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Investors offer AI solutions for to harness tech in Hong Kong

Investors are keen to tap into opportunities offered by artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area (GBA), as the technology is increasingly adopted by various industries, according to market observers.

The launch of ChatGPT3 late last year has opened up everyone’s imagination on AI and consumers now understand how it can impact their everyday life, said Adrian Hia, a partner at Malaysian investment firm Kairous Capital, who expects to see companies progressively embrace AI to explore opportunities and solutions the technology can offer.

“As an active investor in the China market, it was exciting for us to be back in the GBA physically and meet tech companies,” said Hia, who was at the Beyond Expo conference in Macau last week, which brought together 600 start-ups in fields including healthcare, sustainability and consumer tech.

Kairous, which has extensive experience investing in Chinese companies and helping them expand into Southeast Asia, is in talks with a few start-ups on potential collaboration and investment, he added.

Danny Chong, an executive director at Gobi Partners GBA, said ChatGPT “was the tipping point”, which will lead to more commercial applications of AI.

“It is now easier to justify adopting AI technology to replace previous manual processes,” he said. AI has also become a good sales tool, with several companies and brands adopting AI to help promote products and improve visibility, he added.

On the downside, Chong said some investors were playing it safe amid a volatile macro economy, rising interest rates and recessionary fears, which has weakened risk appetite.

Ivan Lau, the CEO of Pantheon Labs, which received funding from Gobi Partners in late 2022, said he has seen an “explosion of interest in his technology in the last month”. The Hong Kong-based start-up is one of the early developers of AI-generated digital human avatars.

Launched in 2019, Pantheon Labs survived the citywide protests later that year and the Covid-19 pandemic that followed. Their technology is currently used at customer screens at KFC Taiwan.

Lau says fast-food chains, banks and hotel chains have also expressed an interest in working with the company to develop AI solutions.
He said it took a while for AI technology to go mainstream, but thanks to ChatGPT accelerating the capability of such tech, more companies were willing to jump onto the bandwagon.

“I feel thrilled and hopeful to finally see the possibility of generative AI being adopted in the commercial world and not just on paper,” said Lau.

Joe Tsai, the vice-chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, which owns this newspaper, said the company is already tapping into several possibilities that AI is capable of, including AI-driven post-production video editing, creation of posters and marketing material by AI and digital actresses and actors.

Speaking at a panel at the summit, Tsai said AI capabilities have the potential to “redefine digital entertainment”.

Joshua Chen, the head of marketing at NetMind.AI, an AI chatbot solutions start-up, said there is a sense of excitement and energy behind generative AI among investors.

Chen said the company connected with a number of potential investors at the expo and was “surprised by the number of AI companies” that were present.

Caroline Yuan, the marketing operations manager at Kivisense, an AI fashion start-up, said she had useful conversations with investors.
“Generative AI was a noticeable trend at the event, even large companies like Alibaba were showing an interest in generative AI,” said Yuan.

AI start-ups are not just a trend, according to Alfian Sharifuddin, the head of technology and operations at DBS Bank Hong Kong.
“In the Greater Bay Area, we’re experiencing an awe-inspiring convergence of AI and everyday life,” said Sharifuddin. “This showcases the immense potential of AI while confirming Hong Kong’s standing as a technology hub.”

Sharifuddin believes the new technology is a “revolution in the making”.

“They are the future we’re eager to invest in, transforming how we live, work, and connect with each other.”

At the Global Talents Summit in Macau on Thursday, an event which coincided with Beyond Expo, Edward Moncreiffe, CEO of HSBC Life, said AI-powered technologies were offering solutions that will enable the insurance industry to overcome talent shortages.

HSBC Life, the insurance unit of the biggest lender in Hong Kong, said it plans to expand its services by deploying a range of AI-powered services. It has already implemented AI tech that can shorten the processing time of medical insurance claims from five days to five minutes.

Moncreiffe said that while AI-driven technologies will replace some tasks, they cannot replace everything, noting that “labour productivity occurs through two things: investing in human capital and investing in technology”. South China Morning Post

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