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Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Talks Ethics and Technology at Kennedy School

A student space at the Harvard Kennedy School.
A student space at the Harvard Kennedy School. By Sanjana S. Ramrajvel
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Luís Roberto Barroso, current justice of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil and senior fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School, warned that advances in technology will pose new dangers to Brazilian and American democratic institutions in a speech at the school Monday evening.

He said the development of artificial intelligence — which he called the “fourth industrial revolution” — will prompt urgent questions about the proper limits of freedom of expression on the internet, including ways to combat hate speech and fake news.

These innovations are “redefining what it means to be human,” he said.

Barroso also argued that technological innovations in the 21st century will spur debates about the bioethics of cloning human beings, buying and selling human organs, and creating genetically-engineered organisms.

He said the coming decades will increase the need for plans to address climate change.

Barroso’s talk — entitled “Technological Revolution, Democratic Recession, and Climate Change: The Limits of Law in a Changing World” — marked the first in a series of lectures that the Kennedy School plans to sponsor throughout the 2019-2020 academic year addressing technology and ethics in the modern world.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Mathias Risse decided to launch the series in response to the book “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” by MIT Professor Max E. Tegmark, which explores upcoming challenges that technology could create.

Event attendees said they thought Barroso provided global context to the questions surrounding democracy, climate change, technology ethics.

“I’m interested in climate change — especially from a public policy perspective so I just came to learn more about that and see other students that are interested in it,” Kennedy School student Sam Elghanayan said. “Today mixed in a lot of different components so I think it tried to put climate change in a larger context of what’s going on in the world today.”

For Kennedy School student Alex DeVille, the talk provided an opportunity to learn about how democracies can respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

“I think that what it came to at the end was how to push for it [democracy] — if you want to preserve democracy, but I think that the debate seemed reasonably open about, like, ‘Are there other ways of doing this?’” DeVille said.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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