Ms Fiona McLeod SC, eminent barrister and human rights advocate, delivered the 2019 Solomon Lecture, titled Accountability in the Age of the Artificial, focusing on transparency, openness and accountability in the context of increasing adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in government functions and decision-making. Ms McLeod’s Lecture addressed key questions about whether artificial intelligence and human rights can co-exist.
Given the recent enactment of the Human Rights Act 2019, this is particularly topical for Queensland. The impact of technology and AI on public service also emerged as a challenge for Queensland’s public sector agencies in our audit report 10 years on: Queensland government agencies’ self-assessment of their progress in right to information and information privacy.
The lecture was followed by a panel discussion led by well-known journalist and media personality, Ms Madonna King. Panellists included; Mr Scott McDougall, Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Brent Richards, Medical Director of Innovation, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, Mr Simon McKee, Deputy Commissioner, Queensland Treasury and Mr Phil Green, Privacy Commissioner.
Our aspiration for open and accountable government faces innumerable challenges, not least the natural reluctance of all governments to expose themselves to criticism and accept responsibility for failure.
Time and again, corporate and political goals take priority over just outcomes, and the human rights of individuals and communities are undervalued and ignored.
Numerous examples of bad behaviour shock us for a while, some even receiving the focused attention of high quality investigative journalism and Royal Commissions, but we are left unsatisfied, cynical and disengaged, more jaded than before, accepting the inevitability of existential threats, the comfort of algorithmic news feeds and vague promises to ‘drain the swamp’.
In this context, are big data and artificial intelligence the enemies of the people, the ultimate tools of the oligarch, or the vital tools needed to eliminate bias, improve scrutiny and just outcomes for the visionary? Is there a future in which humanity evolves alongside an enhanced hive-mind in time to avert global catastrophe and create a new vision for humanity?
Ms McLeod is the Chair of the Accountability Round Table, a former Co-Chair of the Open Government Forum and Chair of Transparency International. She is a Past President of the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association. Ms McLeod has been recognised with numerous awards for excellence and leadership, for her work in supporting diversity and equality, the advancement of women and her work in pro bono and human rights matters including human trafficking. In 2018, she was awarded Australian Woman Lawyer of the Year.