THE SCOTTISH Government has called for an urgent four-nation summit on new laws governing the use of artificial intelligence.

The request for a conference with representatives from Whitehall and the devolved authorities comes amid growing concerns over the risks of generative AI. 

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, whose wide-ranging brief takes in all things AI, has called for a meeting in Edinburgh ahead of a planned global summit in the Autumn organised by the Prime Minister. 

That conference, announced by Rishi Sunak last week, will focus on safety with No 10 saying they are keen to “make the UK not just the intellectual home, but the geographical home of global AI safety regulation.” 

READ MORE: Scottish Government concerned over 'hands-off' approach to AI laws

In his letter to Chloe Smith, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Mr Lochhead said If the UK is “to maintain its position at the forefront of technology development and innovation, we must also offer a joined up and cohesive platform for the future and I believe that Scotland has a significant contribution to make in this respect.”

He told his counterpart: “We are, I believe, at a pivotal point as a nation, where we have the opportunity to ensure that the people of the United Kingdom can have faith that we are all working together to deliver an AI infrastructure which will protect them from any potential risk, whilst also ensuring we can make the most of the benefits.” 

Mr Lochhead pointed to the University of Edinburgh, saying they were “widely regarded as leading the world in the technical and ethical development of AI.”

However, a UK Government spokesperson told this paper that they were “already working extensively with devolved administrations.”

The request for a meeting comes as governments across the world struggle to find a balance between supporting the emerging technology which could transform society and mitigating the risks it has for democracy or even the very existence of humanity. 

Though many of the regulatory levers around AI lie with Whitehall, because of its possible role in health, justice, transport, education and almost every other devolved area, there will be significant legislative implications for ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, the EU moved a step closer to passing one of the first laws in the world governing AI.

MEPs backed the text of draft legislation which sets strict regulations on the use of the technology, including a blanket ban on the use of live facial recognition.

The legislation will also force developers of generative AI - apps that can, effectively, create -  to publish all the works of scientists, musicians, illustrators, photographers and journalists used to train them. 

If firms refuse to do so, they could be forced to delete apps or face significant fines. 

The US is taking a much more laisse-faire approach, while the UK seeks to place itself somewhere in the middle. 

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Speaking to the Herald on Sunday earlier this week, Mr Lochhead explained why he believed this was a pivotal moment. 

“Well since I took on this role as the Minister for Innovation, I have been turning over stones in Scotland and seeing underneath amazing things happening, particularly in our technology centres. 

“And just as famous historians like Eric Hobsbawm describe the 1780s as the lift-off decade for the Industrial Revolution, I think the 2020s are the lift-off decade for various revolutions that are happening, clearly in technology and a big part of that is AI.” 

“AI, as has been well debated across the globe in the last few weeks, has massive potential to transform quality of life for humankind and society, but also poses some risks,” he added.

“We don't want this to get out control. We are at a pivotal time to act as a global community to manage this going forward.”

Asked what he believed some of the risks to be, and what sort of regulation governments should consider, the minister siad: “Clearly we know that with each day that goes by there are more stories out there of what AI can do and what it's being used for. 

“So that's very key to the debate over to what extent it should be regulated. 

“Because concerns around even more misinformation, over bias, over some of the nefarious purposes that tAI can be used for by some people across the world, you know, these risks are just going to get greater and greater if the world's governments don't get on top of this to some degree.”

The pace of the change in the sector is leaving governments across the globe struggling to catch up. 

The minister said the Scottish Government’s AI strategy - published in 2021 - was being “refreshed” following a debate in Holyrood earlier this month. 

A policy published by the UK Government just two months ago is already widely accepted as being out of date. 

The SNP politician said there needed to be a “living, breathing response to AI” that would “be kept under review as more and more uses are developed for AI as time goes by.” 

He added that governments would need to rely heavily on expert advice. 

Mr Lochhead said he had asked AI Alliance in Scotland for “some quick advice on this evolving debate over to what extent we should be regulating AI.” 

The body was set up by Kate Forbes when she was finance secretary, to provide “a focus for dialogue, collaboration and, above all, action on all things AI in Scotland.”

“As a legislative body, the Scottish Parliament has limited powers over the key regulatory levers for this industry or technology,” Mr Lochhead said.

“And clearly, UK Government's got a big role there. So that's why I've called for this four nations summit. 

“Because we can see that UK Government seems to be changing its position from taking a hands-off approach to, I think the Prime Minister recently was indicating that this needed to be looked at a lot more seriously. 

“And that shows how quickly the debate's moving because it was just a few weeks between those two approaches in the UK government alone. 

“So I think this is something we have to discuss, so that we can have appropriate regulation at UK level and the four nations can also look at the implications for our respective countries.”

READ MORE: Analysis: Scottish politicians will soon need to tackle AI

Mr Lochhead was hopeful about the opportunities of AI. He pointed to research in the health service, where he said artificial intelligence could help combat staff shortages. 

“AI could be transformational. We all know there's pressure on the NHS. We all know that particularly post-pandemic we've got waiting times to look at and reduce. We know there's more demand for NHS services. 

“We know there's some key labour shortages in certain parts of the NHS, particularly more specialised disciplines.

“ And AI is now of course being considered for assessing mammograms, detecting breast cancer more quickly. 

“Other hospitals are working on detecting lung cancer more quickly. 

“We have been learning about how there's possibilities for dermatology assessments to happen more quickly. 

“You know, digital advances have allowed us to take a picture, perhaps of your skin, you can send it to the doctors or the hospital using AI to scan those images can do several 1000s very quickly, which would have taken a human being a lot longer. 

“And these opportunities are there for AI to save lives, reduce pressure on the NHS, save costs, be much more efficient. So we're in a very exciting trajectory here.”

Responding to Mr Lochhead’s letter, a UK Government spokesperson said: "We are already working extensively with devolved administrations to ensure that every part of the UK benefits from our adaptable, pro-innovation regulatory framework for AI while ensuring the right guardrails are in place to manage risks.

"The UK is in a position to lead the global conversation on how to foster responsible AI, which is why we will host the first major global summit on AI safety this autumn.”