What can the Humanities do for Law?

When I was talking with my fellow students about our choice of modules for the next term a few days ago, we also reviewed about the previous term and whether we liked our modules.

I was far and wide the only one who did not follow the trend of choosing “remunerative” subjects, such as Commercial Law or International Relations. When I told them that I had chosen Law and the Humanities in order to view Law from a very different angle, their reaction was quite sceptical: of what use are the Humanities? How should they help us in our future career as a lawyer? And what are they actually?

My colleagues might be right in the assumption Humanities being seen as a subject, which is constantly being smiled at when it comes to its practical benefit or discussions about whether to include it in legal education, at least in my home country. But in fact, the Humanities are able to help us as lawyers in our way of understanding our profession and the various factors shaping it. Law is subject to constant change and is deeply interconnected with history, philosophy, politics, and language, just to name a few other meaningful disciplines than “pure” law itself, which impact the nature of our daily work. This does not mean one has to know everything about the Corpus Juris Civilis in order to be a good lawyer. Nor does it mean one has to read Kant`s Metaphysics of morals as a necessary requirement in order to be considered as a well-read lawyer. But it can lead to worthwhile knowledge about the very nature of law, where it comes from and why it might be the way it is.

It is not about finding solutions to specific legal issues, but approaching law from a Humanities perspective broads one`s horizon and raises awareness of all the factors, which create our legal systems. This, in turn, enables us to increase our level of empathy and the ability to question legal systems and norms as well as to develop convincing arguments for or against particular legal issues. Law is about humans and it would be fatal, if lawyers only look at legal norms and how to enforce them like machines, without taking the “bigger picture” into account. Although lawyers need to make a decision at the end, it is also crucial to at least reflect about the law as a complex system, with its origins in history, philosophy, and religion in order to act in a considerate and deliberate way.

And this ability, in turn, is essential for being a good lawyer.


Revisiting Foucault`s discipline and punish: is the idea of rehabilitation doomed to failure?

After reading Foucault’s discipline and punish as part of the discussion about how law can be related to the human body, I got an insight in our modern penal system and the way we punish people, and why we do this the way we do, from a different perspective. Foucault’s main points, which have been argued throughout his book are well-known: from the 18th century on, one can notice a shift in the way of punishing wrongdoers. Cruel, public executions, celebrated as a public events, yielded to prisons, more precisely to the idea of locking perpetrators up in order to change their mind and cure their “soul”. The new aim was to reform them to law-abiding citizens and there was a growing interest in analysing their intellectual world, with the result of shifting the focus from the crime to the criminal. This is all well-known and Foucault embeds this development in a deep analysis of punishment being a complex social and political phenomenon, which is characterized by various dynamics, such as power, knowledge and discipline. But the longer I thought about his ideas and his emphasis on this new aim of punishment, namely to turn the offender into a “better” person, the more sceptical I became about it. This purpose, which is nowadays called rehabilitation or, in some jurisdictions, resocialization, turns out not to be realistic. I started to think about why it might not work in practice. There are many statistics about the number of inmates reoffending once they have served their sentence, which made me seeing prisons, as the common type of punishment, in an even more critical way: I am sure that the high number of recidivism (the statistics reveal numbers from 40 to 60 percent) has many different reasons, which depend on the particular perpetrator, offence and jurisdiction.

But in my opinion rehabilitation itself is doomed to failure, or to put it in other words cannot work, due to the following reasons: the way our modern penal system operates, and Foucault describes this quite to the point when he illustrates the daily routine in a French prison at the beginning of his first chapter, is everything but self-determined. Not only does rehabilitation mean to “reform” the offender, it also aims at preparing him for a life in freedom, a life without criminal offences and criminal environment. But how should inmates ever be self-determined again, if they are deprived of their freedom in nearly every aspect of their life? They have strict timetables about when to eat, when to sleep, sometimes even when to shower. They are permanently being controlled and treated as objects of huge governmental powers. Prisons as an institution to segregate and “hide” offenders from the society create a parallel society which has nothing in common with the “real world”. The second aspect is the wording of rehabilitation in itself: in order to rehabilitate a person, one necessarily has to label it as being “different” in comparison with the social standard. Instead of reintegrating these “criminals” in the society one intentionally stigmatizes them as “not being in line with the required standard”. And as it is with stigmas, one can never get rid of them again.

Due to these reasons, prisons on the one side, and the idea of rehabilitation on the other side, end up in being contradictory. Unfortunately there is no convincing alterative to prisons at the moment, but one has to wait what the future holds in times of on-going debates about alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice.



