Out-Law News 3 min. read

Trust and ethics at the core of Scotland's new AI strategy

Scotland has outlined a vision of becoming a leader in the development and use of trustworthy, ethical and inclusive artificial intelligence (AI) with the publication of an AI strategy and playbook.

Experts at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the publications seek to put trust and ethics at the heart of the use of AI in Scotland and that it is the latest announcement that points to opportunities for Scotland's technology companies.

Godfrey-Faussett Matthew

Matthew Godfrey-Faussett


There is a growing and global focus on the regulation of AI and in that context, the release of the Scottish government's AI strategy strengthens the opportunity that Scottish businesses have to become leaders in the field

The Data Lab, Scotland's innovation centre for data science and AI, has supported the Scottish government in developing the AI strategy following consultation and engagement with businesses, academics and organisations across Scotland. The strategy aims to help the Scottish government identify how the country will develop and strengthen its AI ecosystem over the next five years. The strategy is aligned with Scotland’s national performance framework, which focuses on creating a more successful, equal economy and forms part of Scotland's broader digital strategy.

The strategy sets out Scotland's AI principles which are guided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s five complementary values-based principles for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI, and the nine requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which are to be incorporated into Scottish domestic law.

The principles are intended to apply throughout the AI journey 'from concept to regulation and adoption to create a chain of trust throughout the entire process'. The principles are aimed at ensuring that AI development is set against a background of driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being and respecting human rights. Transparency, responsible disclosure, and continual monitoring of risks, are highlighted as being essential to the proper functioning of AI. The Scottish government will review the principles regularly and will work with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Information Commissioner's Office when implementing the strategy. 

The AI playbook sets out three areas for action, with timeframes for action starting with the first 100 days before moving into the first and second years of the strategy. Notably, a Scottish AI Alliance will be established to provide the collective leadership required to accelerate progress. The Alliance will be open to all stakeholders and is aimed at focusing dialogue, collaboration and action around AI initiatives in Scotland.

The playbook also sets out plans for building the foundations for success in AI by reinforcing the existing AI ecosystem, creating data infrastructure and influencing policy and regulation. Initially this will see the strategy aligned with other national technology initiatives and programmes before, in the longer term, the creation of sustainable infrastructure. Finally, the strategy aims to turn Scotland into an AI ‘powerhouse’ by helping organisations adopt and use AI and focusing on driving engagement between AI consumers and creators, as well as expanding on the Scottish overnment’s 'CivTech Challenge' on ethical and explainable AI in the public sector.

The Scottish AI strategy follows the January 2021 publication of an AI roadmap for the UK by the AI Council, and recent announcements from the UK government on plans to publish a new AI strategy later this year. Meanwhile the European Commission plans to publish a legal framework on AI in April 2021, in the wake of the publication last year of its digital strategy. 

Dunn Yvonne_April 2020

Yvonne Dunn


All of this adds up to exciting and vibrant times for the Scottish technology sector

Technology expert Matthew Godfrey-Faussett of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "There is a growing and global focus on the regulation of AI and in that context, the release of the Scottish government's AI strategy strengthens the opportunity that Scottish businesses have to become leaders in the field. With new AI regulations being developed in the EU and the Westminster government setting out its proposed approach to the use of AI in the UK, we can expect trust and ethics to take centre stage in both governmental policy and associated regulatory regimes.  What remains to be seen is how much influence any new EU regulation will have on the way that Scotland implements its AI strategy over the short to medium term."

The AI strategy should be viewed in the context of broader technology developments in Scotland. Last week the Scottish government responded to Mark Logan’s Scottish technology ecosystem review, published in August 2020, by announcing a new programme to establish Scotland as a world-class technology hub. The programme has £7 million of funding in its first year and focuses on steps to develop the technology ecosystem in Scotland and to create more unicorns.

Technology law expert Yvonne Dunn of Pinsent Masons said: “It is clear from the publication of the Scottish government’s AI strategy that AI is a key element of Scotland’s technology ecosystem. This announcement links to the outcomes of the Logan review and also to the positive comments made about AI in the recent Kalifa review of UK fintech, which commented favourably on the work Fintech Scotland has done. All of this adds up to exciting and vibrant times for the Scottish technology sector. 

Co-written by Priya Jhakra of Pinsent Masons.

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