The Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition), which ran from Oct. 13-16 and attracted 87,000 buyers, reflected back-to-back robust periods – in 2017, when exports were valued at $329 billion, and for the January through August 2018 interval, when they were valued at $234 billion and up 14 percent over the same stretch in 2017. And while a statement based on an attendee survey during this show referenced “the recent Sino-U.S. trade friction” as having had somewhat of a negative impact on export performance thus far for 2018, 40 percent of respondents said they still expected their overall company sales to grow this year – with the most promising emerging markets for their goods being Japan, South Korea, Western Europe, the Chinese Mainland, the Middle East, and ASEAN countries.
That said, arching over the wealth of finished-goods innovations on display there was the hot topic at issue: namely, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its positioning as the next big trend poised to shape the electronics industry. In fact, the show’s organizers, the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC), crafted a centerpiece symposium to the topic which featured, among others, industry headliners from Microsoft’s and IBM’s Hong Kong offices.
Nicholas Yang, JP, the secretary of innovation and technology for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, noted AI’s rapid development, particularly on the manufacturing side for its potential in operational efficiency improvements in that it frees up employees to focus on more innovative work. In Hong Kong, he said, a priority going forward would be devotion of resources to next-generation AI and its place in the industry.
Microsoft Hong Kong’s Winnie Chu, of the Cloud and Enterprise Business Group, told how her company uses AI for a wide range of purposes, from helping people with visual impairments and hearing disabilities to preventing the extinction of rare species and growing better crops. Microsoft believes AI will help humans do more to be more successful and improve capability, she said. “We are surrounded by data, but we need to leverage this data.” As an example, she told how Microsoft has incorporated an AI-powered presentation translator in PowerPoint that allows users to save hours and can translate slides into 60 languages.
At IBM, said David Chow, partner and GM of IBM Hong Kong’s Global Business Services, AI is viewed as a means to provide business growth, an enhanced customer experience, decision support, talent engagement, and process and system transformation.For example, IBM has about 300,000 employees globally and uses AI to compare candidates over time both to help recruiters identify candidates most likely to succeed in a position and to examine each employee’s digital footprint to help them become more effective, he explained.IBM, he also said, conducted a case study with leading insurers in Hong Kong to develop a 24-hour assistant that can help agents with the questions their customers are asking them. The assistant has a tone analyzer that understands the person’s tone, style and emotional state, so that IBM can develop a personality profile and give a tailored customer experience. “Now we can use data to provide better products and services,” Chow said.
Remarks by Jessie Lin, vice president of Hong Kong-based AI company Sense Time, put a practical face on AI’s use in honing the “smart retail” experience. In recognizing customer profiles and how long they spend in certain shopping areas, AI “helps store owners plan their shops better.” She also cited the unmanned stores run by retailer Suning in Mainland China, where systems in place track money spent, scan consumers’ faces, and deduct transaction fees from e-wallets. She told the audience that it need not worry about AI having a role in “job stealing – humans are needed. It’s humans and AI.”
Vincent Wong, associate director of consulting at the management consulting and financial advisory services company Deloitte China, assuaged audience concerns as well about AI, saying that AI adoption will involve “re-learning, re-training – but not replacing.”
From a U.S. market perspective, the vibrancy of new companies with new ideas was very much in evidence in the Fair’s Startup Zone. A popular attendee destination at the show that is in its third year, it featured offerings from 110 companies from the U.S., Hong Kong, Mainland China, Denmark, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Introductions by these startups ran the gamut, and included apps, smart-home solutions, wearable technologies, IoT appliances, big data and electronic healthcare products and technologies.