Arts & Humanities Economics Geography Social Sciences

An analysis of the global north south divide

Runner up for the Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism essay competition, written by upper sixth-former Jack Donnelly.

Estimated read time: 11 minutes

The Global North is rich largely due to exploitation and underdevelopment of the Global South, which still goes on to this day, and therefore owes reparations to rectify this rift. Discuss.

Murmurs of discontent spread throughout the former colonies. In July 2020 this went beyond mere whispers as the Democratic Republic of the Congo demanded compensation for the pain inflicted by decades spent under colonial rule. Just a month later, Burundi laid the same demands at the feet of Belgium and Germany – to the tune of $43 billion. There’s no doubt that a massive proportion of Sub-Saharan Africa’s – and indeed the Global South’s – modern troubles come courtesy of their exploitation under the Global North; the question emerges, do the modern nations owe reparations for crimes committed centuries ago?

The Global North is an oft-cited idea which, in reality, lacks clear boundaries or uniting principles. For one, the conceptual Global North ignores the geographical parameters implied by the name – it is not simply a conglomerate of nations existing above the Equator or, indeed, some agreed latitude. Therefore, before discussing the Global North-South divide we must establish what the Global North actually describes. The Brandt Report of 1980 gave economists and politicians an idea of the immense gulf in development between the two hemispheres; more importantly, it gave us the ‘Brandt Line’ which depicts the divide based on GDP per capita as a factor. Notably, it straddles the Earth at 30o N but drops to include New Zealand and Australia as part of the Global North. Brandt himself was optimistic for the new century and that coordination between the hemispheres could ‘build a world in which sharing, justice, freedom and peace might prevail’. 

In another sense, the geopolitical North-South divide was highlighted in Alfred Sauvy’s Trois Mondes, une planète where he coined the terms First, Second, and Third World. The phrases were originally instituted for the USA and the USSR and their respective allies, along with the unaligned Third World – a term now synonymous with poverty and underdevelopment, rather than a particular political alignment. Today we like to characterise the divide through a number of developmental factors: income inequality, wealth, democracy indices, along with political and economic freedom.

Regardless of how you categorise the divide – it is most certainly there. Examining its extent, the North earns four-fifths of the world’s income while constituting less than a quarter of its population; additionally, at least up until the early 2000s, over 90% of global manufacturing took place in the North. Interpreting the level to which exploitation has brought about the current situation could allow a conclusion to be reached on whether reparations are truly owed. 

The most obvious example of historical Northern exploitation of the South is colonialism – it’s simply inescapable. Initially, it came commercially, through companies such as the British and Dutch East India Companies[1] which grew to dominate the economies of their respective subjugated nations. At its height, the East India Company accounted for over 50% of global

trade and acted with the sovereignty and jurisdiction of a self-governing nation. The global mechanism of colonialism was analogous to that of a catapult. The colonial powers of Western Europe played a major role in the deindustrialisation of non-Western societies; British intervention in the Indian subcontinent reduced its share of global GDP from almost a quarter to just a couple of measly percentage points as shown in Figure 2. The metaphor completes itself in the way colonialism catapulted Western powers to global superiority through the exploitation of their colonial subjects.  

Nothing is a more egregious act of exploitation than the Atlantic Slave Trade existing between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Briefly ignoring the horrific brutality and the dehumanising nature of the slave trade, we can identify it as the catalyst for so many demographical and economic issues facing Africa today. Some 12 million Africans were captured and shipped out – primarily to America – by the Europeans, destroying their social fabric and depleting the workforce immensely. The poorest parts of modern Africa share a direct correlation with the areas where the most slaves were taken. The scars of colonialism are visible to this day; African nations were created from thin air, ignoring cultural or geographical divides and instead opting for arbitrary borders which have incited enormous amounts of conflict – both national and international – since. 

