The Deal asked six leaders in Chinese hi-tech what’s round the corner
Sees the future
Facebook’s head of Greater China, formerly at the California-based Rubicon Project “AI for Facebook is something we would invest in for the next 10 years because we think that is the future.” Leung notes the company has just released an app for blind people allowing them to see photos on Facebook with the help of AI. “That is a whole new experience to people and in the future you can imagine there will be many more innovations based on AI that will improve people’s lives,” she says. Facebook has also developed its own messenger bot which could open up all sorts of new advertising and e-commerce opportunities. “You can go on to Messenger, order your flowers, and it will automatically through machine learning respond to your request, book the flowers, send it to the address. It all happens through AI, machine learning. We think this application has a lot of legs. In the future it could be helping you to plan, helping you to shop, helping you to learn and so on. That is why we are very excited about where this is going.’’
Co-founder at Xiaomi, the firm that has become a household name in China in less than six years by selling low-priced, full-featured smartphones. Asked about predictions at the summit that the smartphone would be gone in a decade, replaced by wearable virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift, Google glass or Microsoft’s HoloLens, he says: “I don’t think so. I think the smartphone will evolve in a better and more powerful form. It will always exist as a mobile computer. It is really just a computer in its most natural form. “In the future if there is glass or a wearable to solve a particular problem, they will be successful. But they will not replace the mobile device. It doesn’t replace our use of computers. It might take away some of the features.”
Wong says he is a big fan of AI and machine learning but noted the whole point of developing AI was “to enhance the user behaviour of human beings”.
“[It should be] designed in a way to enhance our capability, not to replace what we do. For example, we will still use the car, we just won’t need to drive anywhere any more. The car can drive itself. But the human is always the centrepiece of the product – the car is moving the human from one place to another.
“Having AI glass is not to replace our thinking, it is meant to help us to make better decisions. For example, when I see a friend I haven’t seen for a year, the glass can tell me his name and show me his most recent Facebook post so I am up to date with him. It is designed to make human beings smarter in making decisions.’’
The Hong Kong University-educated executive vice president at Microsoft “We are in the early days of this new technology we call artificial intelligence,’’ he says, noting AI is at an “inflection point’’ where it would start to become part of our daily lives. “We are moving from a world where we need to understand computers to a new world where computers understand us. Until today we learned the computer language. From now on we want computers to learn human languages. A world where machines can be proactive, understand our intent. Computers can see, listen, talk, actually have the ability to understand conversations just like we humans do and they can tap into rich sources of knowledge and data to help us. In this new wave, data is the new currency, machine learning is the new magic.’’
He says chatbots are the next frontier in smartphone software; they are already being used to book doctors’ appointments and buy certain products such as clothes. “With the help of AI, conversations should be the new platform ... I think in 10 years we will see bots everywhere – including conversational bots to engage with business customers.’’
Chief technology officer, marketing and industrial solutions, Huawei Enterprise Business Group, who is leading the global rollout of the Chinese telco giant’s smart city technology Asked about the disappearance of the mobile device in a decade, he replies: “In 10 years I think the mobile phone will be replaced by wearables. Wearables will take over a lot of phone features and functions. “Today wearables are too expensive. But as we go along in the future, for telephone companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei, I think it will be more like glasses that you wear.”
Venture partner of Sequoia Capital China, a venture capital firm specialising in technology investments founded by one of China’s richest men “[In five years] robots will be the next toys for everyone. The best companion for people. “The robot that I am talking about is not a robot with an arm or a leg like in the movies. It is a virtual robot who can write email and return email for you. [Call it] either a robot human or a human robot.’’
CEO and founder of Chinese data science group GrowingIO, who formerly led recruitment giant LinkedIn’s business analytics team in Silicon Valley Asked in a session about the evolution of the data-driven economy, he says the cloud will become fundamental to making mobile analytics available for all businesses to use: “There is huge demand from every company for that technology. They need a solution. They need a team. But to build a 500-engineer team like Facebook or Twitter is almost impossible. “So we need to use technology to analyse a huge amount of consumer data to describe what is happening in the past, to monitor what is happening now and to predict what will happen in the future. Big data innovation has empowered us to use the tools and technology ... [For small business] to compete with the larger players and have a competitive advantage, I would say how you adopt a cloud solution is the key to being successful in the future.’’
Damon Kitney travelled courtesy of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office to the Internet Economy Summit, part of the city’s annual International IT Fest, where these interviews were conducted.