Dentons Rodyk Dialogue 2022

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The Dentons Rodyk Dialogue 2022, the sixth of its series, is co-organised by Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP and the Singapore Management University (SMU) under the auspices of the SMU Yong Pung How School of Law’s Centre for Commercial Law in Asia. This year marks the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that we were able to host a full in-person audience of more than 200 attendees, with many more live viewers tuning in virtually from more than a dozen different countries. This year’s Dialogue focused on maximising the commercial opportunities and profound societal benefits brought about by digitalisation, while effectively minimizing the often unforeseen and inadvertent risks and consequences digitalisation has on society and the environment.

The Dialogue featured the Guest-of-Honour Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information; Professor Timothy Clark, Provost of the SMU; Mr Glenn Gore, Group CEO of LemmaTree and Affinidi; Professor Locknie Hsu, Professor of the SMU Yong Pung How School of Law; Professor Lee Pey Woan, Dean of the SMU Yong Pung How School of Law SMU; and our very own Senior Partners – Mr Gerald Singham, Global Vice-Chair and ASEAN CEO of Dentons Rodyk, Mr Gilbert Leong, Head of Dentons Rodyk’s Intellectual Property and Technology practice group, and Mr Hsu Li Chuan, Co-Head of Dentons Rodyk’s Fintech/Blockchain practice group.

Managing the Benefits and Risks of a Digitalised World

As part of their respective opening addresses, Professor Clark and Mr Singham spoke of the rapid digitalisation that has been reshaping the world and the global paradigm shift towards harnessing technology to transform work, business and social life.

Mr Singham shared how the global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitalisation which has led to new commercial opportunities and profound societal benefits. However, he noted that this has also highlighted issues such as unequal access to technology and increased risks to cyber-attacks. Similarly, Professor Clark highlighted the dangers which have risen alongside the advance of digitalisation such as the erosion of privacy and the manifestation of other societal inequalities. In his concluding remarks, he maintained that the way forward is for the world to harness the potentials of the digital world while keeping its dangers in check.

Building a Safer Digital World Through Effective Policies

Minister Teo stressed that the government must respond to opportunities and risks in the digital realm by taking gradual steps in policy implementation. This is done by bringing together different groups and partners to ensure regulatory frameworks remain relevant and holistic. She also highlighted that no single entity would have an all-encompassing solution. As such, Minister Teo emphasised the importance of collaborating and engaging various stakeholders as the way forward to tackle these online threats given the borderless nature of the digital domain.

Minister Teo also spoke on how Singapore should adopt an agile approach to react to emerging technologies and underlined the importance of building a trusted environment, highlighting the recent Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill as an example of the Singapore Government’s ongoing efforts to ensure safety and safe content for online users.

A Regional Perspective on the Digital Economy – Trade, Technology and Inclusiveness

Professor Locknie provided a regional perspective on digital economy, trade, and inclusiveness, and explored the various tensions faced in light of the digitalised world. For instance, there is a need to balance one’s access to goods, services, and experience, and one’s online safety in data protection and cybersecurity laws, and to find an optimal degree of innovation and regulatory oversight.

Professor Locknie further highlighted the numerous legal and practical challenges faced in ASEAN such as the fragmentation and lack of clarity of rules, businesses’ compliance and digitalisation costs, and cybersecurity issues, and how these can be addressed through Trade and Digital Economy Agreements.

Unforeseen Circumstances and Future Disruptions

As a key industry player who has thrived through multiple disruptions brought about by the digital world, Mr Gore shared an industry perspective on the phenomenon of a decentralised world and the transformation of digital systems in the future. He explained that while digital ownership should be shifted back to the individual, this would inevitably result in unintended consequences which cannot be predicted and cited the example of how social media inadvertently led to the problem of fake news and toxic behaviour.

Mr Gore proceeded to address various social issues which may arise as a result of the decentralised world. For instance, he explained how future generations may be desensitised to the analog world and may be unnaturally influenced by artificial intelligence in the metaverse instead. Another interesting point that Mr Gore raised was on how would the next generation’s assets be managed in a classic will, given that the bulk of their assets would likely be in a digital format and/or in the metaverse. This is an area which is worth looking into as to how it can be appropriately addressed and developed in terms of the law.

Navigating the Future

As part of a panel discussion moderated by Mr Leong, Mr Gore, Professor Locknie, and Mr Hsu, shared their robust insights on thought-provoking questions submitted by the audience. Amongst other topics, the panel explored the increasingly blurred lines between the analog world and the virtual world, the capacity for existing laws to tackle new and unforeseen circumstances, the ethical duties of different stakeholders in relation to data protection and privacy issues, and censorship on Twitter.

One of the key takeaways from the engaging panel discussion was that despite advances in the digitalised world, human interaction remains a crucial aspect moving forward and should not be replaced by artificial intelligence. In their concluding remarks, the panel were in agreement that human interaction in the analog world is an invaluable experience which ultimately cannot be obtained in a fully virtual world.

Transformation Grounded in Purpose and Responsibility

Professor Lee then closed the Dialogue by thanking the speakers for providing a national and regional overview of the pressing issues arising from digitalisation and a glimpse of the many possibilities that lie in the future. Professor Lee also shared how the SMU Yong Pung How School of Law was embracing such change – the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Data Governance is leading cutting-edge research on key aspects digital economy and governance frameworks, and the Centre for Computation Law is working with programmers to develop novel technological applications for the legal community.

Crucially, Professor Lee emphasised the need for the transformation brought about by technology to be grounded in purpose and responsibility, even as business, work, education and home life are taken in new directions.

The Dentons Rodyk Dialogue 2022 thoroughly explored the real and pressing issues we face in the digital world we live in and has also given us a glimpse of what is to come. This age of rapid digitalisation promises a bright new world with limitless opportunities to be seized. At the same time, these benefits come with their attendant risks and unforeseen outcomes that we must be prepared to manage. There is a clear tension between innovation and regulation, as well as the allure of decentralisation and the need for effective, credible, and authoritative governance. Mastering this balance will certainly be key in our bid to build a safe and inclusive digital world together.

Dentons Rodyk thanks and acknowledges Associates Lydia Yeow, Mavis Tan and Eugene Pang for their contributions to this article.

November 16, 2022

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