Does the documentary “The Art of Killing” signify the futility of Humanism?

With the perpetrators of these obscene acts of torture and politically motivated killings free to boast about their heinous deeds, does this not mean that humanism has failed to make and impact on modern times? The Nazi-inspired Holocaust preceded these events in Indonesia by only a few decades and yet the outcries against that barbarism failed to influence the progress of these equally barbaric and heartless acts. Subsequent to the Indonesian killing spree we have the tacit approval by the Phillipines President of the murder of drug dealers. What will it take for Humanism to triumph and make human beings treat each other with dignity and respect? Should not the powers of the World Court in the Hague be extended and empowered to address these issues of gross disrespect for Human Rights? Could the United Nations not force perpetrators to stand trial, thereby removing them from the false protection of corrupt governments? That would require international arrest warrants to be respected and enforceable in all countries, albeit by force; but entering a sovereign state to arrest suspects against their will, or that of their government is against current International Law provisos. Would these Laws need to change also?


“Sentient Code”

Last month saw the return of ‘Black Mirror’, a British science fiction television series, created by Charlie Brooker. The much-anticipated fourth series continued its theme of how current technological advancements may progress in near distant realities, and the possible implications they may have on civil societies.


One re-occurring advancement, which is seen throughout the anthology series, is the creation of ‘human cookies’: a digital copy of human consciousness. Brooker first introduced this concept in the 2014 Christmas special, ‘White Christmas’, where it was revealed that technology had developed a blank chip called a ‘cookie’ that could be implanted with the purpose of absorbing and copying human consciousness. Once removed, the cookie could then be transferred into a hub, to be used as the software for a ‘smart home’. The idea follows that the chip would absorb the person’s preferences: for example, their preferred temperature in their home or the time they would like to wake up, and effectively work as a personal assistant to their original host. This digital copy is represented as a sentient consciousness, capable of independent thought, and in this case terror over its existence.


This idea is seen again in two episodes of the fourth season: where digital copies, or ‘sentient code’ is used as a player in a video game, a way to extend the ‘life’ of a comatose patient, and to create an authentic hologram of a convicted killer for a tourist attraction. By the season finale it is revealed that the UN had made it illegal to not only delete or erase a copy, but to also transfer human consciousness into limited formats. The copies need to be able to express at least five emotions for it to be considered humane, suggesting that digital copies have been afforded different levels of legal protection.


While the technical possibilities of the creation of sentient code, and their corresponding legal protections are far from reach, their representation within the series certainly raises ethical questions concerning the present day creation and treatment of emerging Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. If one is to create a mirror image of humanity, encompassing key traits, which distinguish humans from other beings, should they warrant similar protections within a human rights framework? There are a few things to ponder here.
If one were to realistically consider the human rights framework being extended to AI, this would mean viewing this technology as something more than pure machinery. When considering ‘Posthuman Rights’, writer Woody Evans asks: “if a thing exists, does it have the right to continue to exist, and would such right hinge on it’s being more than a thing”. Perhaps evidence for such a view can be found within the application of such technology in the fields of healthcare, law enforcement and public service administration; such fields of profession which arguably require authentic human emotions, such as empathy. If humanity programs AI and equips the technology with a set of mirrored traits to enable integration with humanity in this way, does this make the machinery more than a thing?


But embracing AI as a subject within a human rights framework is only one way of looking at the situation. For example Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, spoke at the AI for Good Global Summit held in Geneva, where he considered the human rights impact the emergence of AI could have on the global community. He supports “a future where AI is a technology where human rights is a core design and use principle” and to make his case, he put forward two alternate ways in which their integration could affect humanity.

In one scenario, the use of AI and mass automation could be used to work towards reducing the inequality we see around the world today. He argues that Governments and Companies could support automation that takes workers out of “dangerous and degrading jobs” and implement both educational and economic policies to create “opportunities for dignified and fulfilling jobs”.


But he warns that it is the responsibility of both Governments and Companies to integrate ethical considerations into their policies, and warns that if we continue down our current path we could see ourselves in a society where worker’s rights continue to be precarious, but hundreds of millions of jobs could be lost to automation. Furthermore he warns, “AI systems may become the gatekeepers deciding who can access healthcare and who cannot, who qualifies for a job or a mortgage and who does not”. While this may seem like an excellent premise for season 5 of black mirror, its suggests that not only are humanity considerations imperative in the creation of AI policies and codes of practice going forward, but also that such realities as those seen in science fiction may not be so far out of reach.

