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Two of Australia’s most eminent minds on artificial intelligence will lead a discussion about how the legal profession can navigate the country through a new era of technological change at the Law Society of NSW’s inaugural conference next month.

Edward Santow, Australia’s former Human Rights Commissioner and now Industry Professor of Responsible Technology at the University of Technology (UTS), will run the session alongside his colleague Nicholas Davis, who was previously a member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum in Geneva.

Davis told LSJ the session, ‘Technology after Robodebt: How should the legal profession respond’, held on day one of Conference will explore how lawyers can help their clients make better decisions about new technology.

The Robodebt scheme was an unlawful method of automated debt assessment and recovery employed by Services Australia as part of its Centrelink payment compliance program. Put in place in 2016, the scheme aimed to replace the formerly manual system of calculating overpayments and issuing debt notices to welfare recipients with an automated data-matching system.

“There are lots of great scholars, lawyers and barristers working in this area, but it is moving faster even than the experts can keep up with,” Davis said.

“The Robodebt example speaks starkly to some of the bigger challenges we see. Those challenges can be characterised on an individual rights level. For example, a university student gets a claim for $5000 saying they’ve been overpaid because we didn’t have the right details of their last temporary job … versus the person in a rural area who can no longer afford to drive the car.

“Should we be doing this automated decision making at all? It’s a strategic question.

“Think about all the Robodebt-type systems that are out there that are being used at a smaller scale, cumulatively having huge impact on commercial, personal, economic impact on people. We just don’t know about them because they aren’t a big enough error. That is the sad indictment of a burgeoning industry.”

With Santow, Davis co-leads the Human Technology Institute, UTS’s new initiative on building Australia’s capability on ethical and responsible artificial intelligence.

Other thought-provoking sessions during the first day of the conference are panel discussions about staying well in the law, cryptocurrency, the value of data and online dispute resolution.

Highlights of the second day include a presentation by ICAC Commissioner Patricia McDonald SC on maintaining and building trust in the government legal profession. There will also be a session on secrecy in court and public interest immunity hosted by leading Sydney barrister Dr Christopher Ward SC.

The Conference will be fully accessible online and held over two busy days on 5 and 6 September.

Find out more about the program and register here.