About the “evil monster”

“Why did I have to kill them? I had to kill…my conscience told me they had to be killed.” – that is just one of the many quotes from Anwar Congo, a main character in Joshua Oppenheimer´s unique movie “The Act of Killing”. During that shocking, unsettling and surreal movie, we are listening to a funny, singing and dancing old man, who nearly hides the fact that he killed around 1000 people in a brutal way.

At first glance, Anwar Congo seems to be one of the so-called “evil monsters”“relentless killers”, who enjoy killing and torturing people as sort of “incarnation of the devil”. But as the movie goes on, that view begins to totter: one can see signs of regret, self-reflection and human characteristics.

That is what makes Oppenheimer`s way of approaching the displeasing subject of genocide interesting and different from other movies: I started to compare it with the portrayal of Amon Göth, a German SS Officer, played by Ralph Fiennes in a both impressive and deeply horrifying way, in Steven Spielberg`s Holocaust movie “Schindler´s List”. The officer is shown as a rootedly evil person without any sign of humanity or empathy, so that one can definitely believe in the existence of bad humans, personifying cruelty and sadism – figures of speech often used in public discussions about perpetrators.

Oppenheimer however raises further questions: What is going on in a killers mind? Might we all have the potential to kill people?

In addition to those already profound questions, the movie made me think of another issue: How do we define who is evil and who defines that? And are there really people, who don’t feel any empathy for anyone? And moreover: When was the historical starting point for showing deeper interest in the mind of offenders, rather than just imprison or, in the last resort, executing them?

According to Michel Foucault, as he points out in his paper “Discipline and Punishment”, the latter turned out to get more rational during the 18th century. The function of punishment shifted from corporal punishment to the attempt of changing and controlling the offender´s mind. His implementations increased my interest in examining the reasons for that shift, and how the new type of knowledge, provided by experts, changed the law and our conception of punishment. Might an interdisciplinary approach help finding the answer to the question, whether one is right in calling serious offenders “evil monsters”?


Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’- A Tale Of Norms.

In Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, he tries to illustrate and analyse the historical development in the punishment system and style over the years. From the cynically crude scenes of the public execution where each body part is being ripped apart to the contrasting routine of the modern penal system of incarceration-it is all about the body. Foucault is very much interested in examining the relationship between power and the infliction of bodily pain but also by going beyond the physical realm of what the body represents. The power that is exercised when punishing is different from the violence that affects the body physically in the modern era, its main aim is to change people mentally as well and to make them more ‘normal’.

The prison’s ‘rehabilitative’ or ‘reformative’ function of removing the ‘subnormal’ or ‘abnormal’ individual from society for a period of time and making him ‘normal’ again by imprisoning him speaks volumes. It essentially means that there are certain norms or standards that people need to conform to in order to be considered as normal. If one follows and adheres to the ideologies of the society he/she is living in, then he/she is a normal, law-abiding, citizen. However, if he/she defies those ideologies, then a temporary removal from society is needed to enable ‘re-normalisation’. So, the penal system is primarily a system of exclusion. Is Foucault suggesting that norms are present only to constantly measure, control and evaluate our behaviour? He most probably is. Is he saying that punishment in the form of the prison is less concerned with justice but more so with the “manipulation of the body and soul” (Discipline and Punish)? He most definitely is- it is more about obedience than justice.


Orwell’s 1984 and the body of law

Orwell’s dystopian novel imagines the ‘worst of all possible worlds’, where all the social, political and religious institutions have broken down as a result of never-ending war, leaving the population oppressed by the ‘government’ (the ‘PARTY’) and under its constant surveillance. The story takes place in Oceania which is a super state consisting of Great Britain, the Americas, Australia and many more countries, all under the control of the Party. The main character Winston Smith feels the need to rebel against the Party by writing his thoughts in a book, which is a ‘thought crime’ and by being in a forbidden relationship with a woman named Julia.

One compelling aspect of the novel is how ‘crime’ and thus, ‘law’ are perceived. First, law does not exist at all in totalitarian Oceania. Nothing can be illegal as laws do not exist anymore. Yet, if Winston is caught writing his thoughts down in his diary, he could be executed or given 25 years of forced labour. The Thought Police has unlimited power to enforce the Party’s views and ideologies and if anything goes against these ideologies or is not in line with the Party’s views, they are classed as illegal.

Now, this makes us question the popular belief that law always has a single and coherent body. For this, I draw upon the question raised in the LW927 Law and Humanities module at the University of Kent of whether “the idea of a coherent body for law still work towards the delivery of justice”. Some might find it hard to relate this question to Orwell’s novel but the key to this lies in the interpretation of the text.

