Cover story - When Faced With Change


New Chairman Jack Lange shares AmCham’s key priorities for the year ahead

In a world that has learned to embrace diversity and the nuances of society’s ever-growing complexity, it seems strange that the answers to those really big questions remain stubbornly binary: Hammer, nail. Sparrow, snail. Driving the conversation, or a silent stander-by. Leading. Left behind.

Never-ending and accelerating disruption demands faster, more critical thinking from governments and those they govern, from businesses and their workers, from teachers, parents, and even schoolchildren. As the debates rage over possible outcomes and solutions, humankind risks becoming a bystander to its own extinction, so say pessimists like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

“We are living in a world characterized by rapid, and in many ways wrenching and disruptive, change,” AmCham’s new Chairman, Jack Lange, said in the keynote speech at his Inaugural Lunch on January 19. Faced with such daunting challenges for the coming year and beyond, the luncheon held in the ballroom of the brand-new Murray hotel might have been a glum affair. But Lange’s address was peppered with humor and fortified with a generous dose of resolute optimism.

AmCham’s 47th Chairman was quick to point to the many strengths that help insulate this city: The autonomy that comes with the One Country, Two Systems framework; free flow of information; respect for and protection of personal and data privacy; cultural diversity, and connectivity with the rest of the world.

Add to those the blessings of our city’s unique geography, and Hong Kong is well placed to capture opportunities for American and global business in the economic transformation of Asia – from Hong Kong’s “Smart City” drive, closer economic integration with Southern China, and an enhanced platform for reaching markets along the Belt & Road Initiative, Lange said.

Far from shrinking from the challenge of disruption, AmCham is determined to earn a seat at the top table, helping to drive the transformation.

“This is a year of adapting to change in mindset, to understand what the actual opportunities are for regional businesses based here,” he said.

A look in the mirror...

The Board has identified four key areas in which the Chamber can wield influence and add value – U.S. advocacy; the Greater Bay Area development plan; Hong Kong’s Smart City vision; and the future of work.

To begin the process, it was first necessary to understand the erosive effect technology has had not just on AmCham, but on all similar membership organizations.

While the core benefits of joining AmCham remain, most have been diminished. Networking, access to information and exposure are all made easy, free and scalable thanks to innovations such as social media platforms, big data and online search engines. “Advocacy and access – that is where we remain indispensable,” Lange said. “AmCham is good at advocacy… We are listened to. What we say makes a difference.”

AmCham provides an essential and valued bridge between Hong Kong and the U.S., one that draws on a deep relationship with the Consulate General here as well as close ties with the city’s administration. “It is a cooperative, collaborative relationship,” he said. “The government is interested in what we have to say, and is responsive to our concerns.”

Hong Kong may no longer carry the importance it held when China was emerging from decades of economic stagnation and isolation in the late 1970s. But it remains an immensely wealthy commercial and financial hub, with the potential to reap enormous gains from further development of the Pearl River Delta and its role under China’s Belt & Road plan. The key word here is "potential."

“How the city will shine and lead in such a role depends to a great extent on the Hong Kong government’s wisdom in defining a smart position that adapts to new realities without diluting Hong Kong's unique strengths and core values,” Lange said.

AmCham and its members have a crucial interest in helping to shape decisions that are good for China, good for Hong Kong and good for business.

U.S. Advocacy

Vice Chairman Robert Grieves, founder of Hamilton Advisors, will head the Government Relations Group and U.S. Advocacy Task Force.

“When we went on our D.C. Doorknock last June, it was striking how many doors had no one behind them. Trump's team is slowly filling out, but we have a lot of work to do to build the kind of working relationships that we developed over eight years under President Obama.” – Jack Lange


Smart City

Julie Brandt and Leonie Valentine head the Innovation and Technology Committee and have been laying the groundwork for our first Smart City conference in June, and will be working hand in glove with Smart City Task Force Chair Rick Truscott.

“Given the special contributions that American companies and other institutions – among them many of our members – are making in the development of artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning and robotics, these are areas where we think that AmCham can be a thought leader in helping to shape the Hong Kong government's policy direction.” – Jack Lange

Future of Work

Jennifer Van Dale, a Partner at Eversheds, where she heads the Asia Pacific employment practice, will spearhead our initiative exploring the future of work.  

“Of course, the very capacious concept of ‘Smart City’ captures the objective of `Smart People.’ But we have decided to launch an initiative specifically targeted at this human side of things, which we call ‘The Future of Work’ and which will be led by a person who is already a recognized thought leader in this area.” – Jack Lange  

Hong Kong, China and the Greater Bay Area

Patrick Wu, the Regional Managing Director for Greater China of Duff & Phelps, will head the Greater Bay Area Task Force.

“The policy for the Greater Bay Area initiative is still in a formative stage. There are still many questions about how it will work, what it will try to achieve, and what will be the benefits – as well as the potential risks – for Hong Kong. We would like to contribute our thoughts and be part of the process of answering those questions.” – Jack Lange  

“Sitting on President Xi's bookshelf behind him as he gave his New Year speech was a copy of Augmented, Brett King's book in which he claims that society will be impacted by technologies that will change the world more in the next 20 years than it has been changed in the past 250 years. As extraordinary as that sounds, it does not strike me as at all outlandish.” - Jack Lange

The Singularity: Our Future or Full-Stop?

That Xi Jinping put his reading choices on global display may be less an insight into the Chinese president’s literary tastes and more about the message he wants to send the world: By 2030, Beijing aims to be a world leader in artificial intelligence. If mathematician and computer scientist Vernor Vinge’s 2013 predictions prove right, that’s seven years too late.

“Within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence,” the former professor of mathematics and computer sciences at San Diego State University wrote in his seminal essay The Coming Technological Singularity. “Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

Vinge’s work is is widely seen as having popularized the concept of the Singularity: the point at which technological progress outpaces humanity’s ability to understand or control it. You may find some of the following excerpts unsettling:

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities – on a still-shorter time scale.

Any intelligent machine… would not be humankind's`tool’ – any more than humans are the tools of rabbits or robins or chimpanzees. From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control.

As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace.

As time passes, we should see more symptoms. We will see automation replacing higher and higher-level jobs... Or put another way: The work that is truly productive is the domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity.

Ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.

And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself?

The precipitating event will likely be unexpected - perhaps even to the researchers involved... If networking is widespread enough (into ubiquitous embedded systems), it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened.

For all my rampant technological optimism, sometimes I think I'd be more comfortable if I were regarding these transcendental events from 1,000 years remove... instead of 20.