Chamber in Review
Taking Hong Kong’s AI Pulse in Becoming a Smarter Digital City
Taking Hong Kong’s AI Pulse in Becoming a Smarter Digital City<br/>探討香港人工智能及智慧數碼城市發展

Google Hong Kong released three annual reports on how to develop Hong Kong into a smarter digital city from 2017 to 2019. “The question we wanted to ask was: What can make Hong Kong a smarter digital city?” explained Leonie Valentine, Managing Director, Sales & Operations, Google Hong Kong, at a Chamber webinar on 23 November.

In these surveys, there was a growing interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), so the company’s 2020 report – “Smarter Digital City - AI for Everyone” – focuses on Hong Kong’ AI adoption and readiness. 

Valentine noted that there is enormous potential for the public and private sectors to work together on education and reskilling. Google aims to promote digital skilling through various platforms and programmes, which include the machine learning platform “TensorFlow”, “Google for Start-ups” programme which supports entrepreneurs, and “CS First”, a free coding education programme with learning materials in both English and Cantonese. 

James O’Callaghan, Head of Technology Consulting, Hong Kong at KPMG China, gave a deeper dive into the report. 

He introduced the new “AI Readiness Index,” which has five components: know-how, confidence, set up, usage and spending. In general, the survey found that confidence and acceptance were high among Hong Kong residents, with 54% seeing AI brings benefits. Usage was also high, but this was mostly due to implicit usage, such as video and music streaming or route finding.  

O’Callaghan said that Hong Kong residents need to better understand the benefits before they accept using AI more in their daily lives. “In terms of barriers to acceptance, there is no surprise. Around 49% said it was around personal data being used without knowledge and permission,” he added. “There needs to be more transparency around the data.”

Moving on to business readiness, he said there are still a lot of opportunities for growth. 

“Businesses are optimistic about AI and they believe in its potential, but usage is low,” O’Callaghan said. “For both corporates and SMEs, the journey to cloud is relatively slow and companies are still learning about how to use their data.”

Looking at specific industry sectors, the financial sector has both positives and negatives when it comes to AI adoption.

“Financial services companies are used to working with data and they see its value. But because they are highly regulated and they don’t necessarily have a culture of innovation, they don’t have the ‘fail fast’ mentality.” 

The travel & logistics and retail sectors had relatively low AI readiness, according to Google’s report. But overall, around 78% of businesses in Hong Kong believe that AI will have a positive impact on their businesses. 

Closing the talent gap is also an issue. While businesses say there is a shortage of skilled people, many Hong Kong residents are keen to learn about AI and ML, as they want to understand how these technologies impact their lives. 

O’Callaghan suggested that companies should focus on reskilling and education. SMEs could access the talent and resources available from their alliance partner and the wider ecosystem while they are building their own capabilities. 

Also at the event, Eddie Azadi, Executive Creative Director at Google, introduced the “Ho Jeng AR” app that enables users to bring a range of Hong Kong-themed AR characters to life, which include fish ball, milk tea, the cross-harbour ferry and bronze lion. 

“There are so many ways to use AI and ML that are useful and even fun,” Azadi said. 

Valentine said she hoped that Ho Jeng AR can enable citizens to rediscover the city’s vibe, appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong, and more importantly spread the positivity and boost the well-being of family and friends. “We want to take innovation from Hong Kong to the rest of the world,” she said. “Ho Jeng AR is an example of that: something we built for Hong Kong and that we want to bring to other markets.”