The South China Morning Post (SCMP) began a recent article on a rather optimistic note when it called for a potential alliance between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and education in Hong Kong. This potential alliance could have a riveting impact on the minds of millions and possibly influence generations of humans to come. So, does AI really have the capacity to make such a colossal impact on the minds of men? The UN Charter did make a significant impact in a similar capacity when it eloquently read that it was in the minds of the men that the sees of war germinated and it is those very minds that the sees of peace will also have their genesis.

When we talk about social impact, does technology have that value laden power to initiate progress and change? This is the fundamental question that we need to answer. HongKong has led the way for us to initiate an investigation and through the contours of this short article I will try and answer this question while assessing the social impact of AI in HongKong (HK). AI for social good is a highfalutin concept that has its potential benefits and drawbacks. This is an important point to internalize and remember. In a mad rush to draw benefits from the AI revolution, countries have forgotten its true purpose.

It is therefore possible for city states like HK to showcase the true potential of AI by using it for research and innovation. It is definitely possible for Hong Kong to use the Taiwanese example to reduce traffic snarls and enhance public services. The Taiwanese are now equipped and trained to pay their bills by using an application. It has been reported by the SCMP that though the HK government wants to use AI to increase transparency, it has been considerably slow in using AI for social good. The Asia Pacific region provides the world with an ocean of opportunity but its real impact is yet to be totally ascertained. Hong Kong has not explored the true potential of AI, it still lags behind other Asian economies like China and India in the AI sector. Hong Kong has performed below expectations in the Asia Business Council’s Asian Index of Artificial Intelligence, which assesses the potential of Asian economies to embrace AI in the future. China topped the overall ranking with a big lead while Singapore and India have followed behind. Hong Kong is quite far behind on the list.

While Google has set aside a whopping sum of $25 million to fund research in AI, its larger social impact continues to be unknown. While some countries and city states have latched on to the opportunity with open arms like China and Dubai, others like Japan and HK have been comparatively slower. Despite being a hub for financial services, HK has not embraced AI with its full might despite societies like the Artificial Intelligence Society coming up in the country. Hong Kong does not have the necessary infrastructure to develop AI since not too many companies invest in AI within the country. Though Hong Kong is a trilingual region with people having expertise in English, Mandarin and Cantonese which can be an asset for the people of Hong Kong, it is yet to be seen how AI comes to become an elaborate part of the daily existence of the people.

Hong Kong has not embraced AI for a variety of reasons. Hong Kong unlike China does not have students who take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) on a regular basis. At the same time, there is no clear cut policy in place that has been initiated by the government to enhance AI in the country though talks are on about giving financial and tax incentives to leading companies and the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Nicholas W Yang, feels that Hong Kong is well positioned to emerge as an AI hub. In a speech given at the  Hong Kong International Artificial Intelligence (AI) Summit in November 2018, he had humbly stated that AI and its use was growing in Hong Kong with “Industry in Hong Kong starting to develop products and services based on AI, such as computer vision and cloud computing platforms in the areas of facial recognition, large-scale semantic image segmentation and classification.” At the same time, he added that a local unicorn, SenseTime was given the given the responsibility to create the “National Open Innovation Platform for Next Generation Artificial Intelligence on Intelligent Vision” following the footsteps of Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and iFlyTek in China. The Hong Kong Science Park is also being built simultaneously where a research cluster focusing on AI and robotics technologies will be located. The fact that Hong Kong is finally opening up to the world of AI can be gauged from the fact that leading media professionals in Hong Kong have expressed their support for AI by saying that AI can be used to detect cancer in the near future. As we know, AI will be an asset for the future generations and Hong Kong is taking tiny but pivotal steps in embracing AI. The AI revolution is growing slowly and steadily in Hong Kong and it is just a matter of time before it grips the pulse of the nation.

This piece is written by Anuttama Banerji. Anuttama is Associate Researcher at Govern.

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