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Artificial intelligence

We must prepare for the AI revolution

More than a quarter of Hong Kong’s work force is said to be vulnerable to automation. The government has a role to play in not only minimising the shock waves that will arise but also in making the most of the technology

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 11:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 11:55pm

If the internet was the major change for humanity following the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the application of artificial intelligence is perhaps the next transformation.

Last week’s headline, “Robots could take a million local jobs by 2038”, may sound incredible or even be seen as scaremongering.

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But human resources being replaced by artificial intelligence will be an inevitable trend we have to reckon with. It is perhaps time we put more thought into the implications and the corresponding actions needed to help cope with the challenge.

If the study by the One Country, Two Systems Research Institute is any reference, more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s workforce, including secretaries and accountants, is vulnerable to automation.

Jobs that are considered safer include doctors, nurses, teachers, architects and journalists. In light of the threat, the Beijing-friendly think tank called for a comprehensive innovation and technology development strategy.

That technology has made more jobs obsolete is just a reality. Typists, bus conductors and phone operators have become jobs of the past, and will soon be joined by factory and warehouse workers, bank tellers and cashiers.

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News agencies and websites are already using computer-assisted writing and information-gathering software.

Elsewhere, automated drug dispensing and robotic carers have become more common. While AI-based technology is likely to eliminate more positions, it will also create new ones. Whichever way, it is going to redefine work and livelihood.

We fret about losing out as the world embraces innovation and technology as the new engine of economic growth.

The administration, to its credit, has stepped up efforts on this front. Successive governments have also stressed the need to better prepare for our fast ageing population.

However, little has been said about the impact brought by the growing application of artificial intelligence across different spheres of life.

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The subtle yet far-reaching economic and social restructuring is not given the attention it deserves.

The government has a role to play. Making the most of technology is just as important as minimising the shock waves that arise. Our future depends on how well we prepare for the AI revolution.