Dystopia is often the product of a fear for the future following actual or past events and to be able to warn people effectively, the scenarios depicted are often the worst possible ones. So, every aspect described in the text is quite extreme but is a fair representation of what is really going on in the actual world. Firstly, the fact that ‘no laws’ exist is an absurd idea; the ‘coherence’ factor in ‘coherent body’ is hence, already thrown out of the water. However, despite this claim, Winston can still be punished if he commits thought crime and eventually the premise that there is no legal body or system is trumped by the fact that there are some things considered ‘illegal’. So, law whether written or unwritten, coherent or not, does exist in Oceania and has existed in any other totalitarian regimes in the past(or present even?) in the real world. The people are still being regulated and oppressed by a certain set of beliefs, ideologies and even ‘rules’. The story goes further as the Party tries to control the population’s behaviour by inventing ‘Newspeak’ a new language where the main tactic is to limit words to restrict independent thoughts and this ‘dumbing down’ will make disobedience unthinkable and the State (the Party) will have absolute power. Is this kind of regulation there to deliver justice? It is very much unlikely.

So, if we take the dystopian and totalitarian factors out of the picture for a moment, we realise that law is always based on a ‘body’ that gives it its power and authority. Whether that body is coherent or ethical, is a completely different question. Wherever this power derives its legitimacy and whether it is morally acceptable, is also a different question.At the end of the day,can this absolute power of the Party in Orwell’s Oceania be considered as a metaphor to the facts of the famous MABO case?





“The dignity of mankind is in your hands; protect it!” – Friedrich Schiller, German poet, philosopher, physician, historian and playwright

In the final year of my undergraduate degree I once had a lesson which I remember in a notably way: Our teacher demonstrated the moral and ethical limits of Law and where it seems to reach a dead end.

We discussed the German “Luftsicherheitsgesetz” from 2005, a statute which aims to protect the safety in the air by establishing legal norms in case of hi-jacking, terror attacks and acts of sabotage against the air traffic; including armed force as “ultima ratio”. That legal norm caused huge and controversial discussions among German lawyers, politicians and ethicists.

The central issue is as follows: If there is certainty that a passenger plane, hijacked by terrorists, will be downed over a fully occupied football stadium, should the state then be allowed to fire it off, being aware that dozens of innocent passengers will be facing a certain death? Can one sacrifice a few to save many?

By chance a few months later this ethical dilemma was filmed in the German TV movie “Terror”, which again is based on a play by the German criminal defence lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach: A German pilot, who fired off a hijacked plane is on trial being charged with murdering 164 people. What makes the movie special and unique is the fact that the audience witnesses the trial from a “live” perspective and in real time. Before the pronouncement of the judgement television viewers were requested to vote via phone call or SMS; either for an acquittal or a conviction.

There was a clearly outcome among the German TV audience: 86, 9% voted for an acquittal, just 13, 1% argued for a conviction.

During the movie the different parties presented a couple of arguments, all focusing on one main question: Should the state, or in that specific case the pilot, be allowed to act as “a master” about life and death? And if we approve that question, which factors should be taken in consideration when taking that decision?

Is one life more valuable than another? If taking an utilitarian approach, one can say that it is better to kill 164 passengers, who might die anyway, than thousands of people in the stadium, in other words “taking the lesser of two evils”.

In addition to that the pilot raises the question whether travelling by plane is, as sad as it may seem, part of the “general risk” of living in our modern society. From a legal point of view this could be discussed as a consent from the passengers in their own killing; there is no doubt about that being an adventurous assumption, but when thinking about it in more detail, there is something to be said for it.

But is it that “easy”? Would this be the right decision?

The problem is not new at all: The German philosopher Hans Welzel already dealt with it in terms of his famous “Weichenstellerfall”: Imagine a freight train is about driving against a fully occupied passenger train by reason of a wrong switch stand. Imagine further a pointsman noticing that and redirecting the freight train on the side track to save the people in the passenger train. Unfortunately he kills a few platelayers on the side track who have been busy with maintenance work. How would you judge his criminal liability? And would you change your mind if a few parameters would be changed, like the American philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson did, by throwing a fat man in front of the train as being the only chance to stop it? In that modification one has to kill by one´s own hand, and most people wouldn´t do that, whereas most people would act like the pointsman in Welzel´s example. Where would you draw the line in deciding who should be sacrificed for whom and under which circumstances? The question of weighing life against life can occur in many different variations.

