StartmeupHK Festival 2019 - Day 5 Highlights Part 1

AI & Education looks beyond classic friend-or-foe relationship between AI and humans to explore how technology can make us better humans

Job loss & creation; future proof; importance of soft skills; AI-related ethics; GBA as foundation of technological advancements

On the final day of this year’s StartmeupHK Festival 2019, the AI & Education Conference, hosted by EdTech Asia, went beyond the classic friend-or-foe debate on the role of AI and discussed what would happen to people when AI starts to be integrated into workplace and how we augment what we do with AI. The essential message to emerge was nicely summarised by Diana Wu David, who recently released a new book Future Proof: “AI helps unlock a lot of potential. The future is not about being technical, but to be more human.”

After a welcome by Jayne Chan, Head of StartmeupHK at Invest Hong Kong, Mike Michalec, Founder and Managing Director of EdTech Asia recalled how EdTech Asia started off as a community network and grew into a collaborative learning innovation community across Asia.

Machines can now teach themselves to think

Duc Luu, Chief Strategy Officer of RISE Education told a story of how he turned from a dishwasher on a meager hourly wage into a successful tutor and entrepreneur. He founded The Edge in 2008, an education startup embodying what he believes education should be that rose to become Nasdaq-listed RISE Education in 2017. His advice to others is to choose your investors wisely, identify the total addressable market, examine your business model, and most of all “find your market and plough a truck through it.”

He took a deep dive into three kinds of AI learning style – unsupervised learning, supervised learning and reinforcement learning – along with their underlying mechanisms. At the cutting edge is reinforcement learning, which allows a machine to learn and evolve according to the feedback it receives from its environment as a result of its own actions. The constant improvement culminated in the remarkable defeat of 18-time Go world champion Lee Sedol by AlphaGo in 2016.

AI to eliminate tedious jobs, leaving creative ones to humans

Moderated by Uptin Saiidi of CNBC, the panel that followed saw Daniel Callaghan, Head of Adecco Group X, APAC; Yat Siu, CEO of Outblaze; Juliette Li, Regional Director of Navitas; Yoshi Okamoto, Founder and Executive Director of SHO-zemi Innovation Ventures and Jessica Kennedy White, EdTech Consultant taking education beyond school and discussing the impact of AI on the future of learning and work.

Uptin quoted a recent research report that predicted 50% of jobs will be outsourced to AI in 20 years and asked if the nature of future jobs will become more social and creative, or will we, as a workforce, be more reliant on data to create algorithms. Yat Siu of Outblaze believed that the future jobs would bifurcate – while repetitive jobs will be automated and taken up by machines, the human workforce would gear towards the creative side.

“Tools make it so easy… Everyone can be a photographer. It leads to ‘mass amateurisation’, so instead of having ten people do ten things, we can have one person do ten things,” he said, meaning that AI would act as a liberating force and leave us more time to learn and be more versatile.

Yat Siu’s comment struck a chord with Daniel Callaghan of Adecco Group X, who said: “You can’t fuel this paranoia with doomsday scenarios.” He quoted an unnamed source at the World Economic Forum: “If your child is between five to ten years old today, in 25 years’ time, about 60% of that child will be in a job that does not exist today.”

Unlikely capitalist: Transforming an NGO into a scalable and profitable startup

If surviving and growing a startup into a large profitable company is hard, starting as a non-profit organisation is even harder. Yet, while it may sound next to impossible, it is the natural course of action. “The only way to scale is to go for-profit,” said Steven To, VP Strategy and Operations of Onion Math.  Formerly Sunshine Library, an NGO co-founded in 2011 by Yang Linfeng and Zhu Ruochen, graduates of Harvard University and Duke University respectively, the company turned into a for-profit business called Onion Math that provides videos and games to over 20 million students in both rural and urban areas of China to help them learn mathematics.

Having acquired the right users and maintained high quality at scale, while monetising products, Mr. To said the ultimate challenge is to bring educators, programmers and business leaders together to strike the right balance between ‘education’, ‘internet’ and ‘business.’  He said the recipe for success is to understand what lies at the heart of these – namely ‘impact’, ‘user’ and ‘profit’.

