Poverty, development, citizenship, social cohesion, nationalism and so on are timeless and pertinent aspects and issues of our society that are relevant to all disciplines.

LSE100 ran a single module during the 2019/20 academic year. This module was taken during the Michaelmas Term (MT) by second year students and during the Lent Term (LT) by first year students. The module was as follows: 

Can we control AI? | A case study of systems thinking

Module overview

Rapid technological advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are augmenting our ability to solve previously intractable problems, fundamentally changing society in ways that are both thrilling and terrifying. The same tools which could tackle social problems, automate burdensome tasks, and optimize systems can be used to threaten freedom, physical safety, and economic security of people worldwide. Will AI transform society for the better, or will it simply reinforce existing systems and relationships, further embedding biases, inequalities, and structures of power? Who decides? Can we harness the power of AI for good? You can watch a trailer for the course material below:

Can We Control AI? Can We Control AI?

In this module, we will explore the ways in which social systems could be transformed by technological change. Using 'systems thinking' tools for directing change, we will analyse the impact of AI on systems such as transportation, the labour market, criminal justice, and global security. In the process, you will gain expertise in the tools of systems thinking, and continue to broaden your intellectual experience and deepen your critical understanding of your own discipline as you test theories, evidence and ideas from different disciplinary perspectives. You will also develop your research, communication, teamwork and leadership skills as you apply your intellect and creativity to the challenge of directing technological change. 

Key concepts:

  • Systems thinking

  • Systems change

  • Machine learning

  • Algorithmic bias

  • Discriminatory design

  • Dual-use technology

  • Privacy

  • Automated decision-making

  • Automation

  • Algorithmic bias

  • Black box problem

Module Contributors


Martin Anthony


 Professor Martin Anthony, from the Department of Mathematics discusses the foundations of machine learning, addresses key mathematical questions about what AI systems can and cannot do, and examines why developments in big data and computational power have made machine learning such an important technology for social scientists to investigate.


Charlie Beckett

Professor Charlie Beckett, Professor of Practice in the Department of Media and Communications and Director of Polis and the Polis/LSE JournalismAI project, discusses the threats and opportunities AI presents to journalism, media and public trust. He tackles the challenge of how AI shapes our interactions with news, and outlines what regulation might look like for online information platforms.


Professor Christopher Coker, Director of LSE IDEAS and Professor in the Department of International Relations, discusses how recent technological shifts in warfare represent a change in the character, rather than the nature, of war. He outlines how AI will shape the future of violent conflict and explains why he thinks current attempts to ban the use of autonomous weapons are doomed to fail.

Eugenie Dogoua

Dr Eugenie Dugoua, Assistant Professor in Environmental Economics in the Department of Geography and Environment, discusses AI as a general purpose technology with a wide range of applications across different segments of the economy, bringing with it the potential for innovation and productivity spillovers in various sectors. She also highlights the role of AI in transportation, explaining how self-driving cars may lead to greater efficiency but with the potential consequence of putting more people in cars rather than on public transit. 


Dr Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications, discusses the importance of considering both the challenges and opportunities AI presents for our everyday lives, from AI-enabled healthcare to algorithmic decision-making in the criminal justice system. She outlines the potential implications of AI on the future of democracy and public safety, using recent policy developments around the use of facial recognition in American cities as a case study.


Marissa Kemp, PhD Candidate in the Department of International Relations, outlines the current trajectory of lethal autonomous weapons systems and identifies some of the state-of-the-art AI tools that are being used and tested on today’s battlefields. She discusses some of the major challenges that could arise when increasingly automated systems are used in warfare, highlighting the social implications of these lethal technologies.


Dr Kari Koskinen, LSE Fellow in the Department of Management, discusses the technical specifications of self-driving cars and compares the public’s understanding of autonomous vehicle technology with the current limitations and restrictions on vehicles that truly drive themselves. He uses Tesla’s Autopilot program as a case study to highlight how AI technologies enable autonomous modes of driving, but only in highly specific situations and environments.



Dr Grace Lordan, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, discusses the costs and benefits of automation in the labour market and tackles the key question of what might happen to the workforce of the future if AI-driven technologies have automated certain jobs. She explains how automation may act as both a complement and a substitute for employees of some sectors, making future employment trends difficult to predict.


Professor Andrew Murray, from the Department of Law discusses a range of issues related to AI and the law, including existing and future regulation of AI technologies, the role of tech giants in the development of the AI industry, and how algorithmic decision-making systems are being used in law enforcement and criminal justice. Professor Murray explains the need for intergovernmental collaboration and shared understandings of what constitutes acceptable use of AI and what its limits might be.


Dr Alison Powell, Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications, discusses the key stakeholders of the AI industry and the economic interests driving these actors to collect and analyse huge amounts of data. She examines the demographic profiles of those working in the AI industry, highlighting the lack of diversity within tech companies and the challenge of gender bias within machine learning development and implementation.


Dr James Rising, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, discusses the role of artificial intelligence technologies in shaping every aspect of human life. He highlights how AI is changing the ways humans interact and communicate, how machine learning algorithms have made it easier to find and share information, and how businesses are using AI to run their operations more efficiently. 


Baroness Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, discusses the effects of AI-driven automation on our society, economy and politics, outlining how a digital revolution is likely to create new winners and losers due to the changing nature of the job market. She examines the political implications of AI and considers whether automation may be a key driver of rising populist sentiment.