Coming back to the previous discussed German statute: The wording of the controvertible legal norm (Art. 24 III Luftsicherheitsgesetz) allows the use of direct force of arms if there is reason for assuming that the plane will be used as a weapon against the passengers and that use of force of arms is the only way of preventing that danger (ultima ratio). The German Constitutional Court adjudged it for not being in line with the German Constitution: It violates the right to life and physical integrity as well as the inviolability of human dignity, which overrules the whole legal system. (Art. 1 I 1 GG: Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar.)

In response to Germany´s dark past and the atrocities by the Nazis, the creators of the German Constitution put the protection of human dignity on top of everything and considered it to be the most important value.

No human being should under no circumstances be treated as an object by the state. One can never weigh one life against another. In almost hopeless situations there is the constitution for sending us “on the right path”, not to mention more practical questions: What if the passengers would have been able to get into the cockpit and stop the terrorist? What if the terrorist would have changed his mind?

Regarding to Immanuel Kant´s famous “categorical imperative” as part of his deontology killing the passengers would downgrade them to objects.

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”.

According to him human beings should never be treated as an instrument, irrespective of the result. If one supports his assumption and favours the decision from the German Constitutional Court no one is allowed to fire off the plane; one would just abandon all people to their fate.

In the movie the criminal defence lawyer raises an interesting point in his fictitious final speech, related to the discussion, whether it is useful to act in accordance with those principles rather than focusing on the individual case: If we act like Kant and the Constitutional Court, wouldn´t that be like an “invitation” for terrorists? Wouldn´t they choose Germany more than ever for future terror attacks if they know that pilots will never be allowed to fire off a hijacked plane?

Wouldn´t Germany be deprived of its chance of defensiveness? Do you find that argument convincing?

Furthermore the lawyer comes to the conclusion that our world already is at war and therefore it is as simple as cruel: There is no war without victims.


The case and its ethical dilemma is thought-provoking: Law is not just about taking decisions. It is in fact about huge responsibility. We as lawyers should be aware of our fateful practice and the far-reaching verdicts we might render.

In my opinion the behavior of the pilot seems to be the only right thing in that situation and when I was watching the movie I voted for an acquittal. Nevertheless I do sympathize with the idea of human dignity as a “head of everything” in any circumstance and the constitution as the highest rule. But at the same time I am asking myself: Why would it feel so wrong to convict the pilot for murder?


The Stories We Tell

On May 18th 2018, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17 year old student, entered his High School in Santa Fe Texas, where he proceeded to fatally shoot 10 people and wound 13 others. While Pagourtizis’s exact motives for the killings have not yet been agreed upon, there seems to be an influx of competing narratives concerning just who Dimitrios Pagourtizis is.

To begin with, we have the story told by his family. In a statement covered by the Los Angeles Times they stated: “We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy.” These character traits fit well with further stories offered by former teachers, expanding that he was “quiet, but he wasn’t quiet in a creepy way.” Again these narratives fit with certain accomplishments some media sources have chosen to focus on, such as the fact that Pagourtizis was on the honor roll at his high school, and that he played on the school football team. By this account, this story which is told is concerned with showing the perpetrator in a pseudo-positive light- that he appeared to be a smart, but quiet boy, who was seemingly well adjusted.

But as writer, Stassa Edwards, so powerfully points out, this isn’t the only story to be told. Edwards points towards a counter-narrative offered by Sadie Blaze, the mother of Pagourtizi’s first victim. Blaze tells a story of a boy who harassed her daughter, Shana, for the previous four months, persistently asking her to date him despite her repeatedly telling him no. Blaze has told this story to many mainstream news outlets, adding that: “he continued to get more aggressive”. The fact that Shana was targeted first has led some to believe that Pagourtizis’s attack on Santa Fe High School was an act of retaliation against the girl who turned him down. Many commentators have been drawing attention to the social media presence of Pagourtizis, linking this story of retaliation to further attacks, such as the 2014 killings carried out by Eliot Rodgers, or the Toronto attack in April of this year. These stories present the perpetrators as seeking revenge on girls and women as response to a lack of romantic interest. These narratives are gaining huge momentum at the moment, with many high profile media publications arguing that such shootings are incidents of misogyny fuelled violence. Journalists are taking note that a number of these perpetrators self-identify as ‘incels’ (short for ‘involuntary celibates’), a subsect of online male supremacy communities.

