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Justice Goh Yihan: Address at the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts


“Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence – A View from Singapore”

Saturday, 20 April 2024

Address by the The Honourable Justice Goh Yihan

Supreme Court of Singapore

1.               Good morning. I am delighted to share with you Singapore’s perspective on Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) generally as a national strategy, and specifically in the handling and resolution of disputes.

2.               In December 2023, Singapore launched its second National AI Strategy. This represents Singapore’s commitment to realise the benefits of AI. In furtherance of that strategy, the Singapore Government announced in February 2024 that it will invest $1bn in AI over the next five years.

3.               As part of the National Strategy, the Government has committed to ensuring that AI is developed and used responsibly, in line with the rule of law. For example, in January 2024, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (or IMDA) expanded on the existing framework to create a new model AI governance framework for generative AI.

4.               These measures to promote the responsible use of AI will certainly lead to cases before the Singapore courts. But for now, there have been relatively few cases involving AI and related technologies. In 2020, the Singapore Court of Appeal, on appeal from the Singapore International Commercial Court, decided a case involving the algorithmic trading of cryptocurrencies. In that case, Quoine v B2C2 Ltd,(1) Quoine had failed to implement certain updates to its algorithmic programme. This led to the conclusion of the disputed trades by B2C2’s algorithmic trading software. When Quoine became aware of these trades, it cancelled them. B2C2 sued Quoine. The central issue was whether Quoine could justify its cancellation by the contractual doctrine of unilateral mistake. The Court decided that the doctrine could void a contract if the programmer knew that the counterparty was operating under a mistake. However, because the programmer had not programmed B2C2’s algorithm to take advantage of Quoine’s inadvertent failure to implement the needed updates, Quoine’s reliance on mistake failed. In addition, the General Division of the Singapore High Court has heard cases about whether a non-fungible token can amount to property, for the purpose of granting a proprietary injunction.

5.               These cases are likely to be the first of other AI-related cases to come. For example, the question of whether AI systems should have legal rights, such as being recognised as the inventor of certain patents, is likely to confront the Singapore courts just as similar questions have been asked in other jurisdictions. This is because the Singapore Patents Act 1994 is similar to legislation that has been considered elsewhere. Similarly, the question of how to ascribe liability for harms caused by AI systems is also likely to arise. The Singapore Land Transport Authority (or LTA) has approved the testing of autonomous vehicles by private operators in Singapore. As these trials expand in scale, the courts may need to deal with liability questions at some point. The Singapore Law Reform Committee has in September 2020 issued a report on the attribution of civil liability in accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

6.               Apart from its impact on substantive law, AI is already affecting how the Singapore courts deal with disputes before them. In August 2023, the Singapore courts signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Harvey to develop a generative AI programme that aims to help users of the Small Claims Tribunal. It is hoped that this will answer legal queries, help users prepare their case for hearing, and even provide a preliminary assessment of the likely outcome of cases. This may be expanded to other areas including civil claims. It is also clear that law firms will increasingly rely on AI tools, rather than junior lawyers or paralegals, for basic legal tasks. The impact of such adoption on the Singapore legal profession remains to be seen but Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has recently observed that we are in the midst of a profound and far-reaching transformation of litigation in Singapore.

7.               In sum, it is clear that AI will continue to influence the development of law and legal practice in commercial disputes within Singapore.

8.               Thank you.

(1)      Quoine Pte Ltd v B2C2 Ltd [2020] 2 SLR 20.

Topics: Speech

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