In October 2017, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region executive head, Carrie Lam, called Hong Kong an “international hub for innovation and technology.” In a speech, she pledged to increase the region’s financial support for research and development, and to create institutions and a scholarship program that would attract the best PhD students. As the entire world competes to develop the most innovative Artificial Intelligence (AI), Hong Kong is serious about staking its claim.
Evidence to the contrary
In September 2017, the Asian Business Council ranked Hong Kong sixth in the Asian Index of Artificial Intelligence. This ranking measures two things: how compatible and prepared a country’s economy is for AI, and how resilient its society and economy is to AI progress. Of the eight Asian countries studied, China ranked first, ahead of Singapore, India and Hong Kong. Effectively, the island has relatively few startups focusing on AI and not many students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics in high-ranking universities.
However, the special administrative region’s universities have produced a significant body of AI literature. In this regard, the island ranks as the third most productive country behind the United States and Singapore. In addition, Hong Kong’s huge service sector – it represents 92% of the economy – would make AI beneficial in terms of employment, according to an Asian Business Council report.
On paper, Hong Kong isn’t the world’s – nor Asia’s – AI leader. However, since the Asian Business Council report, its government has put a number of funding initiatives and incentives in place. A Medef report explains that in late 2017, the government launched an investment fund worth 1 billion Hong Kong dollars to finance R&D, technology transfer and Open Innovation projects. In addition, many incubators specializing in AI and machine learning have established themselves on the island, like Zeroth.ai, the first incubator in Asian AI. Along with Singapore, Hong Kong is seen as fertile ground for startups.
Moreover, Hong Kong’s economy, which is very much geared towards finance, is conducive to stimulating AI players. According to Martin Haring, Finastra’s marketing director, the island could even take a step further and involve banks and financial companies. Haring believes AI could be particularly decisive in the fight against fraud and money laundering, as well as help automate procedures and improve customer experience.
AI benefits from a favorable environment in Hong Kong. Many world players have thus established themselves there. Since 2017, SenseTime has become one of Hong Kong’s few unicorns (with a market value exceeding 1 billion dollars). Specialized in AI (deep learning and digital vision), it could serve as the spearhead of the sector on the island, as the site Technode explains. The Chinese giant Huawei also installed an AI research laboratory in Hong Kong in 2012 – Huawei Noah’s Ark Lab. In November 2016, Ulyces conducted an interview with Sentient Technologies co-founder and CEO, Antoine Blondeau. His company – partly based in Hong Kong – is often touted as the largest artificial intelligence platform in the world. At the time, Ulyces wrote that the people of Sentient “totaled $143 million in investments. This is the largest fundraising event by a private company in the field of AI.” Finally, we can’t forget Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, the ultra-realistic humanoid robot considered the most human-like robot ever conceived to this day. All these companies have revolutionized AI with their inspired and inspiring technologies.
Can we go so far as to say that Hong Kong has become the world capital of AI? Maybe we can. Despite its official ranking in the artificial intelligence sector, the island’s political and economic initiatives, the presence of many powerful and innovative companies and an increased awareness of future efforts could well make Hong Kong one of the world’s most important AI hubs.