University of Otago emblem    Department of Philosophy


photo of Zerilli
  • PhD ANU (2017)
  • MA Sydney (2012)
  • LLM Cambridge (2009)


John qualified as a lawyer before clerking for the President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. After a small stint as an instructing solicitor for the Director of Public Prosecutions, and two years as a solicitor in private practice, he went to Cambridge where he wrote the top-ranking thesis of his year on the philosophy of law. John also submitted a dissertation in theoretical biology and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. Called to the bar in 2011, he left a year and a half later when, having turned down an offer to pursue graduate biology in Milan at the European School of Molecular Medicine, he decided to undertake doctoral studies at the Australian National University in cognitive science and philosophy (working with Kim Sterelny and Tori McGeer). His dissertation is entitled Neuroplasticity, neural reuse, and the language module, which revisits the notion of a cognitive module in light of recent advances in neuroscience, and evaluates the prospects for a hardwired and dedicated "language module." His thesis was submitted in August 2017. Since then, John’s interests have shifted increasingly towards Artificial Intelligence and computer science, and the legal and ethical challenges posed by emerging predictive technologies. He works with Associate Professors James Maclaurin (philosophy), Ali Knott (computer science) and Colin Gavaghan (law) on the New Zealand Law Foundation’s “Artificial Intelligence and Law in New Zealand” project.