National register for public sector AI will be mandatory in Scotland

Public bodies currently volunteer information to the Scottish AI Register, but new rules will soon be introduced enforcing participation. 

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The platform provides information on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) within public sector governance. The resource allows users to search for details on machine learning systems either already active or in development, with options to dive into deeper details based on specific areas of interest, provide feedback and engage in consultations on ethics, inclusivity, and more. 

Projects currently on the platform include a natural language processing system which can help ‘decipher’ and ‘extract key concepts’ from complex government documents, and conversational automated software being tested for potential rollout as an online assistant. Both are led by the Scottish Government. Elsewhere, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SRCA) is looking at how the technology might help staff assess written evidence on cases and identify sexual exploitation. 

For each AI system, a file clearly shows what stage the project is in – idea, development, or pilot’ – making it easy to track progress. So far, the Scottish Government has been encouraging public sector bodies to sign up and share information on their use of AI. However, it has now been announced that the Scottish AI Register will be mandatory. The aim is to create greater levels of transparency around AI within the public governance at a time when the nascent sector is considered a potential threat as much as a major leap forward.

According to one KPMG survey in 2023, 34% of UK respondents reported being somewhat, mostly, or completely willing to trust AI systems. This is a significant increase on 2021 (26%), and roughly comparable to studies in France (31%), Canada (32%), Australia (34%), and Germany (35%). In the US, trust levels are slightly higher, at 40%, while populations with the most faith in this technology are all located in Asia, with 75% of India and 67% of China ready to embrace such systems. Perhaps tellingly, these two countries also reported the highest levels of subjective knowledge pertaining to AI. 

‘With our world-renowned talent for research, innovation and ingenuity, Scotland is perfectly placed to capitalise on the rapid growth of AI – but it must be used in a way that is open, ethical and transparent,’ said Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead. ‘Making it mandatory for public sector use of AI to be registered will not only give the public increased confidence that AI is being used openly and transparently, but will also act as an increasingly powerful source of best practice, helping ensure AI is used in ways which is both economically and technically viable and makes a positive impact across society.’

‘Scottish Childrens Reporter Administration felt that being part of the AI register was hugely important,’ added SCRA chief executive Neil Hunter. ‘As a public body working in a sensitive area of service delivery we wanted to be fully up front and open about our early exploratory work on potential future uses of technology that might have a positive impact on our skilled work. Our involvement in the register also unlocked a lot of support and advice from across Scottish Government and partners on issues of research and evidence, experience elsewhere from a national and global perspective – and most critically for us – access to expertise on issues of ethics, impact, rights and privacy. We are at a very early and exploratory stage – but registration has really helped us get access to the support and advice we need.’

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Image: Kevin Ku


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