Mon. May 29th, 2023

The Capture is a fictional drama of conspiracy theories and deepfakery, where the protagonists must decide whether the benefits of AI for combating terrorism outweigh its criminal manipulation. Doctor Who’s use of AI as a sci-fi cliff-hanger has moved on from the cliched tropes of killer computers and robots. These days, audiences young and old understand that AI is now part of our world, and moreover, that it can be a huge enabler for good.

Yet for many, there remains a gap between the (sometimes) intangible and abstract worlds of data and AI and people’s perceptions of how it can be harnessed in their day-to-day lives. How to close that gap, particularly among the young people whom industry needs to become the next generation of designers and users of AI, was one of the topics discussed at this month’s DataFest, Scotland’s annual data innovation summit.

Trust is a critical issue. According to the latest Accenture Technology Vision report, only 35 per cent of global consumers trust how AI is being implemented by organisations and 77 per cent think organisations must be held accountable for any misuse of AI. Accenture’s Ali Shah, our Global Principal Director for Responsible AI, spoke of the need to demonstrate trustworthiness through trustworthy design of AI systems, strong governance, and regulation – something that Accenture’s ongoing partnership with the Alan Turing Institute seeks to do in practical ways.

A 3D-rendering humanoid robot working with headset and monitor; Artificial Intelligence offers a diverse wealth of beneficial applications

But as DataFest made clear, if we get people engaged with it, AI offers a diverse wealth of beneficial applications. It could help fuel Scotland’s thriving financial services and fintech industries, help local government optimise their budgets and spending, and even decipher satellite photos to help conservationists understand the impact of climate change in the Highlands.

In business, intelligent technology is not just about efficiency. When it’s designed around human talent and good leadership it also helps generate innovation, productivity gains and growth for the organisations that use it. How we encourage new talent to further develop and realise this potential then becomes critical.

This brings me back to how AI is perceived. We need to take advantage of the fact that AI is already part of young people’s consciousness and begin to build a workforce that can deliver AI as a force for good. In Scotland, we’ve seen how technology skills can help shape new economic success stories. Dundee is now renowned as a European centre for video games production, with Abertay University the first to introduce a degree in video game design. Similarly, Edinburgh’s ambition to be Data Capital of Europe is grounded in access to skilled talent.

Yet some, including the Scottish Government’s Chief Entrepreneur Mark Logan, have called for a shift in the pace at which programming skills are taught in schools. In his tech sector review for the Scottish ministers, he called for all pupils to be taught computer science from the first year of secondary school and has since warned of an “educational emergency” if numbers taking computer science continue to fall.

Reversing that trend is vital and thankfully the tech ecosystem in Scotland is in a strong position to act. Organisations like the Data Lab, CodeClan and ScotlandIS, as well as technology companies like Accenture, are all working hard to support the development of data skills alongside world-leading data science courses at the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde.

This is essential because the technology sector’s need for talent is high. Accenture’s own Tech Talent Tracker indicates that demand for technology professionals in Scotland increased by more than 200 per cent in 12 months, with a 103 per cent rise in the requirement for AI skills. What this shows is that as Scotland’s AI maturity keeps growing, and as awareness of AI becomes embedded in the everyday, there is a huge opportunity for Scotland to take a leading role.

But to fulfil that potential we need not just to inspire the next generation about the role of AI in their lives, but also give them the understanding and skills to shape it.

Mark Byrne is Head of Applied Intelligence Scotland at Accenture

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