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  • Writer's pictureAnna Lau

2020 Review & 2021 Outlook of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data in Hong Kong

Computers will overtake humans with AI within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.” —Stephen Hawking


With Internet-of-Things (“IoT”) becoming more and more prevalent, there is little dispute that Hong Kong is taking the lead in leveraging AI to create applications with big data or open data in Asia. Numerous examples can already be found to have come into existence including (but not limited to) applications for smart city (which both Hong Kong and China has been pushing hard for), health & smart health, finance, and insurance industries!


In 2020, whilst much of the world saw repeated government-mandated shut down which crippled many parts of the world’s economy, Hong Kong was largely left virtually ‘open for business’. Whilst many organization made the painful move virtual, early technology adaptation in Hong Kong enabled Hong Kong to perform better than most contemporary economies across Asia and the Globe. Here are several major milestones of AI and Big Data in 2020:

  1. The application of Big data and AI prediction by licensed entities have also been known to have made the process of underwriting and pricing more efficient, accurate, time- and cost-effective in Hong Kong. All in all, AI data analytics has been applied by various financial institutions to predict risks in investment, manage portfolios, and detect fraud. This in turn led to a rush by companies to engage legal practitioners to formulate appropriate AI-related contracts, governance and internal control documents where we saw an explosion of such demand for our services!

  2. Aside from the actual finance work, AI-assisted use of big data (e.g. to measure customer’s biometrics and client onboarding process) made remote customer interaction possible and an experience by itself! AI-assisted Know Your Client (“KYC”) process has definitely been explored by various companies and we continue to see continued demand for related legal work (e.g. client consent forms, privacy policy, etc.)

  3. 2020 also saw a number of Hong Kong-based insurance companies penetrating cyberspace where AI are used to automate claims processing. AI and big data are also used by a number of insurance companies to detect potential fraudulent insurance claims and predict risks. Partnering AI and legal work for the insurance industry will therefore see both a beginning and expansion into 2021 (see AI data analytics below).

  4. 2020 also saw Hong Kong maintaining the record of playing host to the world’s highest-valued AI company with a valuation of several billion US dollars founded by academics from local academic institutions. Focuses of the company includes using AI and deep learning for face/image recognition, autonomous driving, and medical imaging.

  5. Hong Kong is also continuing her lead in AI research reaching esteemed ranks of being ranked third globally in terms of producing the most highly cited and impactful research in recent years. With continued capital injection and support by the government (including but not limited to Innovation Node, Science Park and Cyberport initiatives), this accolade is likely to continue beyond 2020.

All in all, the combination of industry (with a ready consumer base), Government and Academic initiatives, Hong Kong will continue to maintain its prime position to cultivate and nurture local AI and big data talents as well as to create an ecosystem that is specifically catered to support innovation and start-ups in AI, machine learning, big/open data, and data science, unmatched and unavailable elsewhere around the globe.


Even before the outbreak of COVID back in 2020, AI in the form of machine learning and big data use has already been making waves for various industry (out to either improve or replace a number of historic actions). The outbreak of COVID has caused the rest of sceptical humanity to migrate their daily lives online, the following are therefore anticipated outcomes of ‘the Great Digital Migration’:

  1. First and foremost, the Great Digital Migration of 2020 has resulted in an explosion of data in respect of humans interacting with the virtual. The need to have AI-assisted decision making (e.g. big data analytics) (the need to mine a significantly large amount of data to project healthcare requirements) became a reality. 2021 is therefore likely to see the actualization of accumulated data.

  2. Second field of expansion likely includes surveillance, detection and prevention. With the introduction of 5G technology, big data surveillance across multiple networked devices in a wide space is likely to be seen as well. Already, we have seen implementation of mass collection of biometrics (e.g. facial recognition, etc.) which has been used to control crowds during the pandemic. With that said, regulation on how such information is to be collected, kept, used and data ethics is likely to be further developed in 2021.

  3. AI-assisted healthcare is on the rise. This range from providing assistance to doctors during diagnosis to AI-assisted epidemiology to project outbreaks in 2020. As AI-assisted healthcare goes mainstream, it is projected that laws and regulation governing use of AI by medical practitioners (e.g. code of conduct of doctors using AI-assisted healthcare, patient data collected (thereby forming big patient data), etc.) will become more prevalent, contemplated and legislated. As a result, issues such as access to medical datasets and barriers to the international exchange of patient data/information will be issues on the agenda.

  4. AI-assisted finance and fintech will also be on the rise. Just like the medical sector, 2020 saw a lot of economic uncertainties (where various governments (including Hong Kong SAR) rushed to save/subsidize their struggling economies. As the world moves towards a rebound, predicting behaviour transformation post-pandemic will be a norm for the finance sector and this process is only made more efficient via use of AI and bot-trade. SFC regulation/circulars regulating how licensed entities can behave as proliferation continues is therefore expected.

  5. AI-assisted bot-trading will be reigned in. 2020 highlighted the shortcoming of FinTech when oil derivatives went negative. Software that had simply not been programmed to account for such unexpected events caused investors to suffered dramatically. The disaster is a wakeup call for both FinTech programmers as well as regulators who have been highlighted the need to provide better tech-related regulations to safeguard the public. Safeguarding the public is, after all, the primary mission of the Securities and Futures Commission.


All in all, the outlook of the AI and Big Data industry remains positive and the following factors is projected:

  1. Investments are likely to continue to increase;

  2. AI will continue to improve a number of industry (ranging from finance to medical);

  3. Regulations are expected to roll out (and firms have to be prepared);

  4. Risk awareness is essential to continued success; and

  5. Recognition and realization by other industry will continue in 2021!

This article is co-authored by Joshua Chu from ONC Lawyers


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