LLM Modules, LW927

Moving the Goalposts

The discipline of law sits in an interesting place. It shares qualities with several other disciplines, such as science and philosophy, but doesn’t quite fit in with any of them. Too practical for philosophy, not practical enough for science. As such, it’s difficult to decide where to classify the subject in relation to others that are more concrete. Few, if any other fields of study have this issue, partly because they tend to fit neatly into their boxes, but also due to law having such an overarching practical influence on every individual. Here, I would like to explain some of the reasons why law can never be a science, not even a social science, and why it should be considered as a humanities field of study.

Science is the study of the way the world is. It is entirely a posteriori – a highly empirical method of knowledge acquisition. Philosophy is also a study of the way the world is, but uses a priori thinking to come up with assertions about what is the case, and even then is highly open to debate and interpretation far more so than science is. Law combines the two methods in an interesting way, at times the ratio between the two is one such way, other times it is another – depending on which area of law concerned. Ultimately, to decide which category law sits in – science or humanity – we must look at what the law is trying to achieve.

The dictionary definition doesn’t do much to help with this, but I believe it’s reasonable to assert that the law is there to regulate the behaviour of a population in order to maintain function of society. This can be achieved through granting pleasures (food, housing etc), preventing pains (medical treatment, abuse/exploitation, physical & mental harm), and maintaining free will. Already here, we have three very philosophically charged terms concerning morality. Morality can be defined in the dictionary as “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour” –  but what is right and what is good may not be either A) the same or B) what needs to be in place to maintain efficient function of society.

The law is therefore tasked with attempting to actualise what needs to be in place to maintain sufficient societal function and to do that, there has to be knowledge of what humans require in order to function efficiently as a group, and that incorporates the studies of psychology, sociology and, I would argue, a bit of history and anthropology. We need to find answers to questions like “what makes people want to work together?” and “what hasn’t worked in the past?”. Only one of the above mentioned disciplines count as a science, and that is psychology. Psychology is a tentative “science” however, with human behaviour being able to be manipulated and changed quite significantly, however it does yield quantifiable results in a manner that sociology may struggle to match. Sociology is instead a social science, and the facts discovered through its study are fluid and highly subject to change over time and place. We can retrospectively observe this phenomenon, with social acceptance of slavery and homosexuality for instance – two practices that had their legal status reversed. It is hard to decide in such cases whether society makes the law or the law makes society.

What is clear though, is that the law is subject to change. It is very much a “here and now” set of rules, something that is both beneficial and potentially dangerous. It attempts to cement morality in a way that is compatible with human society both psychologically and sociologically, and attempts to make the world a pleasant place to live in for all, and punish those who threaten that status quo.



Are lawyers the ‘imaginary architect’?

One of the key distinctions between imaginary and ideology is the fact that we do not have to hold our imaginary accountable.

There are no bounders within our imaginary, ‘imagine you are designing a world, you consciously creating each aspect, but sometimes it almost feels like it’s almost creating itself’.

In our imaginary, our mind continuously ‘create’ and ‘perceive’ our reality simultaneously and our mind does this so well that we aren’t even aware of it.

In Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatis Logico-Philosophhicus’, he argues that language works by triggering the picture of our understanding of how things are in the world. He believes that words enable us to make pictures of facts.

Interestingly, Wittgenstein was inspired while reading a newspaper article about a Paris court case in which, in order to explain with greater efficacy, the details of the accident that had taken place was reproduced visually using model cars and pedestrians.

This illustrates how lawyers can get right into the middle of that process, by taking over the ‘creating’ part.

They create this world of the dream, which I considered as ‘legal presumptions’, and create an imaginary narrative, by bringing the subject into the dream, to persuade and convince the target audiences by twisting the facts, adding stock stories, and subsequently let them make their decisions with their subconscious.

The court will eventually come up with a judgment. The decision will have an illocutionary or perlocutionary effect, which in a way attempts to amend certain things or may poses a consequence. In the end, depending on what the court’s decision is, aren’t they just trying to implant another person’s idea into our collective thoughts?