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Seminar - Algorithms and Social Injustice

When: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - 14:30 to 17:00
Venue: SMU School of Law, 55 Armenian Street, Singapore 179943


An algorithm is a set of instructions for how a computer should accomplish a particular task. They are used by many organizations to make decisions and allocate resources based on large data sets. Studies have shown that big data and machine learning algorithms can bring growth to many industries, such as advertising, healthcare, infrastructure, logistics, transportation, and more. However, the widespread use of algorithms also poses a threat to the rights of average persons and social justice. It has been proven that algorithms could be discriminatory. In the words of mathematician Cathy O’Neil, an algorithm is an “opinion embedded in mathematics.”  Scholars have argued that the use of automated decision-making in social service programs creates a "digital poorhouse" that perpetuates the kinds of negative moral judgments that have always been attached to poverty in America. Many of the services we rely on are full of oversights, biases, and downright ethical nightmares, for instance, chatbots that harass women, social media sites that send peppy messages about dead relatives and algorithms that put more black people behind bars. It has also been argued that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege some and discriminate against others.  If we go deeper to the roots of the problems, it is fairly easy to ascertain some factors underlying the said phenomena: opaqueness in decision-making process, data monopoly, human biases, dark side of human nature, constant change, lack of adequate legal regulation, etc. It can be argued that it is necessary to view artificial intelligence and algorithms with a cautious and enlightened attitude. Promoting data literacy and algorithmic proficiency, implementing algorithmic accountability, employing policy and legal supervision, cultivating the awareness of the right to data, increasing consumer rights consciousness in the age of algorithms, and overcoming the mentality of techno-utopianism, all these could be explored for the purpose of ascertaining good strategies for protecting individual rights and defending social justice in an algorithmic society at the digital age. After the talk there will be a panel discussion by Professors Mark Findlay and Liu Kung-Chung, which will be moderated by Professor Goh Yihan, Dean of SMU School of Law, Director of Centre for AI and Data Governance.



Xingzhong Yu is the Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Professor in Chinese Law at the Cornell Law School. His academic interests include social theory, comparative legal philosophy, Chinese law and legal history, constitutional law, new technologies and law, and cultural studies of law. Prior to joining Cornell Law School, he was with the Faculty of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) where he taught jurisprudence, constitutional law and Chinese law. He holds an LLM and SJD from Harvard Law School, and while there was a lecturer on law, senior research fellow in East Asian Legal Studies, and visiting associate professor. He has held various visiting academic positions at Beijing University's Department of Law, Northwest University of Politics and Law, Hangzhou Normal University, Columbia Law School, and the Australian National University. He is the author of numerous articles and five books, including Rule of Law and Civil Orders (2006) and Frontiers of Jurisprudence (2014).


Public CPD Points - 2.5 points

This programme is an Accredited CPD Activity under the SILE’s CPD Scheme. Participants who wish to claim CPD Points are reminded that they must comply strictly with the Attendance Policy set out in the CPD Guidelines. This includes signing-in on arrival and signing-out at the conclusion of the activity in the manner required by the organiser, and not being absent from the entire activity for more than 15 minutes. Participants who do not comply with the Attendance Policy will not be able to obtain CPD Points for attending the activity. Please refer to for more information.


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The event is co-organized with the SMU Law Academy and the Centre for AI and Data Governance.


Last updated on 12 Apr 2019 .