Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture 2020


How does datafication, the reduction of the complexity of the world to data values, threaten the Rule of Law? Why should we focus on the regulation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) rather than on ethics? Could human agency be superseded by algorithmic decision-making? And: has the Age of Algorithmic Warfare arrived?

In a thought-provoking Sixth Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture, Prof. Andrew Murray, a leading thinker on information technology and regulation, discussed the challenges that Artificial Intelligence and Big Data pose for human agency and the Rule of Law. The Sixth Annual T.M.C. Asser Annual Lecture was held on Thursday, 26 November 2020. Due to the coronavirus crises, the lecture took place online.

Prof. Murray’s lecture was entitled ‘Almost Human: Law and Human Agency in the Time of Artificial Intelligence’. 

Almost Human: Law and Human Agency in the Time of Artificial Intelligence (abstract)

Law is about agency - the human capacity to act independently and to make our own free choices. As Jeremy Webber observes, “Law is consciously created” and is the distillation of the collective agency of a society, group, or culture. The rule of law is the ultimate distillation of this principle: the clear spirit of human choice in the purest form.

However, the process of datafication: the reduction of the complexity of the world to data values, threatens the fabric of human agency and the rule of law. Complexity becomes numerical values and choices become mathematical processes. Human brains, less equipped for this form of decision-making, risk being replaced by algorithmic decision-making. Human agency diminishes as Artificial Intelligence ascends.

LawTech replaces lawyers; risk assessments replace actuaries; there is even the possibility of “algorithmic warfare”. In meeting this challenge, the focus to date has been to invest in AI Ethics rather than AI Regulation. The EU Commission, in its recent White Paper, recommended ethical guidelines could be the foundation for a human-centric trust framework in AI. This lecture challenges this normative assumption by identifying the foundations of datafication and addressing its challenge to human agency, and above all the rule of law.

About Prof. Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray is a Professor of Law and Deputy Head of the Department of Law at the London School of Economics where he researches and teaches in the fields of Internet and new media law, including the laws of digital surveillance and digital privacy.

Professor Murray is a leading thinker on information technology law and regulation, who focuses on regulatory design within Cyberspace and on the protection and the promotion of Human Rights within the digital environment. In 2018/19 he was the specialist advisor to the British House of Lords Communications Committee inquiry 'Regulating in a Digital World'.

He has written a number of impactful books, including, The Regulation of Cyberspace (2007), Rethinking the Jurisprudence of Cyberspace (2018) and Information Technology Law: The Law and Society (4th edition, 2019). Click here for a video on Law in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. 

The Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture is part of the Asser Strategic Research Agenda (ASRA) 'International & European law as a source of trust in a hyper-connected world'. Each year we invite internationally renowned scholars to take inspiration from Tobias Asser’s idea of cultivating trust and respect through law and legal institutions, and to examine what it could mean in their area of expertise today.