Even beyond exploitation in its most explicit forms, the colonial powers of Western Europe capitalised on their supremacy by taking further advantage of unfair trade. Through ‘gunboat diplomacy’[2], they forced many countries which had escaped colonisation to sign unequal treaties, leaving the nations bereft of tariff autonomy. To understand the impact of this, we must examine the strength of protectionist policies in young economies. Alexander Hamilton argued in his 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures that the US needed to defend

‘industries in their infancy’ from cheaper imports in the more competitive and developed international market. By stripping young economies of ‘infant industry protection’, the powers of the Global North deprived many Latin American and Asian countries of a fair chance at development. Many of these treaties lasted for decades – even well into the twentieth century in some cases. The affected Southern countries experienced negative per capita income growth during the late Industrial Revolution period; an inability to nurture and promote their youthful industries contributed immensely. 

While the level of ‘exploitation’ today does not even hold a candle to its heights in colonial times, forms of neo-colonialism exist between powerful modern countries and the ‘Third World’. China is exercising its financial might – through FDI[3] – across the entire continent of Africa, moulding it into essentially a ‘China’s China’; in this case, however, the development is not necessarily one-sided. The truth is that China is richly compensating African nations as they surge forwards with rapid urbanisation in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’[4]. Daan Roggeveen, the founder of an Architecture firm and an author of books on Chinese and African

Urbanisation, said ‘right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometres are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous’. Africa is sitting on a massive stockpile of natural resources and China has been quick to take advantage of the power vacuum in the wake of departing colonial powers. China itself is still considered a part of the Global South, but in essence its actions in Africa are reminiscent of historical Northern intervention. Indeed, there have been cries of exploitation and Chinese imperialism, with the former governor of Nigeria’s central bank criticising their removal of natural resources without any provision of economic enrichment in the form of skills and jobs. Regardless, Africa benefits in some sense from the massive amounts of FDI – something one could consider a form of economic reparation. 

Conversely, a significant portion of the North’s success can be attributed to their intrinsic development. Throughout history, a correlation can be identified between the quality of institutions, the strength of government and more advanced economic development. These are elements of a country which can be built up naturally over time; alternatively, they can be instigated by colonisers or conquering foreign powers. School enrolment and greater provision of public goods, for example, contribute a powerful multiplier effect to development. It could be argued that the Global South has not arrived in its disadvantaged position as a result of exploitation, but instead due to unfortunate geography, climate and numerous other factors. 

The Global South has, beyond this, suffered from factors exogenous to the influence of the North. Geography is key to this argument – Africa and South America have been disadvantaged greatly due to their narrow orientation; Eurasia benefits from wide, vast plains of arable land perfect for cultivation and the domestication livestock. A lack of genetic immunity in the ‘New World’ led to the decimation of native populations throughout the continent; immunity that

European settlers had from centuries of close integration with livestock – something native Americans never had. Ultimately, the resulting underdevelopment cannot be pinned on European settlers; they could never have foreseen the devastation they would reap on the relatively immunocompromised natives. The blame here falls upon the poor geographical starting points of Southern societies.

Furthermore, Modernisation Theory attempts to explain the underdevelopment of the Global South as a result of their own policies and socio-economic structures rather than Northern intervention. Feudalism, tribalism and relatively primitive economic structures have led their societies to a point where they lack regulation, democracy and have failed to modernise and develop themselves. The theory considers Third World society largely responsible for its own poverty. The archetypal societal approach tends to grant too much power to individuals; corruption in a country’s elite leadership can obviously be enormously detrimental to development – but it is all too prevalent. 

The Global South now has its own mechanisms in place which, certainly in part, negate the need to have reparations paid by the North. One of the most notable institutions representing the spirit of the developing Global South is the BRICS[5], a multilateral group of major emerging Southern economies. Between them, they constitute 41% of the global population and approximately 23% of world GDP. The BRICS have two key components to their financial architecture which are dedicated to the development of the Global South, the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). The bank, in particular, aims to lend up to $34 billion annually with a focus on massive infrastructure development. When outlining the plan for the organisations, the BRICS found themselves keen to distance Southern investment from the North’s sphere of influence; since they are willing to offer competitive rates to their Southern associates, perhaps they are best left to collaborate without the need for Northern intervention or reparations.