Dr Chris Tennant, Visiting Fellow in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, discusses the role of autonomous vehicles in changing how we think about transportation, urban life and infrastructure. He outlines the ethical challenges of driverless cars, using the trolley problem to consider how we might be able to program moral decision-making into AI-enabled machines.


Dr Savvas Verdis, Senior Research Fellow and Co-Director of the Executive MSc in Cities at LSE Cities, outlines the systems thinking approach. He discusses how using tools and concepts of systems thinking help us to understand how complex systems change, allow us to see where interventions might shape such systems, and consider whether the introduction of new factors such as AI could engender small-scale disruptions or wholesale transformation of the system. 


Dr Edgar Whitley, Associate Professor of Information Systems in the Department of Management, discusses issues of privacy and digital identity in the era of big data. He outlines how biometric data is used for digital identification, considers the lack of transparency around the collection of data to train machine learning algorithms, and tackles the question of whether AI developers’ use of data can be effectively regulated.

Leslie Willcocks

Professor Leslie Willcocks, Professor of Work, Technology and Globalisation in the Department of Management, outlines the need for social scientists to debunk terminology around artificial intelligence and instead focus on the specific techniques of machine learning and algorithmic processing that are being widely deployed across different sectors. He discusses current discourse around automation as a so-called ‘job killer’ and considers how technologies of automation may shape future economic trends.




Previous Modules

Wicked Problems in Food Security

LSE100 ran a food security module in 2018/19 taken by second year students in MT 2018 and first year students in LT 2019. The module was as follows:

After a decade of decline, we are now witnessing rising global hunger. Over 10% of the world’s population has been described as food insecure. This module approaches food security as an example of a ‘wicked problem’ - a class of social challenges characterised by causal complexity, global interconnection, and widespread disagreement about both the nature of the problem and the potential solutions. This term, we will explore the globally interconnected food system, the complex interplay of individual, national and global interests, and the interdependence of food security with environmental degradation, conflict and inequality.

Throughout the module, we will use Tableau, a leading data visualisation software package, to develop data visualisation and analysis skills, harnessing large-scale datasets to investigate and then communicate the food security situation of a specific case study. To understand and begin to address this wicked problem, you will exercise your creativity, flexibility and leadership abilities, whilst acquiring technical skill-sets in data science and critical thinking which are essential for effective engagement in the world.

Module Contributors


james abdey

Dr James Abdey, Statistics



Prof Tim Allen, International Development


Ruth Bates, Saatchi & Saatchi


ken benoit

Prof Kenneth Benoit, Methodology


alex de waal

Prof Alex de Waal, International Development



Prof Roman Frigg, Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method



Ian Harris, Z/Yen



Dr Ruth Kattumuri, India Observatory



Prof Irini Moustaki, Statistics



Dr Kasia Paprocki, Geography & Environment



Dr Kiran Phull, International Relations



Dr Ganga Shreedhar, Psychological & Behavioural Science



Dr Alessandro Tavoni, Grantham Institute




The Future of Democracy

LSE100 ran a module focused on the future of democracy in 2017 taken by second-year students in MT 2017. The module was as follows: 

“Democracy is fragile, and no one can say with certainty that it can withstand the manifold risks to which it is now exposed.”  –  Bill Moyers, 15 December 2017

As populist movements surge, voter participation rates decline, and leaders with authoritarian leanings achieve unprecedented levels of support in Western countries, growing numbers of scholars are arguing that democracy is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. Is democracy in decline? Can it be strengthened and improved, or should it be replaced with a different system of governance?

In the coming weeks we will consider democracy as a case study for understanding social change, and the challenges that social scientists and other stakeholders often face in recognizing macro-level change even as it happens around us.

Module Contributors


Dr Nick Anstead, Media & Communications

anne appkebaum

Prof Anne Applebaum, Institute of Global Affairs



Dr Mukulika Banerjee, Anthropology



Dr Antonia Dawes, Sociology



Prof AC Grayling, New College of the Humanities



Prof Sonia Livingstone, OBE, Media & Communications



Dr Neil McLean, Language Centre



Prof Francisco Panizza, Government




Should markets be constrained or unleashed?

In LT2018, LSE100 ran a module on the markets taken by first year students. The module was as follows: 

Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ (The Wealth of Nations 1776) has long served as the theoretical bedrock of modern economic theory, but in a world still bearing scars from the 2008 financial crash, this orthodoxy has come under question. Do free markets unequivocally increase social welfare? Whose interests are furthered by economic globalisation and its attendant neoliberal ideologies? Emerging critiques challenge established understandings of the role of free markets in economic growth and wealth creation. Are we witnessing the death of an ideology that has shaped mainstream Western economic policy since the Cold War?  Or can faith in free markets be re-invigorated through new institutional arrangements?

The module opens with economic perspectives on markets and their management. We then examine how behavioural economics and regulatory theory focus on individual agency, and the protection of consumers against the vagaries of the market. We explore the embeddedness of markets in social and cultural contexts, and their potential to reinforce, or conversely to undermine, structural inequalities. Finally, we examine contemporary debates in political philosophy and legal studies on the ethics, and feasibility of managing, markets in body parts and services:  Should we be able to buy and sell kidneys? Is commercial surrogacy acceptable?  What kind of limits, if any, should there be on markets?


Module Contributors



Prof Sir Charles Bean, Economics



Prof Nigel Dodd, Sociology



Prof Paul Dolan, Psychological & Behavioural Science


suzanne hall

Dr Suzanne Hall, Sociology



Dr Keyu Jin, Economics



Prof Martin Lodge, Government



Prof Anne Phillips, Government



Prof Alex Voorhoeve, Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method