How Hong Kong is encouraging growth in AI

As developments in artificial intelligence (AI) continue to expand in Hong Kong, the city is fast becoming a global hub of technology.

Emerging AI startup accelerator Zeroth.ai is targeting AI initiatives in Asia and is offering critical early-stage funding to clever new ideas originating in the region.

Zeroth is backed by some of the brightest sparks in the industry, giving it some major firepower, and will provide US$20,000 in capital as well as mentorship to startups in exchange for six per cent equity. The first beneficiaries are due to begin their journey in November this year.

But if you’re having anxious visions of a future overtaken by machines, Zeroth founder Tak Lo says not to be alarmed: a Terminator-style reality is not upon us. “There’s a ton of vernacular about Skynet – which is bollocks. We can harness AI’s superpower by empowering founders with AI,” Mr Lo told TechinAsia earlier this year.

In fact, AI technology already has significant penetration into mainstream usage, and most people might be surprised to learn how frequently they use it right now. If you thought AI was a bunch of clever humans serving up solutions for you on the interwebs, the truth is that the machines have been talking to you for years.

Humanising the AI

Siri is the obvious one. Nobody really imagines it’s an actual person behind Apple’s so-called intelligent assistant – particularly when she offers unhelpful advice such as where to find the nearest casino when someone requests help with problem gambling.

But Siri’s ability to learn, evolve and make jokes – even if they are programmed into her algorithms – has won her a lot of fans. She’s a pretty funny girl – robot, that is.

Everyday AI

But Siri isn’t the only AI in your life. Computers are deciding what you see online every day.

Google has long been playing in the artificial intelligence sandpit, and last year revealed that machine learning had been contributing to its algorithms for months. In fact, the company told Bloomberg as early as October last year that its RankBrain algorithm was the third most influential ranking factor in Google search.

Not to be outdone, Facebook built AI-specific servers to do things like automate text conversations and understand what’s visible in photos – a step towards automated search and censoring.

By all accounts, the algorithms are outperforming humans when it comes to understanding what we’re looking for online. Essentially, the computers know us better than we know ourselves.

Qualcomm is taking the technology next-level with its Project Zeroth – making AI portable. By harnessing the power of the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine and cramming it onto a USB stick, this new toy will allow developers to test their cutting-edge new concepts anywhere, anytime, on any device.

So what does it all mean?

Futurist Thomas Frey predicts that by the year 2030, over two billion jobs will disappear, gobbled up by a changing world – jobs like supermarket check-out assistants replaced by self-service machines. But Frey says this need not be a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Hong Kong is getting ahead of the game and setting itself up for a future where technology will play a pivotal role – and countries that nurture the clever minds that create and drive it will have a huge advantage.

The Zeroth startup accelerator is not just good business; it’s also futureproofing Hong Kong’s economy for the technological age. Now that’s intelligent thinking.

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