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Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud’s Comprehensive Reflections on the Role of Identity, Liberty, and AI Ethics in Shaping a Just Society

25-11-2023 : Chief Justice of India, D Y Chandrachud, addressed fundamental questions concerning the ethical treatment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and discussed various facets of AI in the digital age during his keynote speech at the 36th ‘LAWASIA’ conference. The theme of his speech was “Identity, the Individual and the State – New Paths to Liberty.”

In his virtual address, Justice Chandrachud emphasized the critical role identity plays in determining the resources individuals receive and their ability to express grievances and demand rights. He delved into the complex interplay between AI and personhood, navigating uncharted territories that demand both philosophical reflection and practical considerations.

The Chief Justice raised ethical questions regarding the treatment of AI technologies, citing the example of Sophia, a human-like robot granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. He questioned whether all individuals, regardless of their form, should be entitled to personhood and citizenship based on their identity.

Justice Chandrachud also addressed the enduring influence of the caste system in contemporary socio-economic and political landscapes. He highlighted its impact on social stratification, economic disparities, and access to opportunities, emphasizing the need for affirmative action to address discrimination and disrupt entrenched societal structures.

Referring to various reports, including those by the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, the Chief Justice underscored the widespread abuse faced by marginalized groups due to social segregation, untouchability, limited access to education, and underrepresentation. He emphasized the transformative force of affirmative action in challenging established caste dynamics.

The intersection of identity, liberty, and the role of the State in limiting or expanding life opportunities was a central theme. Justice Chandrachud challenged the traditional understanding of liberty as the absence of State interference, highlighting the State’s role in perpetuating social prejudices and hierarchies.

Quoting English philosopher John Stuart Mill, the Chief Justice discussed the historical struggle between liberty and authority, emphasizing the need for constitutional checks to control government tyranny. He summarized the idea of liberty as “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

Addressing the challenges faced by people with disabilities, Justice Chandrachud criticized the focus on certificates of entitlement under the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016, stressing the need for accessible infrastructure and disability-friendly education and employment sectors. He highlighted the pitfalls of creating benchmarks for disability and the risk of relegating disabled individuals to an inferior status in need of state rescue.

In conclusion, Chief Justice Chandrachud’s comprehensive speech touched on the complex intersections of identity, liberty, and the ethical treatment of AI, urging thoughtful reflection and practical action in these evolving realms.