31 October 2018
How has technology created a paradigm shift in the way we resolve disputes - and how does AI specifically impact international arbitration? DVC's Benny Lo drills down and considers various themes that emerge around this issue.
Disruptive technologies fundamentally challenge the way we do things; they can shake up an industry and beat out established competitors. We have seen examples of this with Uber disrupting conventional taxi services, language apps replacing tutors and smartphones supplanting a host of devices including MP3 players, cameras, calculators and GPS trackers.
No industry is immune and this is certainly true with the legal industry. But how has technology created a paradigm shift in the way we resolve disputes - and how does AI specifically impact international arbitration?
These were questions that were asked and answered by DVC's Dr. Benny Lo at last year's Hong Kong Arbitration Week as part of a panel discussion with Latham & Watkins, and in collaboration with Hon Ng of Uber Hong Kong on Disruptive Technologies. That event was recently reported in the October 2018 issue of HK45’s Newsletter
In the context of international arbitration, AI has not only commoditised routine tasks such as e-discovery but it has also scaled down the volume of arbitrations by usurping functions normally conducted by humans. It has also of course created new efficiencies, with the ability to take on more mundane tasks that we would slavishly pour over. Many of these tasks are known to most e.g. online platforms, cloud-based technologies, secure documents repositories, and video conferencing. However ground-breaking strides have also been made with a view to cutting down the number of disputes by utilising e.g a virtual or "Siri Lawyer" as Benny explained. He referenced examples as to how technology like WeChat is being leveraged as a tool and a conduit for frequently asked questions in maritime disputes. By enabling parties to have their questions answered in this way, WeChat educates and informs parties, and facilitates and fast-tracks the resolution of differences.
Given that arbitration is also document heavy, AI assists by reducing the time usually needed to examine documents expediting an ordinarily laborious process. In the context of international arbitration which sometimes entails a myriad of languages, AI can do away with the need to employ interpreters or translators and can produce transcripts contemporaneously.
An additional utility of AI can be seen in domain name disputes. Benny took the audience through how WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) as a dispute resolution provider approved by iCANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) dealt with 38,409 domain name cases over the course of almost two decades.
For routine or minor disputes, AI can be used to reduce costs and will likely be accepted as an alternative to speed up the international arbitration process. However, for arbitrations that involve esoteric businesses, AI may be less effective and may not be applied in the mainstream as readily. Despite the obvious advantages brought about by AI e.g. speediness, efficiency, a reduction in costs, will AI be beneficial in terms of preserving legitimacy, fairness and the integrity of arbitration? Benny suggested that it would be helpful if arbitration lawyers could collaborate with technology experts to capitalize on tools to expedite arbitration and resolve disputes more efficiently. And in this way, AI could perhaps work at the intersection of technology and arbitration rather than being seen as a possible deus ex machina solution.
By way of conclusion, there will always be risks and rewards, but Benny asked will it ever be possible to fully replace a human arbitrator?
Dr Benny Lo is a member of DVC and currently focuses his practice on civil and commercial, companies and intellectual property dispute resolution. He is active in court litigation and in international arbitrations and receives instructions to act as counsel and appointments to act as arbitrator. Before joining the legal profession, Benny had been engaged in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research, including serving as postdoctoral fellow of Nobel Laureate Sir Gregory Winter FRS researching into antibody and protein engineering technologies.