How has Hong Kong adapted to AI?

Artificial intelligence seemed to come out nowhere in 2023, and Hong Kong has adapted well to the new tech.

🤔What’s going on?

When OpenAI’s ChatGPT launched in November 2022, it seemed like a game-changer – think back to when the iPhone came out in 2007 or when the first graphical desktop environment was created in 1980. Everywhere we turned, AI was being mentioned, whether it was on the news, on social media or at work. It was a moment where we just knew things were going to be different from that point on.

Hong Kong, just like the rest of the world, had its "aha" moment with artificial intelligence (AI), and, in the past year and a half, the city has enthusiastically embraced AI, finding new and creative ways to use this technology.

While AI will definitely have a major impact in the long term, from military uses to medicine to transportation, AI tools like ChatGPT have already started shaking things up in business and education, making us rethink how we work and learn. So, how has it been adopted in Hong Kong so far?

🏢AI in Hong Kong’s business scene

Hong Kong businesses are fully embracing generative AI. A survey released on May 20 by Amazon found that 84% of corporate employees use AI tools in their work, and that number is expected to rise to 94% by 2028. Microsoft and LinkedIn have similar findings, reporting that 88% of knowledge workers in the city use generative AI tools for work. Compare that number to the global average of 75%.

“AI is a business imperative. With generative AI being used by 88% of knowledge workers at work, it is impressive to see employees in Hong Kong are much more willing to empower themselves to adopt innovations than most other regions,” said Cally Chan, the General Manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau, in a statement. 

The industry that seems to be welcoming AI with open arms the most is the financial services sector. Amazon's survey shows that 91% of respondents in this industry are using AI tools today, with that number expected to grow to 94% by 2028. On top of that, about 8 in 10 people said they had “intermediate” or “advanced” AI literacy. 

“The rise of generative AI presents an unparalleled opportunity for Hong Kong businesses to drive innovation, enhance productivity, and stay ahead of the curve. However, nurturing an AI-skilled workforce is essential to unlocking the full potential of these technologies,” said Robert Wang, the Amazon Web Services managing director for Hong Kong and Taiwan, in a statement. 

The thing is though, while AI has made waves in most industries across Hong Kong, both of these surveys suggest that employees and bosses aren’t exactly on the same page. Even though more than 4 in 5 corporate workers in Hong Kong are using AI, only 23% of respondents said their CEOs had clearly communicated about AI and its importance, according to Microsoft and Linkedin. 

From the CEOs' perspectives, Amazon reported that 70% of employers said finding AI-ready employees was crucial for their business, but 73% said it was challenging to find the AI-capable talent they need. Both employees and employers agreed that the resources available for AI training were lacking because they were either unaffordable, time-consuming or just difficult to find. 

But with that all said, one thing is clear: Hong Kong’s corporate sector has dived headfirst into AI, and this trend is only set to grow over the next five years.

🏫What about AI in Hong Kong’s schools?

At first, Hong Kong’s schools didn’t know how to approach the ChatGPT situation,, but the city's centralized education system and strong focus on academics helped them adapt quickly, within months of the new technology going mainstream. 

A 2021 research paper from Dr. Tianchong Wang, who was working at The Education University of Hong Kong at the time, and Professor Eric Chi Keung Cheng from the Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education, investigated barriers to AI adoption in Hong Kong. 

“We saw that AI would be essential for the future of education in Hong Kong. As the first step, we were trying to understand what might be the challenges when schools had to adopt AI,” Wang told TMS. “We turned out to be right,” he added with a chuckle, “It just happened more quickly.” 

In 2023, Hong Kong took a major step forward when the education department rolled out its first AI curriculum for junior secondary students across all the public schools in the city. According to a memo distributed by the Education Bureau, teachers were asked to incorporate 10 - 14 hours of AI education in their information and communications technology (ICT) programs for Form One to Three students. The classes teach students AI concepts, such as how to integrate AI into their work, ethical dilemmas that come along with the technology and the potential social impact presented by AI, rather than technical skills. 

