Helen Knowles

The Art/Law Sessions presents ‘The Trial of Superdebthunterbot’

Helen Knowles (Artist) & Andres Guadamuz Respondent (Sussex Law School)

19 October 11.30-1pm, Moot Room, Freeman Building. University of Sussex, Brighton

Artist Helen Knowles came to show her work ‘The Trial of Superdebthunterbot’, talk and take questions and answers on her film.  The film brings up questions around the culpability of non-human entities, the volition of drones and algorithms in their decision-making, the extent to which they can be held accountable, and the role that law in determining these responsibilities.

Sussex Law School’s artificial intelligence and copyright whizz Andres Guadamuz will be responding to Helen’s work in this brilliant first Art/Law Session this term.

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The Trial of Superdebthunterbot

Film by Helen Knowles

Helen Knowles organised a tour on her work, involving film screenings, talks, and q and as of the film The Trial of Superdebthunterbot during 2016-17.  The tour kicked off on the 19th October at the University of Sussex. There is a blog to record the ensuing conversations and the work will be featured in the publication Computational Culture. This offers a fantastic resource for law students interested in pursuing research into Artificial Intelligence.


A debt collecting company, Debt BB buys the student loan book from the government for more than it is worth, on the condition it can use unconventional means to collect debt. Debt BB codes an algorithm to ensure fewer loan defaulters by targeting individuals through the use of big data, placing job adverts on web pages they frequent. Superdebthunterbot has a “capacity to self-educate, to learn and to modify it’s coding sequences independent of human oversight” (Susan Schullppi, Deadly Algorithms). Five individuals have died as a result of the algorithm’s actions, by partaking in unregulated medical trials. In the eyes of the International Ether Court, can the said algorithm be found guilty?


The Trial of Superdebthunterbot was first performed as an artwork on the opening night of the exhibition Collaborate! at Oriel Sycarth Gallery. The work was performed by lawyers; Oana Labontu Radu and Lauries Elks who wrote the prosecution and defence speeches and TV actor, Mark Frost who was the judge. The jury was made up of the audience on the opening night of the exhibition. The algorithm is housed in a see – through computer made by artist Daniel Dressel which sits in the dock.

In May 2016, the performance was restaged the at Southwark Crown Court and a 45 minute film of the same title was shot. The film was premiered during the the Goldsmiths MFA show.

To see a trailer of the film.

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