-up of keynote speakers, who shared compelling stories on data and AI innovation. Speakers included author Nina Schick, who discussed the impact of AI-driven deep fakes on society; astrophysicist and medical specialist Professor Kevin Fong OBE, who discussed the difference between data and information in fighting the pandemic; as well as Professor Mike Berners-Lee, who discussed the role of data in combating the climate crisis.