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Biggest ever Data Summit signals new hope for data sector

  • The Data Lab’s annual flagship conference discussed the need to focus on building public trust in data and ensuring its ethical use.
  • Speakers included science broadcaster Hannah Fry, NASA’s chief science data officer Kevin Murphy, global public health chair Professor Devi Sridhar and Tom Arthur MSP, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth 

600 delegates at the biggest ever Data Summit yesterday heard how data has the power to unlock a brighter future as the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic – but only if it’s used ethically and organisations can improve public trust surrounding it.

Data Summit, The Data Lab’s flagship conference which took place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre over 3 and 4 November, welcomed a diverse range of speakers that included quantum computing professors, nanotechnologists, entrepreneurs, data ethicists, philosophers, musicians and artists.

The overarching theme across the two-day event centred on ‘Data: A New Hope’, focusing on how data and AI can be used to create a better world and society.

Data trust and ethics were also strong threads across the various sessions, with several speakers alluding to the need to balance the societal benefits of data sharing, which were particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic, with public concerns around privacy and what their data is being used for.

The predominantly female line-up of keynote speakers on day one of the summit included:

  1. Researcher and technology ethicist, Stephanie Hare, whose book Technology is Not Neutral was named by the Financial Times as one of their tech books of the year. She discussed how technological innovation overwhelmingly ignores women, and the embedded bias within AI.
  2. Elinor Samuelsson and Sofie Wahlström, founders of Swedish start-up BrightAct, who talked about their trial of a new platform that uses data to combat domestic violence, which costs the EU £185bn annually.
  3. NASA’s chief science data officer Kevin Murphy, who discussedNASA’s Earth System Observatory and the value of open access data.
  4. Science broadcaster Professor Hannah Fry, who brings numbers and data to life on various TV and radio programmes. She told the audience how data which isn’t collected carefully can have the potential to exclude and discriminate.  
  5. Devi Sridhar, a Professor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and a Personal Chair in Global Public Health, who talked about the use of data during the Covid-19 pandemic, and what problems lack of trust in data could cause in terms of public health.

In his keynote speech, Tom Arthur MSP, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, told the audience about the enthusiasm the Scottish Government has for data and its potential to secure a better future for society, but added that it must be used ethically, or it won’t gain public support.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Data is central to the Scottish Government’s vision for our economic future. It is an area where Scotland already excels, where we are ambitious to do better, and which has potential for significant economic opportunities and important social benefits.

“Data is absolutely crucial to tackling social and economic challenges, to creating jobs and wealth, and to improve people’s health and wellbeing. The talent, innovation and energy on display at an event like Data Summit demonstrates that the data sector here in Scotland is in good health.”

Brian Hills, CEO of The Data Lab said: “The popularity of this year’s Data Summit demonstrates the value that organisations are increasingly placing on AI and data and their desire to maximise its use.

“We know that there is a significant amount of untapped potential. While more businesses adopted digital technology during the pandemic and have lots of fantastic data, many still need to understand how to use it, and know they must get it right in terms of the ethics.

“I hope that the event has inspired delegates to believe that Scotland can become home to the world’s most impactful data community, nurturing companies that will change the world for the better through a greater understanding of data and its implementation.”

Delegates attended the Summit from across Scotland, including a group of students from Stirling High School studying National Five, Higher and Advanced Highers in Computer Science.

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