Lessons from Singapore – Embrace New Technology in an Ethical Way

Lessons from Singapore – Embrace New Technology in an Ethical Way


We had the privilege of joining the Microsoft stand at TechLaw.Fest on 4th, 5th and 6th April.

Brad Smith, President & CLO of Microsoft (left), with Declan Branagan, Chairman and Founder of Thread Legal

Singapore is a country that is working tirelessly to embrace technology. TechLaw.Fest was organised by the Singapore Academy of Law, whose ‘Legal Technology Vision’, and dedication to helping lawyers embrace technology was evident.

One of the key highlights of our trip was the talk by Brad Smith, President and CLO at Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft are a key technology company, and many of its platforms enable users to develop software and platforms of their own – our own Thread Legal just one example of a software solution built with Microsoft technology.

However, Brad Smith suggested that everyone needs to ask the question “not just what computers can do, but also what they should do.”

Sabina Horgan, VP of Market Development with Minister Vivian Balakrishna (left) and Chief Justice Sunaresh Meno (middle)

It is not wise to allow developers to push the limits of technology without critical thought: “We not only need a technology vision for AI, we need an ethical vision for AI,” he said.

Technology such as AI is moving out of the realms of deep technology companies, because companies such as Microsoft can provide many of the building blocks – to take our own example, Thread Legal already incorporates AI areas of our product, using Microsoft technology.

Brad Smith highlighted six key ethical principles to consider:

•  Fairness – AI is reliant on its datasets, so developers need to ensure those datasets are unbiased and promote fair decision-making
•  Reliability and Safety – product liability laws are often designed for technologies available a century ago, so updated regulation needs to be in place in order to ensure AI is extensively tested
•  Privacy and Security – gaps in current legal systems need to be identified, so that individuals can manage their own data and protect it from irresponsible or criminal use
•  Inclusiveness – those designing AI-based systems need to keep those with disabilities in mind, so that they can have a positive rather than a negative impact

Sabina Horgan, VP of Market Development, with Foo Nian Chou from the Singapore Academy of Law

For Brad, these four areas rely on two key points:

•  Transparency – those who create AI systems have a responsibility to explain how the algorithms work to those who will use or be affected by them
•  Accountability – as computers are empowered to make more decisions, designers need to ensure they remain accountable to people

As a result of Brad’s concerns, he has created a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for coders – but ultimately, he believes that AI legislation is the only way to ensure “people can have confidence that computers are making decisions in ethical ways.”

It was insightful to hear Brad’s talk. As a leader within the technology space his thoughts on future technology issues were very interesting, but as a leader within the law space what struck us was how Brad believed right legislation could ensure that AI will be a support rather than a detriment to individuals.

Sabina Horgan, VP of Market Development and Declan Branagan, Founder & Chairman with Jennifer Koo, Director Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, Microsoft Singapore (left) and Anthony Cooke, Associate General Counsel, Corporate, External & Legal Affairs, Microsoft (second from right)

We had a chance to meet Brad after his talk, and give him a demonstration of Thread Legal, our software built with Microsoft and Microsoft’s AI tools. Brad was very encouraging about the progress we have made with Thread, and the impact that our software could have on the productivity of a law firm.

The positive feedback was inspiring and we really enjoyed being a part of the Microsoft booth for the duration of the conference. We spoke with many lawyers and discussed how the Singapore legal industry is getting behind their country’s vision, actively exploring new efficient technology opportunities.

It’s also great to see that Microsoft, a worldwide technology leader, are not only developing great products that we and our clients already use, but they are also thinking about the future of technology, and ensuring it continues to enhance our lives in an ethical manner.