Hong Kong and artificial intelligence can be a winning combination

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 10:49pm

Your online poll, “Should Hong Kong schools change the way children are taught in the age of AI?” was an excellent conversation starter about Hong Kong’s place in the burgeoning global scene for artificial intelligence technology.

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents agreed education should change, yet agreeing how and what should change is a different matter. AI and its social implications are often greatly misunderstood, and, as a founder of Hong Kong’s premier machine learning (ML) and AI training provider, there’s one myth I’d particularly like to squash.

The greatest misconception I hear is the belief that replacing humans in skilled labour roles requires generalised intelligence – AI which can emulate every aspect of human intelligence.

Generalised intelligence supposedly distinguishes man from machine, yet, in truth, intelligence itself is a loosely defined concept.

Just a handful of years ago, Macau’s facial recognition ATMs would have been considered incredibly intelligent. Now that social media can automatically tag friends, we are less impressed. What we called magic we now call science, what we considered to require intellect we eventually see as self-evident.

Intelligence – for man and machine alike – is an ever-evolving and contextually dependent target.

Many not in the field would say that an AI which only performs one function is not intelligent, yet we still consider a human who excels as a writer but proves clueless as a mathematician as intelligent. Our fixation with generalised intelligence is misleading – its existence is not only fuzzy, it’s not necessary for AI to revolutionise the workplace as we know it.

Many of the skilled jobs which power Hong Kong’s modern economy will be virtually non-existent in five to 10 years.

AI has its risks, but if embraced rather than resisted, it can offset many of its more disruptive effects. AI can improve schooling, such as the educational chatbot platform my team built in a recent hackathon, and training a generation of AI developers represents an incredible opportunity for Hong Kong to become a regional leader in the economy of the future.

My co-founder Dhruv Sahi and I are trying to do just that, offering machine learning and AI training in classrooms which make use of ML and AI to improve teaching, personalise learning, and refine our curriculum.

With the right approach, and an unwavering focus on just how much is at stake, Hong Kong can not only just survive the coming changes, but thrive on them.

Matt O’Connor, co-founder Reboot.ai