Date
15 December 2017
AlphaGo, developed by a subsidiary of Google, has demonstrated the power of Artificial Intelligence as it beat the world’s top players in the Chinese board game Go. Photo: Xinhua
AlphaGo, developed by a subsidiary of Google, has demonstrated the power of Artificial Intelligence as it beat the world’s top players in the Chinese board game Go. Photo: Xinhua

Using AI to unlock human potential

The artificial intelligence (AI) wave has spread to Hong Kong. Hang Seng Bank plans to introduce Chatbot, with natural language processing and mechanical learning ability, to provide customers with credit card offers and banking services information; while Bank of China (Hong Kong) is studying robot technology that can help improve handling of customer queries.

BOCHK also plans to create a shared “big brain” to provide customers with personal services. The Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, meanwhile, is reported to be planning to incorporate topics on AI, robotics consultants and big data analysis methods in its 2019 membership qualification examination, so as to meet future market needs.

AI has a broad meaning. From a technical perspective, it includes: deep learning (learning from a large pool of data to assimilate human intelligence, such as AlphaGo in the chess world), robotics (responsible for pre-determined extremely cautious or dangerous tasks, e.g. surgery, dismantling bombs, surveying damaged nuclear power plants, etc.), digital personal assistants (such as Apple’s Siri, Facebook’s M), and querying (finding information from a huge database speedily and accurately).

However, how does AI progress? In “The AI ​​Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence”, the author points out that there are three stages of development in Al:

Basic — Artificial Narrow Intelligence or Weak AI, i.e. AI specializes in a certain scope. AlphaGo can beat the world’s invincible hand in chess, but I am afraid it’s unable to guide you to the nearby restaurants or to book a hotel room for you. The same logic applies to bomb disposal robot and the AI which identifies cancer cells within seconds.

Advance — Artificial General Intelligence or Strong AI, i.e. the computer thinks and operates like a human being. How does human think? I have just read a column from a connoisseur. “There are many factors affecting us in choosing a catering place, like our mood, type and taste of food, price, time, etc. The determined factors are not the same every time.” See, it is really complicated. This is so called Turing Test. Alan Turing, a British scientist who was born over 100 years ago, said: “If a computer makes you believe that ‘it’ is human, it is artificial intelligence.”

Super Advance – Artificial Superintelligence. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, has been thinking about Al’s relationship with mankind for years, he defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.”

Although we are still in the stage of Artificial Narrow Intelligence, AI application is already very extensive. By combining with big data, it is applied in various areas like financial (wealth management, fraud detection), medical (diagnosis, drug development), media and advertising (face recognition advertising, tailor-made services), retail (Amazon.com), law (speed-finding information), education (virtual teacher), manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and so on.

MarketsandMarkets, a research company, estimated that Al’s market value would reach US$16 billion (about HK$124 billion) by 2022, with an average compound annual growth rate of more than 60 percent.

However, relative to the Mainland, this estimate is very conservative – according to Jiang Guangzhi, a key member of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology. Counting Beijing alone, Al and related industries have now exceeded 150 billion yuan (about HK$170 billion).

In any case, Al definitely holds a key position in the field of science and technology, and it has substantial potential. However, I have just read a report in which a top international AI expert and a HKUST professor complained that the government and private sector were too passive in scientific research in Hong Kong, resulting in a brain drain.

Experts helped Huawei, a Chinese telecom and technology giant, set up a laboratory in Hong Kong, but they said they found it difficult to recruit even 50 people in the city with the required skills.

This is really alarming. Hong Kong has world-class teachers to attract the elite to study here.

However, if we do not strive to create an environment for talents to pursuit their careers here, I am afraid we will keep experiencing talent flight.

Recently, the Financial Development Board published two research reports that deal with issues related to development and application of financial technology in Hong Kong. I hope the government and society will work together and speed up efforts to bring out the potential of Hong Kong in AI.

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AC/RC

The writer is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hong Kong. She is also one of the locally-bred IT entrepreneurs of Hong Kong.

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