Scotland to introduce mandatory national register of public sector AI

The Scottish AI Register is currently populated on a voluntary basis, but ministers have announced that organisations will soon be required to publish AI usage case files for public scrutiny

Scotland is to introduce a mandatory national register where public bodies will be required to publish details of any use of artificial intelligence tools by their organisation.

The newly launched Scottish AI Register online platform currently encourages public sector entities across the country to provide details of their AI use on a voluntary basis. But the Scottish Government has announced that submitting data will soon be mandatory. The government’s own departments will be the first bodies required to provide information on their deployments of AI, with other parts of the public sector brought under the publication regime in due course.

The register already has three entries, each of which has its own ‘concept card’, which is split into standardised sections. The first segment – which the existing entries have not yet completed – provides a “high-level” precis of how the technology works. This is followed by a more comprehensive overview, details of the system’s senior responsible owner and, finally, a section for the provision of more in-depth technical info, such as operating logic.

The cards also allow visitors to the site to indicate whether or not they found the information provided useful, as well as offering a free text box for more detailed feedback.

AI uses currently featured on the register include a project to use natural language processing to help “extract key concepts” from govermment documents, and the trial use of a “conversational AI” online assistant. Both of these projects are led by the Scottish Government.

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Child-protection agency the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), meanwhile, is exploring the possible use of automated technology to help officials assess written evidence and better detect possible sexual exploitation.

Each case file indicates the current state of the project – such as ‘idea’, ‘development’, or ‘pilot’ – and the intention is to allow the public to “follow the development and use of specific AI systems, from conception through development into operation, and when applicable, retirement”, according to the register. More cases will be added shortly, the site says.

Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead said: “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. From cancer diagnostics to helping our net zero journey, AI is a powerful and rapidly-developing tool the public sector can use to help drive efficiency and deliver solutions. 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.”

SCRA chief executive Neil Hunter added: “Scottish Childrens Reporter Administration felt that being part of the AI register was hugely important. 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 to ensure that any future journey is well informed and genuinely focused on the public benefit.”

Sam Trendall

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