Ben Goertzel, chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, introduces his company's female robot, Sophia, at the RISE conference 2017. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia
Ben Goertzel, chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, introduces his company's female robot, Sophia, at the RISE conference 2017. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

This week, 14,281 people from 90 countries hit Hong Kong for RISE 2017, an annual tech start-up conference. Attendees were polled for their views on four big questions surrounding an industry that seems to be changing the world byte by byte. Here’s a sneak preview of the results.

Will China overtake Silicon Valley?

In the past, China has been accused of copying ideas from the west and running with them. In recent years, however, people have started to reconsider whether the “copycat” label is fair to China, and whether it has emerged as a “trailblazer” in the technology industry.

The RISE poll indicates a slight majority have more faith in the growing tech innovations coming from China than they do in the presumed bellwether of groundbreaking tech, Silicon Valley.

Poll at the RISE Conference 2017 in Hong Kong: Will China overtake Silicon Valley? Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

“In the past, many internet companies would have to categorise themselves as the Chinese equivalents of Google or Twitter, etc, when they go overseas,” said Jing Ulrich, Vice Chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase (Asia Pacific). “These days, many Chinese companies are actually leading in the world of technology, in terms of mobile payment, internet finance, drone manufacturing, new social media and artificial intelligence.”

Besides closing the gap on the west, Ulrich added that China’s tech innovations are also being “diffused” to other parts of the world. In Southeast Asia, for example, Indonesia’s largest e-commerce site, Tokopedia, is marketing itself as the “Taobao of Indonesia,” while Paytm is called the “Alipay of India.” Taobao and Alipay are the flagship products of China’s Alibaba Group.

How important are college degrees?

It seems technology has not totally eliminated people’s regard for the college degree. Most attendants still believe college degrees are crucial – although not for all positions.

Poll at the RISE Conference 2017: Sexism and Ageism are the biggest problem in tech. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

What problems does technology have?

According to the tech community, age-old struggles of class and race are far less of a problem in the sector than sexism and ageism. The industry’s sexism problem has been widely discussed, but do tech companies need gender quotas to balance gender representation?

“I don’t believe in quotas,” said Melissa Guzy, the founding partner of Arbor Ventures in a RISE debate. “What we need is more women studying computer sciences, mathematics and statistics, and then they will be able to get jobs in tech companies, and to contribute in a meaningful way.”

Will Artificial Intelligence steal people’s jobs?

Overwhelmingly, those polled think AI is likely to deplete human jobs – and soon. The voting dots are, literally, off the chart. Anxieties about AI stealing our jobs are, it seems, acute, even among those currently working in the industry itself.

Poll at the RISE Conference 2017: Job loses created by Artificial Intelligence will be significant and soon. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

Ron Baetiong, the founder and CEO of ChatbotPH, a Philippines-based chatbot developer, cited call center and phone-answering jobs as one area of work that is vulnerable and likely to be eliminated soon by AI.
“I may be the one who helps to take their jobs,” said Baetiong, “but I believe human beings [can have better lives] than repeating tedious mechanical works.”

A chatbot maker from Philippine votes for that AI is very significant to take over human’s jobs very soon. Photo: Asia Times/Lin Wanxia

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