Moreover, we are obligated to question the feasibility of reparations being paid by the North. Multilateral payments of any kind are notoriously difficult to agree upon, as could be witnessed with the days of debate over collective debt[6] assumption in the EU in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Now consider the complexity of any agreement that would require payment by the collective ‘North’ to the collective ‘South’ on the basis of centuries of

exploitation and mistreatment. Even if it were decided that the current Global North needed to be held responsible for the actions of past generations, the practicality of it dispensing payments or other forms of compensation is contentious at best. Perhaps the more effective method of extending the olive branch would be through bilateral – rather than multilateral – action and intervention; individual Northern powers could be responsible for making reparations with the countries specifically impacted by their ventures. 

Ultimately, the statement is true: ‘The Global North is rich largely due to exploitation and underdevelopment of the Global South’ – to a certain extent. While the North has benefited significantly at the detriment of Southern countries, it is unfair to say that their wealth comes largely from exploitation. A significant portion of Northern success came from the strength of their innate development – strong institutions and a focus on societal growth and evolution have built them into successful nations. Regarding reparations, it is apparent that payment from a United North to a United South would be impossibly complicated to arrange; instead, individual acts of bilateral aids between wealthy Northern nations and poorer Southern nations targeting rapid economic and social development could be a far more constructive option.  


Allen, R. C. (2011). Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Banerjee, A. V., & Duflo, E. (2013). Under the Thumb of History? Political institutions and the Scope for Action. Annual Review of Economics.

Burundi Joins Congo in Demanding Reparations from Belgium. (2020, August 14). Retrieved from Bloomberg:

Chang, H.-J. (2014). Economics: The User’s Guide. London: The Penguin Group.

David, D. (2018). The Almighty Dollar. London: Elliott and Thompson Limited.

Elvin, M. (1984). Why China Failed to Create an Endogenous Industrial Capitalism: A Critique of Max Weber’s Explanation. Theory and Society, vol. 13, no. 3, 379-91.

Europe’s €750bn rescue package sets a welcome precedent. (2020, July 25). Retrieved from The Economist:

Iyer, L. (2007, November 6). Direct versus Indirect Colonial Rule in India: Long-Term Consequences. Harvard Business School Working Paper, 5-51.

Kamarck, A. (1976). The Tropics and economic development; a provocative inquiry into the poverty of nations. The John Hopkins University Press.

Nunn, N. (2007). Relationship-specificity, incomplete contracts, and the pattern of trade. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 569-600.

Ramachandran, S., & Rosenberg, N. A. (2011). A test of the influence of continental axes of orientation on patterns of human gene flow. Am J Phys Anthropol, 515-529.

Rappaport, J., & Sachs, J. D. (2003). The United States as a Coastal Nation. Jounral of Economic Growth, 5-46.

Sachs, J. (2001). The Geography of Poverty and Wealth. Scientific American, 284.

Sauvy, A. (1952). Trois Mondes, Une Planéte. L’Observateur, 14.

The Persistent Underdevelopment of The Global South. (2018, November). Retrieved from


Warner, A. M., & Sachs, J. D. (2001). The Curse of Natural Resources. European Economic Review, 827-838.

Woolcock, M., Szreter, S., & Rao, V. (2009). How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy? Brooks World Poverty Institute.

[1] The British East India Company operated in the Indian subcontinent while the Dutch East India Company was in the Dutch East Indies, modern-day Indonesia. 

[2] Pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of naval power 

[3] Foreign Direct Investment – Investment in the form of a controlling ownership in a business in one country by an entity based in another country. 

[4] ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology.

[5] Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS)

[6] The EU agreed in July 2020 to an $869bn recovery package with debt shared between each member state. Despite close links between the EU states it took several days of debate to reach an agreement.

Arts & Humanities History Law & Politics Social Sciences

Irving vs Lipstadt- The Precedent on History

This article was written by sixth-former Omeet Atara.

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

In the case of Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd, the law was embroiled in a difficult case, which forced them to decide on the validity of a historical claim. Whilst it was labelled a libel case, this was a fundamental question about history. Experts included Richard J Evans were called to the stand to work as witnesses throughout the trial. The significance of this trial is not in the actual arguments, but the result delivered by the judge and historical judgements made.  

