Artificial intelligence

One million Hongkongers could lose their job to AI over next 20 years, study finds

Secretaries, accountants and auditors among those who face 70 per cent chance of losing out to machines, but prospects are even more dire in the United States, Britain and Japan, think tank says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 11:36pm

More than one million Hongkongers are at risk of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence over the next two decades, according to a new study by a local think tank.

The One Country Two Systems Research Institute on Tuesday unveiled research which estimates about 28 per cent of the city’s 3.7 million jobs are vulnerable to automation.

These workers, which include secretaries, accountants and auditors, face a 70 per cent chance of being substituted for machines before 2038, the pro-Beijing research unit said.

But Hong Kong employees face a lower risk of encroachment from AI compared to their counterparts in other advanced economies such as the United States, Britain and Japan.

The brighter forecast for the city was due to its economic structure, which included a smaller manufacturing sector, research officer Kristine Yang said.

At least 36 per cent of the jobs in these three countries are in danger of disappearing, according to previous studies.

But the researchers warned that Hong Kong’s four so-called pillar industries – financial services, trading and logistics, tourism and professional services – would still confront a relatively severe threat from AI.

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“We have to change our industry structures proactively,” research director Joe Fang Zhou said. “We have to change the workforce allocation in these industries in order to welcome the era of AI.”

The study, conducted by the institute along with Dr Paul Duckworth, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, suggested jobs requiring higher levels of creativity and social intelligence would stand the greatest chance of survival. Among these safer occupations were doctors, nurses, secondary school teachers, architects and journalists.

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The think tank called for a comprehensive innovation and technology development strategy for the city, saying mainland China and other countries had developed such plans.

Yang suggested the government step up science education by making the subject compulsory throughout the secondary curriculum. Officials should also offer more funding to train employees working with AI, she said.

And imposing a tax on robots should be considered in the long term to safeguard jobs for human beings, Yang added.

Despite accountants and auditors being identified as workers at high risk of replacement, Kenneth Leung, the Hong Kong lawmaker who represents the sector in the city’s legislature, remained positive.

“It is impossible we will be replaced,” Leung said.

Rather, AI would be a boon for professionals in the sector as it would supplement their labour, allowing them to slash their long hours and enjoy a better work-life balance, he believed.

“In our profession we have to make a lot of judgments in serving our customers. AI can help, but it will not be able to make a final judgment,” he said.

Leung also questioned the idea of a tax on robots, saying the government should instead promote the use of AI to ease the heavy work burden many Hongkongers found themselves saddled with.