University of Otago emblem    Philosophy


photo of Maclaurin
C0-director Centre for AI and Public Policy
Strategic Academic Advisor (Humanities)
  • PhD ANU (1998)
  • MA Victoria (1994)
  • BA (Hons) Victoria (1992)


James is a philosopher of science with particular interest in computing and information science (particularly artificial intelligence and its impact on humanity) and in the life sciences (especially ecology and evolutionary biology). He is a graduate of Victoria University of Wellington and his PhD is from the Australian National University (RSSS). He has taught at the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and Victoria University of Wellington where he was a Marsden Post Doctoral Fellow. He is a co-director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Public Policy. He was appointed University Public Orator in 2019.

He is an organiser (with Colin Gavighan and Ali Knott) of the University of Otago’s Artificial Intelligence and Society Group as well as a PI with Colin and Ali on the “Artificial Intelligence and Law in New Zealand” project funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. His other research centres on Philosophy of Biology (where he has written on innateness, fitness, theoretical morphology, and biological diversity) and on the application of evolutionary principles in other domains such as philosophy of time, computer science and economics. He has also written on metaphilosophy. He is co-author with Kim Sterelny of What is Biodiversity? (University of Chicago Press); co-author of Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence (MIT Press). He is an affiliate of the Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago.

For examples of his popular writing and speaking, see Applied Philosophy: Wait. What?, How to have an argument with someone you just don’t get and Eight job myths about Artificial Intelligence.