EXPERTS and industry leaders have insisted Scotland could have brought a “unique perspective” to discussions around ethical AI at a major summit it was snubbed from.

The National reported last week how Prime Minister Rishi Sunak blocked the Scottish Government from being represented at a “world-first” AI safety summit at Bletchley Park as the UK looks to take a lead role in the discussions around the risks and opportunities with the rapidly advancing technology.

Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead said he was “disappointed” not to get a spot after requesting a place along with other devolved administrations, insisting Scotland’s universities’ AI research was world-class.

Sandy Brownlee, senior lecturer in computer science at Stirling University, said Scotland has taken a more human-focused approach to AI than a lot of countries around the world through its unique strategy that focuses on being trustworthy, ethical and diverse.

And he believes this perspective could have brought a lot to the table at the event, given a lot of countries are focusing more on productivity.

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He told The National: “The unique take we have is that [Scotland’s AI strategy] is rather more human-focused.

“It starts out with perspective, on how AI can help people and then all of the things that come from that, whereas I think around the world - and certainly in the UK - it is more about productivity. It’s more about economically, what can we do with AI, whereas the Scottish strategy is about people and I think that’s reflected well in the research we do.

“I think we [Scotland] could have brought a unique perspective and it would’ve been nice to have had that aired. I collaborate in Stirling with other academics from other disciplines and there is a lot of interest about legal and ethical implications, how we can best make use of AI in education and social care and what it means, and how can we do it responsibly. I think that would have been the unique perspective we could have brought.

“In terms of research [too], we punch above our weight. Just about every university in Scotland has some aspect of AI research in it. There’s a lot of really good research going on in robotics, healthcare, oil and gas and renewable energy, manufacturing, transportation and a lot of things that are a bit more niche.”

The National:

Scotland’s AI strategy was launched in March 2021 and was drawn up by the Scottish Government with support from The Data Lab – Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI which helps organisations and people capitalise on opportunities the technology can bring.

Brian Hills (above), CEO of The Data Lab, said much of the early research around AI actually came from Scotland and it continues to be world-leading in the sector.

He added: “I know all of the great things that are going on across the country in our universities and in the public sector and we’re very keen about advocating what we’re doing and contributing to both the UK and international perspective on it.

“If you look back to the heritage, some of the initial research was born out of Edinburgh more than 60 years ago.

“Robert Gordon University, for example, has a world-leading machine vision department. We’ve done a project with them, we’ve funded them to work with IRT Surveys in Dundee and now we’ve automated the processing of all the imaging of social care housing stock and that’s for helping social care agencies access funding for insulation.”

Hills also said Scotland has more of a focus on the here and now when it comes to AI – both the immediate risks and the current potential it has to positively transform society and the economy.

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In contrast, the focus at the summit was largely on the risks of frontier AI models – highly capable next-generation technologies that can perform a wide variety of tasks and exceed the capabilities present in today’s most advanced systems.

Hills said: “The focus on trustworthy and ethical AI is very strongly aligned to some of the discussions that are happening in Bletchley, so we could have contributed there.

“Having said that, a lot of the focus at Bletchley was on frontier models, the kind of next generation of things, and what we’re looking at is the here and now. How are we helping our entrepreneurs use this technology in the right way [now]?

“The University of Edinburgh is leading on the Braid [Bridging Responsible AI Divides] project which was launched two weeks ago and that’s definitely one that’s looking at how we build a responsible ecosystem for AI here and now.”

According to a published list, government representatives from China were at the two-day event AI safety summit as well as figures from the US, France, Germany, Japan, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and others.

Hills added: “While it’s disappointing [that Scotland was not at the summit], future summits have been announced in the Republic of Korea and France, so there are opportunities there, I think, and we’d be advocating for participation there.

“As for the next one, why not Scotland?”