CANCELLED - Ex Machina Lex: The Limits of Law's Computability

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 13:00to14:30
Chancellor Day Hall 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

We regret to announce that this conference has been cancelled.

Join us for an AI and the Law talk with Dr Christopher Markou, who will consider the consequences of using machine learning to replicate core functions of legal systems.


The use of machine learning (ML) to replicate aspects of legal decision making is already well advanced, with various ‘Legal Tech’ applications being used to model litigation risk, and data analytics informing decisions on issues with relevance to law, which include probation, predictive policing and credit evaluation. The next step, already being trialled in a number of jurisdictions, will be the use of ML to replicate core functions of legal systems, including adjudication.

This paper considers the likely consequences of this step using a systemic-evolutionary model of law. From this point of view, many aspects of legal reasoning have algorithmic features that could lend themselves to automation. However, an evolutionary perspective also points to features of legal reasoning which are not consistent with ML: these include the reflexivity of legal knowledge and the incompleteness of legal rules at the point where they encounter the ‘chaotic’ and unstructured data generated by other social sub-systems. We will illustrate this point with an example taken from labour law concerning the classification of work relationships.

The argument here is that the goal of a ‘legal singularity’—a concept advanced by proponents of the use of ML in law—is based on a conception of a functionally complete legal system which, while a mirage, has the potential to divert resources to ultimately fruitless uses, while compromising the autonomy of the legal system and undermining its core modes of operation.

Finding the institutional means to maintain law’s system-boundary with technology is an urgent task, but one whose success cannot be guaranteed, as there is no principle of societal organisation which guarantees the perpetuation of the rule of law, and the democratic-liberal order it maintains, in the face of current technological changes.

About the Speaker

Dr Christopher Markou is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, director of the AI, Law & Society LLM at the School of Law, King’s College London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA). He has written widely on matters of law/technology and his work has featured in Scientific American, Newsweek, and Wired among others. As part of his commitment to public engagement and education Christopher has been a featured speaker at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Ted Talks, and Hay Festival, among others. In 2020, he will publish Is Law Computable? Critical Perspectives on Law and Artificial Intelligence (co-edited with Professor Simon Deakin) and his monograph Lex Ex Machina: From Rule of Law to Legal Singularity.

AI and the Law Series

The AI and the Law Series is brought to you by the Montreal Cyberjustice Laboratory; the McGill Student Collective on Technology and Law; the Private Justice and the Rule of Law Research Group; the McGill Centre for Intellectual Property Policy; and the Autonomy Through Cyberjustice Technologies Project.


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