An Ethical Future? Questioning the Ecological and Social Implications of AI

Event date:  5 October 2021

Change Makers is a thought leadership series by Monash Law that brings together the best academic, judicial and industry minds to solve global problems. This edition was co-organized by Monash Data Futures Institute and Monash IT.

Watch the lecture recording below.

Much has been written about the ethical aspects of AI. Whilst this is clearly important, the broader implications of AI for the world's ecological and political systems, and society in general, cannot be uncoupled from a broader discussion of the ethical implications of AI.

For instance:

  • What are the implications of introducing technology to alter ecological relationships between non-human species?
  • Are AI-scarecrows and robobees ethical?
  • In addition to this, what are the socio-political and human rights implications of new and emerging AI?
  • Is there a risk of use of AI in civil administrative processes that might unintentionally compromise our democratic freedoms?
  • Should we permit animal-like or humanoid robots to be used as farm animals or human companions in ways that would be wrong for their biological counterparts?
  • Is there a circumstance in which freedom from AI should be considered a human right?
  • Who owes what to those who suffer at the hands of an AI event?

These and other legal, social, political and environmental issues were discussed in this session by our panel of experts.


Professor Ryan Abbott MD, JD, PhD, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at University of Surrey

Ryan Abbott, MD, JD, PhD, is Professor of Law and Health Sciences at University of Surrey, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles, Partner at Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan, LLP, and a mediator and arbitrator with JAMS, Inc. He is the author of “The Reasonable Robot: Artificial Intelligence and the Law” published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press.

Associate Professor Maria O'Sullivan, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash Law

Maria is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at Monash University and a Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. Maria is the author of a number of international and national publications on the subject of human rights, public law and technology. Her recent publications include papers on the public law implications of automated decision-making (Vol 43(3) UNSW Law Journal; and Vol 26(1) Australian Journal of Administrative Law) and the human rights implications of the CovidSafe App and digital vaccine passports. Maria is a regular media commentator on human rights and public law and has been published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and The Conversation.

Professor Robert Sparrow, Department of Philosophy, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society

Rob Sparrow has published widely, in both academic journals and the popular press, on the ethics of military robotics, social robotics, and AI. He has served as co-chair of the IEEE Technical Committee on Robot Ethics and was one of the founding members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

Associate Professor Alan Dorin, Artificial Life researcher and Group Lead for Computational and Collective Intelligence in the Data Science and AI department, Monash IT

Alan Dorin is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University. He researches the ways in which technology assists discovery in the ecological sciences and in human creativity. Through his work in Artificial Life and ecological simulation, Alan explores the key attributes of organisms that enable them to live in complex environments. This knowledge is used to improve agriculture and horticulture, and to assist us in maintaining natural ecosystems. Alan promotes an understanding of the relationships between technology and human endeavour by nurturing curiosity and encouraging students to form their own bridges between disciplines.

Moderator: Dr Paul Burgess, Lecturer, Monash Law

Paul is interested in all things related to the Rule of Law. Most of his time is spent trying to figure out—exactly—what the Rule of Law is, and in trying to think about the way that the concept can most clearly be expressed, discussed, and used. In doing this, he works within and is interested in legal theory, legal history, political theory, public law, economics, and constitutional theory. The rest of his time is spent wondering how the law (and Rule of Law) will need to evolve to cater for, and understand, AI in all of its guises.