Artificial Intelligence (AI), Trade, and the Rule of Law

Image by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash


We cannot deny that AI is changing our lives. We have been captivated by Alpha-Go, are experiencing driverless cars, implementing smart contracts, being tempted by cryptocurrencies, and relying on AI robotics in production, distribution, and product delivery. We are witnessing, with relief, its targeted application in the development of new vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft’s Lee Hickin tells Startup Daily: “It is about how you use it. The same technology can do both good and bad things.” In fact, the AI industry has excellent potential. More than 1700 companies related to AI in the UK obtained £9.77b of equity investment from 2011.

However, the start-ups, that are unfamiliar with this field might be at a loss when facing AI-related business. Far too many questions about AI have arisen for various stakeholders: Where are we now, and where are we heading regarding AI technologies? Who is responsible for AI’s applications? How do we eliminate AI bias? How do we deal with cross-border data flows? What legal status is the most beneficial for stakeholders?

This event aimed to help structure a basic understanding of AI technology and its current legal status. At this multidisciplinary conference, scholars of prominent law institutions in Asia-Pacific and Europe, policymakers, judges, AI scientists, and entrepreneurs examined and debated the above challenges in an international context.

Image by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Panel A:

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, and Future

Professor Weidong Ji introduced the legislative background, development, and practice of computer-related laws in China. With the influence of computer science, the conception of the so-called “legal mathematics” also begins to take on a completely different meaning: algorithms as the code of conduct, and comes into being and becomes a highly valued interdisciplinary subject combining arts and science.

The basic structure of “computational law”-, a field that has interwoven the Internet of Things, big data, and Al, consists of four indispensable and complementary dimensions jurimetrics, automated reasoning data and algorithms, and cyberspace code.

Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Professor Alessio Azzutti, from the University of Hamburg, Germany, shared views on black box matters. He believes that AI is an important achievement of machine learning and big data. However, at the same time, we have to pay attention to the emergence of new legal and moral problems. AI may directly or indirectly control the market through its high-speed computing ability in business activities.

For example, Al may learn and discover both old and new manipulative strategies as an optimal and rational strategy, regardless of human intent; Al can lead to optimised algorithmic manipulative strategies.

It is worth noting that this is a challenge to traditional liability law. The law of responsibility can deal with only the acts of natural persons. In addition, enforcement authorities and human experts involved in creating, developing, using, and maintaining an Al might not foresee how “black box” Al reading will behave.

Dr. Tianxiang He, from City University of Hong Kong, China, focused on the copyright crisis brought by AI. There were two primary topics: the relationship between artificial intelligence and legal personality; and the copyright of AI products. These questions are unavoidable, but the truth is they are hard to answer. The speaker also added that data mining is a similarly important issue. Fair use is allowed, though. The problem occurs when the volume of data exceeds a specific range, as it is impossible to obtain a reasonable exemption.

These pressing issues remind us that relying on the law alone may not be enough. Establishing new frameworks beyond the law, such as digital signatures, requiring disclosure of the black-box algorithms, and other technical requirements can be considered.

At the end of this part, Dr. Guan H. Tang from the Queen Mary University of London provided a dynamic presentation on the legal protection of AI. She said that it is time for AI to gain legal dominance. The demand of commerce, infrastructure, and comprehensive utilisation in society, and the advance of cross-border movements, reactive or active, put forward such requirements. She further claimed that the most sensible way to face the future is to have an open mind.

Panel B:

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, and Future

Professor Jan Lieder introduced AI from the perspective of corporate governance to algorithm governance. AI will become a challenge for corporations and executives. Algorithms can act as directors of corporations soon, and it is a system by which companies are directed and controlled. However, it remains a long and winding road to go since AI both lacks personal liability and personal accountability in most jurisdictions. Professor Jan Lieder advocated creating a specific legal status for AI.

AI is not the end of corporate law but can significantly change the overall corporate governance system. We need to disclose information about the company’s practices concerning AI application, organisation and oversight; and potentials and risks.

Professor Oreste Pollicino from Bocconi University and Professor Giovanni DeGregorio from the University of Oxford, shared views on the challenges for digital constitutionalism. They state that law is in the process of the digital transition. The principles underlying the rule of law are under stress in the digital context. AI has facilitated innovation, producing positive effects for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Public and private actors rely on these technologies to provide public services or perform their businesses. In particular, the lack of equity, transparency, and accountability is a significant challenge.

Huiqin Jiang (Zhejiang Sci-Tech University) and Charlie Xiaochuan Weng (University of New South Wales) shared their research on China’s foreign investment regime. The promulgation of the Foreign Investment Law in 2019 helps to keep the playing field fair. For example, China applies identical tax reductions to both domestic and foreign entities equally due to the Covid 19.

They believed that China would continue to implement the principle of leveling the playing field and, with it, will continue to liberalise this foreign investment regime and optimise the legal environment for foreign investors and their investment. The playing field in China will continue to be liberalised and improved. Therefore, foreign companies or ambitious start-ups can find more opportunities in China.


AI is no longer the tool only for the leading tech companies like Google and Microsoft. A fast-growing population of start-ups is developing their own AI for new applications, including cybersecurity, self-driving cars, and essential machine learning technologies. As one of the most challenging legal topics, the legal response to AI technology has indeed inspired a diverse group of people from various industries. Scholars specialising in different fields of law, as demonstrated in this event, may give more ideas to start-ups that have or plan to have business concerning AI.

** This article was written by Yuan Zhong and Libing Yan, Intellectual Property Law LLM Candidates and members of the qLegal Public Legal Education Team at the Queen Mary University of London. **

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qLegal provides pro bono legal advice and legal education to start-ups and entrepreneurs on intellectual property, data protection, corporate and commercial law. See the qLegal website ( for more details and to book your appointment now. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for regular updates on issues relevant to your business.



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qLegal — Law clinic for entrepreneurs

qLegal — Law clinic for entrepreneurs

We provide free legal advice and resources to tech start-ups & entrepreneurs in the UK, at Queen Mary University of London. @qLegal_ on Twitter and Instagram!