History is a complex subject and is about interpreting and understanding the past. Historians use a variety of primary and secondary sources to, put colloquially “work out what happened”. By using these sources, they can justify arguments and theories about past actions. However, historians do disagree and in this case, the argument was over the Holocaust. David Irving brought a British libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and her publishers Penguin Books for claiming he was a Holocaust denier her book, Denying the Holocaust. Significantly, the case was brought in Britain rather than America, where Lipstadt was based; in British libel suit, the defendant holds the burden of proof whilst in America, it is the other way around. Hence, Lipstadt was forced to legally and historically show her claim about Irving was true. The mixing of historical information and legal complexities caused this trial to gain widespread media coverage within historical circles but also the academic media.  

The case itself was a bench trial and both sides hired high-quality reputable lawyers in what was not just a legal case but a defining moment in academic history. The lawyers for Lipstadt spent significant periods, with expert historians, trawling through the works of Irving. They were ultimately forced to prove that Irving was historically incorrect, and they did this by reading the footnotes. They would search through each of his sources and ensure that they represented the view Irving took. What they found was a group of misused and distorted historical sources. They were able to argue the comments by Deborah Lipstadt to be true. Therefore, this proof made the libel claim impossible to justify- it was not libel but academic truth. 

However, they also asked key historians like Richard J Evans to look at the work of Lipstadt and Irving to try and gain his expert opinion. This brings in the idea of historiography; which is simply the study of written history. He writes the book In Defence of History, which explores the value of history and historiography in the modern age. This has been a key debate at university and in academic history over how we should use this skill. As the expert witness, he concluded that Irving had been factually and intellectually incorrect in denying the Holocaust. He compared the reasonings and the factual evidence provided to make this judgement. He presented written and oral testimony to the court; he was also subject to a cross examination. This formed the basis of the Lipstadt defence which can be described as the justification defence. Rather than use legal escapism, she simply ensured her actions were shown to be fair and justified. 

Irving and his lawyers began with the advantage due to the burden of proof. However, the irreconciled actions of falsely manipulating sources inevitably caused significant difficulties when he came to argue his side. Ultimately, his defence was doomed because there was no libel case- what Lipstadt had said was blatantly true now that the sources had been explored.  

The judge delivered a crushing 397-page verdict in which he ruled in favour of Lipstadt and gave a damning report of Irving. They concluded him to be a holocaust denier, disappointing historian and the defence was entirely correct. This was a judgment that has set an important legal and historical precedent for the future.  

The law and history interacted in what was a case of incredible interest and importance. David Irving was proven to factually incorrect and it established the value of evidence in historical law. Despite the claim from Irving about the personal, economic and academic hardship he suffered the truth and history remained prioritised. The competition between historians over finding the truth makes it an interesting discipline. Regardless of the topic or personalities involved the history and evidence should come first rather than persona and economic disputes. Academic history which has a reliance upon evidence was strengthened once again. 

Further to this, the law was integrated with historical debate. Legally, the precedent was set for the value of evidence and removed the potential for other historical libel cases. This is a topic with no legislative agenda and hence the civil case uses precedent entirely. Hence, this ruling will be significant for years to come. The law also proved the strength of evidence no in academia but also in legal cases.  

History and law are both academic and complex subjects however and have been discussed and debate together in this example. The intertwining of topics has caused civil law to address historical issues; it is impressive to see how the law controlled and acted upon these issues. The Holocaust was a tragedy and to be debating abut its existence is disgusting- that is not the significant thought here. It is that the law sets a precedent for historical works on evidence, not personality.  

Features Law & Politics Social Sciences

Should legal disputes be decided by artificial, rather than human means?

Winner of the Trinity College Robert Walker Essay Prize, written by sixth-former George Hargreaves.

