IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow

IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow: Simeon Xu

Simeon Xu

Coloured headshot of Simeon Xu
Simeon Xu

IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellow, 2024. Dr Xu will be working on his project called: 'Watching in Justice: Cultivating Justice in Surveillance Society’.

Ximian Xu (preferred name: Simeon) came to the University of Edinburgh to study theology in 2013. Before that, he was awarded Bachelor of Engineering (Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, China, 2011) and Master of International Trade and Commerce Law (Macquarie University, Australia, 2013). Simeon completed Master of Divinity (First Class Honour), Master of Theology (Distinction), and PhD in systematic theology at the University of Edinburgh in, respectively, 2013, 2016 and 2020. From September 2021 to August 2023, he was a postdoctoral research fellow in theology and AI ethics, a joint appointment between the School of Divinity and the Edinburgh Futures Institute, University of Edinburgh. He married to Rachel Wang and they have two children.

Project Abstract

During my IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Fellowship, my research will be on theological engagement with contemporary surveillance technology and culture. This interdisciplinary research is titled ‘Watching in Justice: Cultivating Justice in Surveillance Society.’ It aims to explore justice, privacy, and AI-powered surveillance technology against the backdrop of global expansion of AI surveillance––that is, using AI technology to achieve numerous surveillance goals, such as policing, national security, and self-care.

With the rapid progress of AI technology, surveillance is empowered to permeate human life. Humans are datafied, and our social activity and behaviour are turned into data points that can be collected, surveilled, and analysed. In this way, dataveillance becomes possible in that all data concerning our life are very likely stored somewhere and can be associated with other information related to ourselves and others we know. Coupled with fast processing of AI systems, dataveillance can help the surveiller to obtain a panorama of the privacy of the surveillee and people connected with her. Privacy is susceptible to erosion in surveillance society.

The issue concerning privacy reflects the injustice between the surveiller and the surveillee. I draw on Duncan Forrester’s theological idea of justice to develop this interdisciplinary research. Forrester argues that justice is ‘a quality of relationship, it has to do with the links of obligation, responsibility and care that bind people together in society.’ Such justice must be modelled on God’s justice. Furthermore, Forrester conjoins injustice and poverty, arguing that poverty brings to light our unjust relationship with our neighbours.

Relying on Forrester’s relational account of justice, this research seeks to shed light on the way in which relational justice can be established between the surveiller and the surveillee and how obligation, responsibility and care can be built into surveillance systems. In this vein, relational justice is mediated through surveillance technology, especially AI systems, into human technomoral life.