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Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 12:16
AI-driven robots could muscle in on HK service jobs
By Luo Weiteng
Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 12:16 By Luo Weiteng

Visitors interact with a robot at the 2018 AI products expo in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, May 10, 2018. (WANG JIANKANG / FOR CHINA DAILY)

The advance of artificial intelligence technologies means one million working people in Hong Kong face odds as high as 70 percent of being replaced by machines in the coming one to two decades, a study finds. 

A joint study by the Hong Kong-based One Country Two Systems Research Institute and University of Oxford investigated how AI would impact the city’s job market.

The study essentially finds out that positions which require higher creativity and social intelligence skills are less susceptible to technological disruption

The study essentially finds out that positions which require higher creativity and social intelligence skills– such as lawyers, journalists, writers, physicians, nurses, secondary-school teachers, designers, artists and architects– are less susceptible to technological disruption. 

Positions like office clerks, cashiers, accountants, auditors, bank tellers and mail carriers are at risk of automation. 

The study found that about 28 percent of the 3.7 million jobs in Asia’s financial center are at high risk of being automated. This compares with 49 percent in Japan, 47 percent in the United States and 36 percent in the United Kingdom.

“However, it does not mean that Hong Kong would fare better with the arrival of the AI era compared with its global counterparts,” said Kristine Yang, research officer at the One Country Two Systems Research Institute. “The city’s highly concentrated economy means the issue cannot be more urgent.” 

Hong Kong is by and large a service economy, with four pillar industries –financial services, trading and logistics, tourism and professional services –accounting for 56 percent of economic output and 47 percent of the employment. Those sectors, however, are believed to be more vulnerable to technological disruption.

By stark contrast, sectors at little risk of technological disruption – including healthcare, education, information technology, and cultural and creative industries– contribute a combined 8 percent of economic output and 11 percent of employment. 

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“For years, there has been a lot of talk about how Hong Kong’s competitive edge could be given full play to make contributions to the national development. Today, when it comes to the issue of the technological impact from the AI, we believe there should be a switch of mentality. It would be more relevant to talk about how the Chinese mainland’s strengths in the area of AI could give Hong Kong a leg up,” said Joe Fang, One Country Two Systems Research Institute research director.

AI is one of the priorities for mainland policy-making. In October last year, the country’s State Council laid out a plan to develop a domestic AI industry worth US$150 billion by 2030, underscoring the nation’s vision of becoming a global AI leader by that time. 

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This was followed by a plan announced in April this year to nurture more than 5,000 students and 500 teachers from top universities in AI within five years, and to build the world’s largest AI talent-training program. 

Fang believed Hong Kong could gain much momentum from the mainland in its quest to join the AI rush. 

“What's going on today calls for higher-level cross-border collaboration between Hong Kong and the mainland. Across the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, in particular, the city should lose no time in taking part in the region-wide AI undertakings,” Fang noted. 

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