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to resolve some legal disputes more accurately, and with greater consistency, than humans are able to. Practical advantages, such as speed and cost of resolution, have already led to its limited adoption in some countries. This is likely to increase as AI continues to evolve rapidly, both through development of the algorithms with which it is programmed and through machine learning. But it is unlikely at any point that AI will be able to update fast enough to reflect ever-changing and infinitely complex real world circumstances, or to master the (also ever-changing) linguistic subtlety upon which much legal argument is based. Many disputes involve unique circumstances which cannot be fully encapsulated by pre-set algorithms: human oversight will be necessary. Furthermore, AI’s inherent lack of transparency means that it will fail to meet the principle of open justice, except in limited circumstances: both users and subjects of AI may not understand the decisions it makes. This would risk society losing confidence in its legal system. While some disputes should be determined by AI, even these must be subject to human checks. In many cases, however, AI’s best use will be as an expert advisor (or “co-bot”, perhaps) for human arbitrators. Society is likely to consider it morally unacceptable for life-changing decisions (where the death penalty could be imposed, for example) to be made by a “robot judge”. Ultimately, law evolves to reflect changes in society and life itself; an inanimate entity such as AI will be incapable of comprehending the infinite complexity of life in the conceivable future. It would thus be mistaken to devolve all power to AI for deciding legal disputes.

Practicing lawyers have made increasing use of AI over the last decade. A survey of the websites of the UK’s 12 largest solicitors[1] indicates that this will continue, albeit with AI typically being used for back office functions and organising and categorising “Big Data” sources. It is often used for the retrieval of precedents for use in upcoming cases, for example, or for reviewing contracts. AI can perform many such tasks far more quickly, accurately and comprehensively than human solicitors would find possible. While programming and other costs are not insignificant, these solicitors all note that AI is allowing them to deploy more staff in areas where greater specialist skills are required, while automating more routine tasks. While AI has been contributing to dispute resolution for some years, it is now starting to come into use in the decision making process itself, having performed well in a series of robot v human contests. In 2018, for example, a LawGeex AI system achieving 94% accuracy in reviewing a set of non-disclosure agreements, compared with 85% by a group of legal experts in that field. Even more strikingly, AI took 26 seconds to review each agreement, while the humans required 51 minutes on average[2]. Cambridge-based Case Cruncher Alpha also had notable success in such competitions. In China, there are now over 100 robots in use in courts[3] while they have also been introduced in countries as diverse as Colombia[4] and Estonia[5]. However, their use remains limited to that of an advisor in high-volume, low-value cases, with a human judge in attendance making any final decision. Nevertheless, AI’s use here has clear practical benefits and may help improve the consistency of penalties or sentences being given. The UK too has recognised these advantages, with the Civil Justice Council recommending as long ago as 2015 the introduction of Her Majesty’s Online Court to resolve some disputes where the value is under £25,000[6]. However, the implementation of this has been delayed until at least 2023[7], partly due to the technology available remaining inadequate. This highlights the difficulties that the sheer complexity and holistic nature of many legal disputes poses AI.

The current usage of AI is limited to relatively simple and clearly defined situations, where organising known facts, which may not in themselves be disputed (in some divorces, for example) is what is required. There are many examples of “bots” being used outside the court system too – the site being one of the most well-known. Originally designed to help the public to obtain refunds for parking tickets wrongfully issued, has now extended its scope to help receive compensation where it is due from airlines, or to force companies to cancel subscription services when they seem reluctant to do so.

AI has some clear practical benefits which are leading to its increased adoption. While its capabilities are insufficient to deal with most decision-making tasks at present, the pace of technological change (estimated in Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s “Moore’s Law” as a doubling of processing power every 2 years) should not be underestimated. It is clear that these capabilities will advance to a position where it could be used far more widely in future – at least theoretically.

However, there are overwhelming arguments against allowing AI alone to decide many legal disputes. These arguments may be classified broadly as practical, legal and moral.