It will be extremely interesting to see which story concerning Pagourtizis will come out as the dominant narrative during his trial, especially when one bears in mind recent high profile judgments concerning other violent acts against women. For me, I see parallels between the family’s account of Pagourtizis and the stories told about convicted rapist, Brock Turner. Throughout his trial in 2016, the court heard about Turner’s accomplishments as a student athlete- at one point a projected future Olympian- at Stanford University, and the great promise his future holds. His father implored the judge for leniency, claiming that his son is “not violent” and arguing that punishment was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”, and yet again this narrative speaks nothing towards the actions that he committed. This is only solidified through the statement Turner he himself made, stating: “I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life”, in which he solely refers to his own- rather than the life of the woman he raped behind a dumpster whilst unconscious. This takes us to the competing story heard throughout the proceedings: the story in which Turner had inflicted a great deal emotional and physical distress through committing the inherently violent act of rape. This counter narrative was primarily told through his victim’s story, where she recounting the effects of his actions: “My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition.

Horrifyingly Judge Aaron Persky argued that “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others” – sentencing him to six months in county jail, though in actuality he only served three. The Guardian reported that Turner’s age and his lack of previous criminal history were the primary reasons behind Persky’s insultingly lenient sentence, signalling, as Edwards accurately describes a “once-promising” narrative taking precedence in the case. This form of prioritizing of stories isn’t knew- when CNN covered the Steubenville Rape Case in 2013, where two student football players were found guilty of raping a fellow 16 year old and photographing and documenting the incident on social media- the coverage mostly concerned how the sentencing has affected the lives of “two young men that had such promising futures”.

Competing narratives and stories within a trial are an inherent part of the legal process; testimonies are presented to judges and juries in a supposed ‘fact-finding’ mission to establish what actually happened. Yet storytelling can be seen as invaluable rhetorical technique to help persuade these key players of motive, and consequently guilt. Inevitably one story will become dominant, and in recent years it would appear that the ‘once promising’ narrative takes precedence in trials of gendered violence. I am hopeful Dimitrios Pagouritiz can signal a turning point, where a counter-narrative is just as compelling, and the stories of the victims of such acts of violence can be better heard. Acknowledging that many stories are told at trial can open up the space to question which stories win, and why.


The Handmaid’s Tale and the Aesthetics of Law.

Last month saw the return of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s haunting novel of the same name. The show reflects on life in Gilead, a dystopian society, where fertile women (‘the handmaids’) are forced into sexual and childbearing servitude as a response to a fertility crisis. Arguably the television series somewhat departs from the novel in a number of ways; for example it claims that Gilead is formerly part of the United States of America, and it provides flashbacks showing the former lives of the main characters. While some may argue that this further information, which has not been alluded to in the novel, ruins the isolating atmosphere which the novel creates, as the story is explicitly told from the main protagonist’s point of view, what it does do is offer extremely interesting context as to how the power of a totalitarian regime can take hold.


During the second episode of season 2, we see a flashback to a handmaid’s former life. We see Emily (known now as Oflgen in Gilead) attempt to flee to Canada with her wife, and their young son. Both her wife and son have Canadian passports, but Emily, an America, is told that she’ll now need a Canadian visa, despite the couple’s married status. When questioning this, Emily presents her marriage certificate, but she is told it’s not valid: “The document is no longer recognized, you are not married…it’s forbidden…forbidden by the law.” Emily responds by asking what law, to which the airport security agent replies “The law.”


When hearing this blunt response, I couldn’t help but think of Peter Goodrich’s pertinent article: “Specula Law: Image, Aesthetic and Common Law.” Within his article, Goodrich explores the ways in which the law attaches itself to individuals. He argues that the law’s use of images, as embedded within the text is key. These images are sealed within ‘the memory of law’, passed down through custom and tradition: “My point is that in the development of tradition, the text circulates as an image and the point of its effect is largely resident in that aesthetic quality rather than in its supposed rational content, for few ever read the law, none ever read all of it.” Essentially Goodrich is making the case that through law’s use of image as embedded in its very text, certain aesthetic qualities and feelings are left imprinted on law’s subjects. The law attaches itself to the subject’s soul, thus invoking general feelings and reaction to the very concept at law.


Within the example to hand, the security agent referred to ‘The law’- no specific legislation, or provision- he just alluded to certain pre-existing feelings society may have about what law represents. In my opinion, by uttering ‘The law’ in this way, he has conjured images of a powerful source of authority that cannot or must not be questioned. He conjured images relating to the violent side of law, as an institution which lays down rules which must be followed, even if this impedes on personal liberty. These pre-existing images of the law, which are wrapped up in its tradition can be seen as one source of law’s power and authority. These sentiments are felt throughout law’s subjects, and get carried forward through the rituals of the legal institution.


This wonderful example in popular culture only highlights the important work that studies into the aesthetic dimension of law does; it enables us to truly reflect on not only how we imagine the law, but also how the law imagines itself.


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.