Hongkongers and businesses in the city are getting optimistic about artificial intelligence, while gaps in knowledge, talent and finance remain major factors that prevent businesses from adopting AI, according to Google Hong Kong's first edition of the Smarter Digital City - AI for Everyone whitepaper.
In this year's whitepaper, Google Hong Kong sought to examine the current level of understanding and take-up of AI within both the resident
population and Hong Kong businesses; identifying triggers for and barriers to AI deployment; and uncovering opportunities and strategies to accelerate AI development in Hong Kong.
Currently, AI is embedded in a wide variety of digital tools. From smart search recommendations to e-commerce platforms to food delivery apps, AI is now a mainstay of daily life.
Google Hong Kong suggests that a growing number of Hong Kong residents have turned to AI. For example, 95% of Hongkongers said the amount of time they had spent online had increased since the onset of COVID-19. Time spent online increased from an average of 3.5 hours to 5 hours per day. In particular, online shopping and banking have surged. Average weekly search interest in online shopping in Hong Kong grew 26% after the outbreak of COVID-19, and 91% of residents have used online banking, according to the study.
The whitepaper has also examined both Hong Kong residents' and businesses' attitudes towards AI. COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role that AI-embedded products and services play in daily life, and made digitalisation a more urgent necessity. In 2020, an overall AI Readiness Index score of 50 out of 100 was observed for Hong Kong residents, meaning that while Hongkongers were well advanced along the AI journey, there is substantial room for further growth.
Although Hongkongers have a high degree of confidence in AI’s ability to improve lives (54% saw the benefits of using AI compared to only 7% seeing disadvantages), their knowledge in AI remains underdeveloped. Google Hong Kong found that the tally of AI familiarity and knowledge, as well as device and cloud usage, and willingness to share data were low.
The high levels of confidence exhibited by Hongkongers can be translated to widespread optimism about the potential of AI to help people and improve lives. About two-thirds (65%) of residents agree that new technology and AI could benefit Hong Kong society. Residents aged 25-44 were the most likely to recognise the benefits of AI and were also the most willing to pay for AI services. They represent a core customer segment for providers of AI-powered services.
When it comes to barriers to leveraging AI, data privacy was the largest, cited by 49% of respondents. Only 26% of them agreed that ‘companies are doing enough to protect residents’ privacy rights in Hong Kong’. However, as little as 2% of Hongkongers perceived AI as a “threat to people”, with the majority seeing AI as a positive force for society.
As for businesses, the whitepaper has revealed strong momentum in Hong Kong businesses’ adoption of digital technologies, with corporations leading the way in terms of digital investments and innovation. As AI is a core part of digital transformation and growing business, Google Hong Kong suggested that AI deployment was well suited to the priorities of Hong Kong companies.
Businesses in Hong Kong seem to have a strong confidence in AI; the overall AI Readiness Index score for Hong Kong businesses was 56 out of 100.
However, strong confidence does not mean that those businesses have adopted AI (yet), reflecting future intention rather than current activity: 78% of businesses believed AI was beneficial and would bring improvements, but only 39% say they had a culture to support it.
Meanwhile, the lower score for know-how represented businesses’ expertise in AI and their ability to attract AI talent. It revealed the gap between capability and ambition.
As for businesses, the main barriers to adopting AI seem to be financial concerns, the knowledge gap and the talent gap.
"This new report outlines how adopting technology and realising the benefits of AI can assist the city’s economic recovery. AI is already embedded in consumer products, services and apps that Hong Kongers use every day. It is also a foundational technology for many business productivity tools, cloud solutions, and digital marketing platforms which have been widely adopted by enterprises in Hong Kong," said Leonie Valentine, managing director of sales and operations at Google Hong Kong.
To help businesses understand more about AI, Google Hong Kong launch the Traditional Chinese version of A-Z of AI guide for Hong Kong, offering series of bite-sized AI explainers.
"Encouragingly, Hong Kong residents and businesses are optimistic about AI, and are eager to learn and master AI knowledge to stay competitive. This lays a good foundation for a smarter digital city,” Valentine added.