The launch of the Scottish Government’s first Innovation Strategy in June set a bold ambition for Scotland to become one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade. 

That vision, which has been reinforced by the Programme for Government 2023/24, is central to everything we do, not just in business and the economy but across areas as diverse as health, education and transport.

To achieve our goal we must understand and maximise the enormous potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is already part of all our lives and spreading fast. It took three-and-a-half years for Netflix to reach a million users and Instagram two-and-a-half months. Consumer AI tool ChatGPT reached that landmark in just five days.

AI is a globally important, but disruptive, technology that many compare with the invention of the steam engine. It is up to us as society, as a country and as a government to use it for good, whether that be designing new drugs or tackling the climate emergency, while controlling the risks.

In Scotland we have a solid base from which to make the right choices.

READ MORE: University of Glasgow launches new Centre for AI and Data Science

Our universities’ AI research and teaching is ranked as world-class and the opening of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Data Science and AI will further build our reputation. Data released in May placed Edinburgh as the top start-up city in the UK outside London, with 12.3 per cent of companies working in AI, digital security, and financial technology.

In Dundee, IRT is using thermal imaging to help identify heat loss in homes. With funding from the Data Lab, Scotland’s Innovation Centre for Data and AI, and technical support from Robert Gordon University, it has introduced AI driven image cropping to greatly speed up the process.

Health boards including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Grampian are considering the use of AI to identify signs of lung cancer on patient X-rays and breast cancer from mammogram scans. NHS Forth Valley is running a project to use AI to detect skin cancer in primary care in under 25 minutes by 2025, while NHS Scotland is investing in stroke detection AI.

To increase the pace of development, the Scottish Government is making strategic investments such as £24 million for the Data Lab and more than £19 million in CENSIS, Scotland's Innovation Centre for sensing, imaging and Internet of Things. A further £1.4 million has been invested in the National Robotarium, home to world-leading experts in robotics and AI.

However, we are also fully aware of the threats that AI can pose. Although the UK Government holds most of the regulatory levers, in 2021 we laid out a clear path for Scotland to shape the development and use of AI in a way that is trustworthy, ethical and inclusive.

To deliver that vision, we set up the Scottish AI Alliance, which provides a focus for dialogue and action with industry, innovators and educators to encourage growth and investment. It plays a key role in enabling a meaningful, two-way dialogue with citizens to ensure that we build an AI economy and society that protects their rights and where everyone can benefit from and contribute towards AI.

Navigating AI is going to be a complex journey and one we must get right for the sake of our citizens, our economy and the country as a whole. I believe that Scotland is well placed to do so.

Richard Lochhead

Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade