Automated Decision-Making Systems: Future Shock for the Disciplines of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law?

Emeritus Professor Bernadette McSherry1

1Commissioner | Victorian Law Reform Commission | Melbourne Law School


Over the past forty-plus years of ANZAPPL’s existence, the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and law have adapted to societal and systemic challenges. In looking to the future, the rise of automated decision-making systems to aid or replace human decision-making in treatment, risk assessment and legal decision-making poses important ethical and human rights issues for these disciplines.

This presentation will outline the findings from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into human rights and technology, including its concern that artificial intelligence has the potential to reinforce or exacerbate biases or prejudices. It will consider potential examples of this, such as the case of Loomis v Wisconsin 137 S.Ct. 2290 (2017), in which an actuarial risk assessment tool was accepted by a sentencing court without expert evidence being given as to its validity or reliability. The private company which developed the tool refused to reveal the data upon which it was based, claiming proprietary rights in its algorithms. Despite concerns that the tool was biased against people of colour, there was no way to test this.

Half a century ago, Alvin Toffler coined the term “future shock” to encompass the distress and disorientation experienced in response to an accelerated rate of technological and social change.  This presentation will consider whether the rise of automated decision-making systems poses “future shock” for the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and law or whether such systems should be viewed as helping support accurate, ethical and consistent decisions that protect and promote human rights.


Bernadette McSherry is Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, having previously served as Professor and Foundation Director of the Melbourne Social Equity Institute at that university from 2013 to mid-2021. She is an internationally recognised legal academic in the fields of criminal law and mental health law who was appointed an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in 2007. Emeritus Professor McSherry has a BA(Hons), LLB(Hons), LLM from the University of Melbourne, a PhD from York University in Canada and a Grad Dip Psych from Monash University.  In 2011, she was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. In 2016, she was awarded The Mental Health Services (TheMHS) Award for Exceptional Contribution to Mental Health Services. She is currently a part-time Commissioner with the Victorian Law Reform Commissioner and previously served as a legal member of the Victorian Mental Health Tribunal for sixteen years. From February 2019 to February, she was a Commissioner with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.  In November this year, she will step down as the Immediate Past President of the transnational branch of ANZAPPL, having served as its President from November 2015 to November 2018.

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