SCOTLAND’s leading role in data and artificial intelligence (AI) will be showcased today as the UK’s biggest data festival on the subjects kicks off.

Between now and November, DataFest21 will explore the theme #OurData, underlining how important it is to the growth of the economy, social progress and knowledge base. It will also encourage debate on the ethics and understanding of data ownership.

Hosted by broadcaster Maggie Philbin, CEO of the charity TeenTech, DataFest21 opens with a free event featuring talks from statistician and Cambridge Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter and Dr Leyla Acaroglu, an award-winning designer and environmental change expert.

The theme will also encompass discussions and events on #OurPlanet, covering environment and climate change; #OurPeople, reviewing social elements such as health and wellbeing; and #OurFuture, uncovering the companies and technologies which will shape the decades to come.

A three-week series of discussions and events – spread out until November – will highlight each topic and will bring together a variety of different, thought-provoking talks, talent and tech.

DataSummit will end this year’s festival in what is expected to be a hybrid event – combining virtual and physical activities – bringing together industry professionals to discuss using data for good.

The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, is responsible for the DataFest, and CEO Gillian Docherty, said they had been working over the last 12 months to make sure the virtual events are as engaging as previous festivals.

“We are thrilled to have Maggie Philbin kick off this year’s launch event, and the likes of Dr Leyla Acaroglu and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter joining us as keynote speakers,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to hearing their inspirational stories and insights into what the future holds with this year’s theme, #OurData.

“To celebrate the very best of Scottish innovation we have adapted our usual formats, with DataTalent and DataTech tweaked to cater to an online audience, and we are also hopeful that our annual Data Summit can take place later in the year, giving us the chance to connect with peers in person as well as virtually.”

Datafest21 comes as a Scottish Government report reveals measures to help Scotland become a leader in the development and use of trustworthy, ethical and inclusive AI technologies.

Scotland’s new AI Strategy focuses on ensuring the technology is used for positive effect across the economy and society and it highlights the opportunity to become a world leader in ethical AI.

The report also makes clear that AI policies and systems should benefit and protect children.

It will also formally establish the Scottish AI Alliance to drive the successful implementation of the strategy.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said Docherty will be its inaugural chair.

“Artificial intelligence offers huge economic and social potential and with Scotland’s long history of academic excellence in its development we are building on strong foundations,” said Forbes.

“But ensuring everyone benefits from the data-driven revolution is about more than technological capability.

“If AI is to be truly inclusive and have a positive impact on all of us – regardless of age or background – we need to be clear on its role in our society and ensure trust is the ultimate marker of success.”