In an era of technology, soft skills strive

Next up was a panel discussion on big data for workforce analytics and career guidance with Pei Ying Chua, APAC Team Lead of Economic Graph Analytics at LinkedIn, Candace Cheung, Senior Manager of Strategic Marketing, Hong Kong of eBay and Dicky Yuen, Founder and Managing Director of Venturenix, moderated by Will Greene, Director, Tigermine Research.

LinkedIn manages a huge database covering over 519 million members, 30 million companies, 13 million jobs, 4,000 schools and 50,000 skills worldwide. It analyses all the data to understand the labour market dynamics by looking at the hiring rates, growth of different industries, migration patterns across countries and industries. By identifying the imbalance of supply and demand of talent and skill sets, it helps governments to formulate education policies to plug skill gaps, such as its partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore, a government initiative to help its workforce upskill to meet market needs.

In the private sector, Hong Kong-based Venturenix uses LinkedIn’s data to provide tailored recruitment services and training. By offering scholarships to graduates and placing graduates with potential employers, the company collects a percentage of the fees from the employers, thereby making learning affordable for students and supercharging their careers at the same time.

In addition to hard skills, LinkedIn also tracks soft skills. The company found that although that technical skills are of growing importance, soft skills like communication, leadership and management skills are what make people stand out from the crowd and make career advancements.

Future proofing and being human

Diana Wu David, author of Future Proof, concurred. Future-proofing refers to the process of anticipating the future and developing methods to minimise the effects of shocks and stresses of future events. Ms. David advocates moving beyond knowledge, which may become obsolete one day, to focus on connection and collaboration – what makes us human at the first place. By citing an example of how a recently launched VR-enabled speaking skill training software can help analyse speech pace and attention spent looking at the virtual audience, she illustrated that instead of trying to outcompete robots, we can make ourselves better humans with technology.

“The root of creativity is asking why – why is it the only way… It’s a sad irony that everyone in the tech space is actually repeating the same phrases,” said Jordan Kostelac, Director of PropTech of JLL Asia. He encourages people to embrace critical thinking, adding: “AI and algorithms tend to be more repetitive. Does it mean that doctors necessarily have to stick to the same diagnostics and treatments? No.”

He thought that people should not be worried about their job being taken away by computers. “Tedium is what’s being replaced,” he said. “The ability to repeat things is not the same as intelligence.”

On diversity and equality

A discussion on AI & ethics followed. Rachel Brujis, Head of International Market Development, UK Online Programmes of Pearson, Chris Geary, CEO of BSD Education, Raphael Nolden, CEO of Jaipuna, Son Minh Tran, Director of AI of Topica EdTech Group and Jessica Kennedy White, EdTech Consultant all stressed the importance of diversity and equality in the accessibility of education opportunities.

“Accessibility and costs go hand-in-hand. When you set up an educational organisation, it’s important that you set out your organisation’s mission. For us, it’s to ensure that children have access to digital skills,” said Mr. Geary. He went on to explain that the future of children nowadays hinges on the possession of digital skills. He also warned people not to misuse technology: “If you don’t know what you’re measuring, don’t measure people. Don’t over-measure people by fitting them into summative measures.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Nolden emphasised that it is important for software engineers to get to know the users when designing edtech products: “You might be experts (in technology), but you really know nothing about education. You have to work with teachers all the time, rather than seeing it as just yet another box to tick.”

Greater Bay Area as a global hub for technology

The day wrapped up with Philip Kung, Head of Business and Professional Services at Invest Hong Kong, Edward Chan, Senior Business Development Manager, Mainland and International of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks and Data Ng, Representative, EdTech Subcommittee of Cyberport Startup Association. The session was moderated by Youssef El Kaddioui, Innovation Partner of Metta, featuring sharing from Bhavneet Chahal, Co-founder of GoSkills, as a beneficiary of supportive government policies in the Greater Bay Area.

Mr. Kung said: “If you want to grow your business, or if you want to commercialise your knowledge, products or services, Hong Kong, together with the Greater Bay Area, can help you achieve your goal.” He added that the most important element of the Greater Bay initiative is the establishment of an integral market. Large corporations, and medium and small startups alike, need to have technology, know-how, capital and vision to succeed. Above all, they have to be in the right market at the right time. Thus, the Greater Bay Area is where the opportunities lie and hence the ideal place for technology companies to set their bases in.