Practically, an important difficulty is that the world is constantly evolving in unexpected ways and AI will itself need time to absorb and process new laws which may themselves be passed rapidly. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, a new UK Coronavirus Act was swiftly drawn up in early March and given royal assent on 25th March 2020. This will potentially lead to many legal disputes for which there are no precedents, and to as yet unforeseen consequences. Both programmers updating AI logarithms and machine learning will struggle to incorporate this new information in the short term. Similarly, programmers will more generally find it difficult to ensure that changes made to an AI system are not having unintended consequences on the algorithms which are already in place – particularly as the majority of programmers will not be lawyers. Neither will they be perfect individuals, so there is significant potential for their conscious or unconscious biases to be incorporated in an AI system (just as there are in any human system). Large and complex AI systems could also well be open to cyberattacks which have already led to major financial losses for many organisations; any such malicious attack on the legal infrastructure (possibly not identified for many years afterwards) could have extremely damaging consequences on the legal system.

The philosopher John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument[8] drew a distinction between the syntax and the semantics of language and argued that AI could never fully replicate human understanding. While AI may recognise words in themselves, it will always struggle to understand, or even recognise, the multiple linguistic subtleties upon which many legal disputes turn. In essence, many disputes are too complex to be simplified in digital format. If AI cannot understand arguments in their human form (instead merely simulating this), it is unlikely to be able to administer justice fairly to the satisfaction of the humans who need it. An analogy with the recent introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in football is interesting as, even when rules were relatively simple and well understood, the attempt to implement them, using artificial means, has been widely deemed unsatisfactory and inconsistent by players and fans alike. VAR, applied strictly, lacks any capacity for discretion.

This complexity, and AI’s inherent lack of transparency, are at the heart of major counterarguments to its use in the legal system. Centrally, the principle of open justice – whereby the law should be clearly comprehensible to all, with decisions clearly communicated – is unlikely to be satisfied by AI, except in limited circumstances. Re and Solow-Niederman have identified “a range of concerns relating to [AI’s] tendency to make the legal system more incomprehensible, data-based, alienating, and disillusioning”[9]. Were this to be the case, using AI alone would in many cases very likely lead to society losing confidence in legal systems which it has used for centuries to provide an agreed framework for it to operate within. Another academic, Sourdin[10], notes “questions such as who makes the decision, and who possesses the legal authority to make such a decision. Is it the computer programmer, the policymaker, the human decision-maker or the computer or automated system itself” – these cannot easily be answered and raise further crucial problems, such as how and to whom appeals might be made.

Re and Solow-Niederman ask “can a prearranged decision procedure really incorporate an idea like mercy or develop fact-sensitive balancing of mitigation factors in a criminal case?” The principle of equitable justice might mean a recently unemployed husband stealing medicine for his sick wife could be treated more leniently than a drug dealer stealing drugs to sell on the street, when it came to a human judge passing sentence. Whereas AI, certainly for the foreseeable future, would not be capable of taking every extenuating circumstance into account. Particularly as every case will have unique surrounding circumstances; and the more complex the case the more complex those circumstances are likely to be.

But, even if developments in AI made it possible in the distant future to overcome all of the practical and legal issues outlined, there are critical moral problems which will remain impossible to solve.

The UK’s legal system (and that of most other countries’) has had human interaction woven into it ever since it was created, or naturally evolved from primitive, informal justice methods. This not only enables a judge to exercise discretion, or mercy, but it is also considered to be a fundamental right for litigants to be able to make their case personally – and to fell that they are being heard and understood. Similarly, a jury decision making process places much emphasis on human interaction and argument. If AI displaced all such human interaction, litigants would be likely over time to become disaffected, eventually losing faith in the system of justice itself.

Where very serious cases were involved, with very serious potential consequences (in some countries, the death penalty for example) it will be considered morally unacceptable for life-changing decisions to be made by a “robot judge”. It is inconceivable that the degree of technological development that would be necessary to overcome these reservations is within human reach.

