13 November 2019

S5M-19822 Artificial Intelligence and Data-Driven Technologies

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-19822, in the name of Kate Forbes, on artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies: opportunities for the Scottish economy and society.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will respond to some parts of the debate, but particularly to the remarks that we have just heard about the R100 programme. It might be worth reminding members that, in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, the reservations that we are not responsible for include two specific areas: telecommunications and internet services.

Therefore, where we are moving ahead to implement high-speed broadband in every premise in Scotland that wants it, we are doing that, we are picking up the failure of the UK Government to deliver on its legal responsibilities. The UK Government is contributing only 4 per cent—one twenty-fifth—of the cost.

Let us move on to—to be blunt—more interesting things and talk about quantum computing, which Tom Arthur raised. It is related to the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, which affects the operation of the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is a particularly interesting sub-atomic particle with a spin of minus one half, which has a referential between two instances at a distance that is not constrained by the speed of light—it is a unique particle. There is a connection to Edinburgh, in that Professor Higgs is from here.

Artificial intelligence sprang from the work of Professor Wolfson at Heriot-Watt University in the 1970s. At the weekend, I tried to find my book on that, which is somewhere in a box in my garage, but I just could not find it. He designed a manual computer constructed of matchboxes that was a self-learning machine. It was mechanical, not electronic, and a very interesting thing it was, too.

Daniel Johnson might care to note that algorithms have been around for a while. The first algorithm was created by Ada Lovelace in the mid-1800s.

The debate is not about artificial intelligence but about artificial learning—that is just a quibble that I have. Intelligence is about being able to invent and learning is about being able to innovate; computers can innovate, but I am not at all sure that they can invent.

A lot of the debate is about data and some concerns about data are not particularly new. I will quote that most reliable of sources: myself. Forty-five years ago, in a talk that I gave, I said:

“There is talk of databanks and the undesirable uses to which they may be put ... George Orwell casts a long shadow.”

I was not alone in saying that 45 years ago, and many of the things that we are discussing today are not particularly new.

The power and ubiquity of computers are having a profound effect on many parts of our economy. It is just another industrial revolution, which will eliminate some jobs and create many more, as previous revolutions have done. China and the US are probably the leaders in that. The US is a country that is pretty good at creating companies and individual wealth—we can debate that on another occasion—and China is a great technological innovator. Those are complementary strengths.

I very much welcome the fact that the UK Government has produced an AI sector deal—leaving aside the fact that I do not think that it is AI. It is interesting that the companies referenced in the AI sector deal are almost all companies that have come to the UK. That is good and they are welcome, but the intellectual property that comes from that effort does not remain in the UK; rather, it is to the benefit of jurisdictions elsewhere. We certainly have to step up to the mark in improving our education system.

Emma Harper was correct to talk about the use of AI in health. It is important to make services more cost effective and to improve patient treatment and outcomes. We will be able to speed up diagnosis by learning from information available from diagnoses that were previously made by humans. Automating the process will speed things up, but it is important that we leave the oversight and responsibility with humans.

The Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics was launched last year at the University of Glasgow, so that is Scotland’s contribution to using AI in a way that will benefit society as a whole.

We will have new tools. We will be able to deal intelligently with the huge challenge of climate change; AI can help us with that. Leaving aside autonomous vehicles, AI in vehicles is already reducing the consumption of fuel, by helping them to use it in a more intelligent way. Public transportation can be improved by the application of AI in individual vehicles and in controlling and making better use of the network.

AI amplifies human skills; it does not replace them. Our job is to ensure that we always know where the data that we are using has come from and that we protect it. We must always ensure that the paramountcy of the human being remains.


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