Guest blog: Tracy Black, CBI Scotland Director
AI and innovation – futureproofing the Scottish economy
Putting politics to one side, if you ask anyone what they want for the future of Scotland, they’ll come up with a pretty similar answer: a successful economy that provides good jobs, high wages and supports first class public services. The more difficult question is how we get there.
Fortunately, Scotland’s journey to becoming a truly forward-thinking, high-growth modern economy doesn’t start from square one. We have a number of aces up our sleeve, including our world-class higher education sector – providing us with a hub for world-leading innovation. And that’s so important because innovation drives productivity and in turn productivity delivers the prosperous future we all want for Scotland.
One of the most exciting areas of innovation has been the increased use and improved precision of AI and data science. Use of AI and data science is revolutionising the way many businesses operate, from transforming sales and marketing processes to developing new products that will help solve some of the world’s most intractable problems from demographic changes to climate change. What’s great is that we have real expertise in that space here in Scotland and can already see the impact on some of our most important sectors. Fintech and life sciences, two of our most important high growth sectors, are already benefitting, as are manufacturers and energy companies, two of our economy’s traditional strengths.
While there are undoubted advantages to pursuing this kind of high-tech strategy, we have to recognise that there are also challenges. We all know that there’s real public concern about the role of automation replacing human workers to perform certain tasks and that, to an extent, this is well-founded. As technology improves, some jobs will undoubtedly cease to exist. But overall that can be a good thing. Technology has been replacing jobs for generations and, more often than not, the jobs that become obsolete tend to be low paid ones that are repetitive or physically demanding. Get the transition right and these back-breaking jobs won’t be something we will mourn the loss of.
So, what’s the secret to managing this tension between adopting new technologies and potential impact on jobs? The answer is a successful and just transition that brings employers, workers, unions and government together. By sharing data and taking an evidence-based approach we can identify the jobs most likely to change or disappear out over time and ensure that any workers in those roles receive the right upskilling and retraining to transition effectively to new jobs and sectors.
Futureproofing the Scottish economy is essential, but it doesn’t come without major challenges. By preparing for change now we can do our best to embrace the positive aspects of technological change, whilst minimising the impact on people’s livelihoods. For Scotland to really succeed we need to capitalise on our world leading higher education sector, keep investing in AI and data science and embed a culture of innovation and upskilling right across the public and private sectors.
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