Finally, privacy issues, both for individuals and for countries when national security matters might be involved, further complicate the landscape for AI. The extent to which these are concerning depends partly on political ideology: in China today, for example, all citizens are subject to “social scoring” based on their internet presence – with low scores affecting individuals’ rights to have a passport or to get a loan. This would be considered too intrusive in many other countries. In any event, AI may find itself denied information which it had in previous instances needed to make a fair decision. The withholding of information for reasons of privacy will continue to be seen as a necessary human “judgement call” – albeit clearly capable itself of abuse. This is an area where politics and law meet. The extent to which AI will improve in the future should not be underestimated. This will increase its use, which is currently limited to relatively routine, standardised tasks. Its ability to assimilate and organise data is already vastly superior to any human’s. However, it will always struggle to understand the linguistic complexity which is central to much legal argument, or the complexity of life itself, which is also often central to such argument. Without humans being part of legal dispute resolution, it is fundamentally impossible for the principles of open justice or of discretion to be met. Lower cost and greater speed will tempt rule makers, but AI’s most appropriate use is as an expert advisor to human judges.








[8] In “Minds, Brains, and Programs” (1980)

[9] “Developing Artificially Intelligent Justice”, Stanford Technology Law Review 242 (2019)

[10] “Judge v Robot?” AI and Judicial Decision-Making”, UNSW Law Journal vol 41

Social Sciences

Data Visualisation of Climate Change

This article features an award-winning presentation by sixth-Former Alasdair Hopwood.

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

Alasdair won the Bank of England’s 2019 Technology Competition, with his entry ‘Climate Economics: The Data’. This project seeks to visualise the causes and effects of climate change through data models, allowing for a comprehensive yet accessible understanding of the ongoing climate crisis.

Below is a PDF copy of the award-winning presentation.

Social Sciences

The Problem with Cashless Societies

This article was written by sixth-former Utkarsh Dandanayak.

Only with the use of technology can we mitigate the adverse effect of technology.

— Utkarsh Dandanayak

Estimated read time: 2 minutes

No one likes parting ways with hard-earned cash. As consumers, this behavioural trait of ours allows us to think twice before engaging in transactions that we may later regret. However, now there is a chance that this trait will be lost, with the introduction of Mastercard, Apple Pay and the like, which digitalise payment processes to provide transactional convenience. What is often forgotten is the subtle but potent side effect — financial abstraction — the fundamental problem with a cashless society.

Financial abstraction is simply a rewording of “out of sight, out of mind”. When we don’t see a physical transfer of money from consumer to vendor (and instead swipe a credit card, for example), it results in a reduction in our perceived value of money. Making money less tangible and thus adding to its abstract nature induces in us a spendthrift attitude.

Disney has invested $1bn in exploiting this habit, with the introduction of “MagicBands” to their theme parks. These allow the wearer to purchase meals and souvenirs from anywhere within Disneyland premises with a wave of their wrist. The result? Per capita spending increased by 8 per cent in the first quarter after their inception due to higher ticket prices and increased food and drink sales.

Financial abstraction can step outside the gates of Disneyland and into consumer markets, the most palpable example being the establishment of mobile payment systems.

A strong upward trend in the usage of mobile payment services is evident. Success is most apparent in China, where the consumer spending boom has allowed “WeChat Pay” (its largest mobile payment provider) to flourish. WeChat had more than 1.09bn users in 2018. Businesses have inevitably followed the money, with countless retailers flocking to offer such payment methods. This story is similar to when credit cards came to the masses 50 years ago.

In 2017, UK mobile payment volume grew by 328 per cent and UK consumer debt rose by 11 per cent. Abstraction is at play once more. Our natural pragmatism incentivises the usage of cashless payments, while our conception of money is distorted to become more illusory, increasing one’s propensity to spend indiscriminately, thus inducing debt.

Although debt is fine in moderation, extreme levels mean that “millions are living on the financial precipice, leaving them vulnerable to financial shocks,” explains Mike O’ Connor, the former chief executive of debt charity StepChange. 

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that younger generations are using these services extensively. Such abstraction may cause children, who are more likely to see money as limitless, to be prone to future financial mismanagement.

While I do not oppose the use of electronic payment systems, financial education must become a priority in anticipation of the transition to cashless societies. Furthermore, I believe that we should employ the free online financial tools made available to most individuals, including budgeting apps such as Mint, that allow one to track digital spending as well as informing one when certain bills are due. 

Only with the use of technology can we mitigate the adverse effect of technology.