In fields like artificial intelligence, innovation and fintech, Singapore trumps Hong Kong

Anirudh Kannan

If Hong Kong hopes to attract the world’s leading artificial intelligence talent, the city needs to follow in Singapore’s footsteps and offer strong state backing for technology

Anirudh Kannan |

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Hong Kong is falling behind on AI research compared to other countries.

Hong Kong is often cited as a financial hub which leads the way in cutting-edge innovations such as fintech and artificial intelligence (AI). While this description is not entirely wrong, there’s another city that’s a better fit for the title: Singapore.

The Lion City has the same combination of gleaming skyscrapers, glitzy restaurants and gaudy festivals, but boasts a much more forward-thinking government which makes smart investments in emerging technology. For example, Singapore will invest up to S$150 million (HK$860 million) in a new national programme to boost its AI capabilities over the next five years.

While this is all well and good for the city state, we should be seeing similarly farsighted investments being made by our government.

Admittedly, the Hong Kong government has not exactly been slack in this area. Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, recently announced a HK$2 billion Innovation and Technology Venture Fund to “help fill the funding gap for local technology start-ups”. Yang said “having this new fund will be conducive to developing a more vibrant Hong Kong innovation and technology ecosystem”.

While such a commitment is certainly admirable, it is mainly research that leads to technological advancement, which is necessary for the innovation that the government so desperately desires.

In recognising this truism, the Singaporean government has made a move that will set them up to be a key player in AI technology. Indeed, the move is already paying dividends: Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant which owns the South China Morning Post, announced that it be would be setting up an AI research facility in the city state. Although it may be true that a return on the S$150 million investment is yet to be realised, Alibaba’s decision proves that targeted research trumps a more vague focus on “innovation and technology”.

In fact, the much-maligned Cyberport, originally intended to be a tech start-up hub, is a result of the Hong Kong government’s clumsy and idealistic actions in the technology sector.

Therefore, the government must find more judicious ways in which to use its funds unless it wants the city to be left behind in the fast-growing industry.

The tumbleweeds rolling through Cyberport should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens if we fail to do so.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne