Exclusive: Why Hong Kong is so Unique in AI Industry?

By Matthew Lam   May 03, 2019 5 Min Read

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In Part 2 of HKAI Lab’s interview, Timothy Leung reveals the unique positioning of Hong Kong in AI industry! He also evaluates the impact of HKD 20 billion Lok Ma Chau Loop and the support from Hong Kong government in AI technology!

According to World Economic forum, 2 of the top 5 largest Chinese AI companies are based in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. How would you evaluate the AI development of Hong Kong compared to Shenzhen and Guangzhou? Is Hong Kong lagging behind?

Scopus is the largest database on general publication from professors, where you can track the number of publication by the individuals and universities and citations of the paper. If you search the result of 2017 on AI and the most influential countries or cities in the world in Scopus , Hong Kong ranked 3rd. If you look at the top 10 Universities in the world, two of them are in Hong Kong! I think one of the major factors is that we have many reputable professors like Professor Tang, and he is teaching in the Chinese University. A lot of people will follow those reputable professors in the field after their graduation. We see that people go to Guangdong or western countries with more career opportunities in AI. The ecosystem in Hong Kong is not matured yet and that's why HKAI LAB is trying to build that. We need to provide good job positions and the right environment for talents to stay.

Hong Kong has a unique position to be very strong in AI. With some of the largest Chinese AI companies like SenseTime, Hong Kong ranked top in the world in image recognition. On the contrary, China has a huge market and they have a huge network of universities and research institutes, as a result they have a more concentrated talent pools. I think we're not that far behind from China and I believe what Hong Kong can do is to build our own leverage.

Hong Kong also has a good base for commercializing technology. That's what HKAI LAB is about. We can help commercializing the technology yet we're not doing fundamental research. The universities will do most of the fundamental research instead.

Some of the talents from Hong Kong are attracted to southern China regions. Is it because of some economic incentives, or some support from the Chinese government?

There's a shortage of talent in AI, and the large enterprises in China such as Tencent and Alibaba are craving for these talents with attractive renumeration provided. The talents want to work for these tech giants as they can apply their knowledge in AI. In Hong Kong, we need to build that ecosystem so when they join one of the local enterprises, they can apply their learning, otherwise they will be left behind since the technology evolves everyday. AI talents are looking for these tech giants which can provide continuous education to them on evolving AI technology.

The Hong Kong government will spend HKD 20 billion to Lok Ma Chau Loop to foster FinTech development. To what extent the AI companies in Hong Kong will be benefited from this policy?

It's a good start and I think is a good sweet spot that they're hitting - finance, and Hong Kong is all about finance. FinTech is definitely one area that we can stand out.

Combining this technology with Fintech is a no brainer and that's the way to go. You'll be surprised that we don't focus in FinTech and hopefully with that HKD 20 billion to attract the talent in AI applications, we can do something good about it.

Someone with technical know-how of course is important, but understanding of the domain knowledge is also very important. Hong Kong is strong in understanding the finance not only by concept, but also the operation, execution, and the backend issue. In our Lab we have startup in FinTech, people with over 20 years trading experience, and professors teaching AI in University of Science and Technology, that is a strong combination.

Do you think Hong Kong government bring enough support to AI industry or you think Hong Kong government needs to do more to support the development for the industry?

More support is better of course! The general impact and the benefits to Hong Kong as whole can gain from AI technology is massive as AI can apply to all industries! Hong Kong can be a very successful AI hub and if we can train up a bunch of AI experts, then they can apply AI technology in other fields. FinTech is a good starting point for AI and we need continuous support in fostering AI technology. The Smart City project is a good example. It's also another way that we can use the technology in a visual way that we can use technology for the benefit of the everyone in Hong Kong.

From my experience with local enterprises, there's a fear factor of AI which AI can replace some of the existing jobs. I believe this is because people don't understand how AI works. But once you get in touch with AI every day, there's something that you feel comfortable with. The enterprises will start using it and the general public will treat AI as part of their daily lives, just like smartphones! In addition, the combination of AI and other technologies can be very powerful. I see that AI will be working together with big data science, blockchain and robotics, and all these different combinations will make our society better!

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