“When ChatGPT became widely accessible early last year, it caught many Hong Kong schools off guard. Its ability to generate human-like tasks immediately created concerns about academic integrity,” said Wang. 

These concerns led to a wave of schools temporarily banning ChatGPT for students, including universities like Hong Kong Baptist University and the University of Hong Kong. But, these bans didn’t last for long. Schools have now opened up to the technology, with the University of Hong Kong offering courses like “Generative AI for Media Applications” in its journalism department.

The most cutting-edge example came from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which launched "AI Lecturers," which it hoped would better engage students.

“A positive anecdote was when a student, who was initially from another discipline without relevant background and struggling with the course material, was able to catch up and excel in the course, thanks to the interesting guidance provided by the AI teacher that constantly motivated him,” said Professor Pan Hui, who led the project. 

Hui told TMS that the AI lecturers proved to be valuable assistants to human professors and were able to handle repetitive tasks like general education or delivering content. He also said that a well-trained AI lecturer could be trained with different cultural backgrounds in mind, helping students to “accept that the world is very diverse.”

Experts often argue that the value of artificial intelligence comes from the process rather than the product. For example, an AI lecturer can help professors develop or enhance their ideas or help struggling students catch up with their peers.

“AI can help identify the additional support a teacher can provide to a student before it is too late,” said Wang. “So AI can foster a personalized and diverse learning experience, whereas traditionally teachers had to ‘teach to the middle.’” 

📃The bigger picture – how to regulate AI

Like many places, even though Hong Kong is embracing the tech with open arms, the city is also worried about potential job losses, handling technology gaps and the spread of false information.

But one particular challenge for Hong Kong is how to regulate the gathering of the massive amounts of data required for an AI-driven future. After all, the tech is reliant on an ocean data in order to do what we want it to do.

In 2021, the government published best practices guidelines on the ethical development and use of AI, which covered things like accountability, transparency, fairness and security. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has also released guidelines covering “high-level principles” of AI.

On June 11, the government published its first AI data protection guidelines for businesses using AI services. This document, a first for Hong Kong, advises companies to put significant effort into protecting personal data, conducting risk assessments, minimizing data collection for training language models and establishing rules for human oversight. 

But, these are just guidelines and aren’t legally binding. So, some companies and schools are still worried about accidentally breaking other laws, like intellectual property protections. This is an especially big deal when it comes to minors, such as primary and secondary school students.  

“The proper management of student data is a complex issue involving privacy, informed consent, and maintaining the data’s security,” said Wang. “This is particularly relevant to Hong Kong because it raises concerns about data sovereignty. How the data is processed, used and stored requires transparency, and in extreme cases could have implications for national security as well.”

💬What are people saying?

“Hong Kong has a relatively centralized public education system, coupled with a compact geography and dense population, allowing for the rapid and widespread adoption of any new initiatives.” 

-Dr. Tianchong Wang, Lecturer in STEM in Innovative Education Futurers, Flinders University, Australia. 
“Moreover, AI will transform the role of educators in higher education. Rather than being the primary source of information, teachers will become facilitators of learning, guiding students through interactive, AI-enhanced lessons and projects.” 

-Prof. Pan Hui, Chair Professor of Computational Media and Arts at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 
“I believe that the Model Framework will help nurture the healthy development of AI in Hong Kong, facilitate Hong Kong’s development into an innovation and technology hub, and propel the expansion of the digital economy not only in Hong Kong but also in the Greater Bay Area.” 

-Ada Chung Lai-ling, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data
“Technology and innovation is a central priority of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. That includes applying AI technology to fast-track our smart city and digital government ambitions.” 

-Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee
“AI transformation is not a one-time event – it’s an ongoing journey that requires leaders’ commitment, adaptability, and strategic leadership.” 

-Cally Chan, General Manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau.