A cross-section of industry leaders gathered in Hong Kong last week for The Wall Street Journal’s fourth annual D.Live event to discuss some of the hottest tech trends, including connected vehicles, smart transportation and developments in artificial intelligence (AI). Mobile World Live summarises the highlights.

Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance (pictured, below), told the audience a revolution is coming in the car industry towards zero emissions and autonomous, connected vehicles, but noted we’re at the beginning.

“Many people think autonomous cars are almost here, but the limited prototypes out there doesn’t mean the technology is ready. There’s a huge step in terms of robustness, reliability… mapping and when people don’t follow the rules. We are not there,” he declared.

In terms of autonomy, he rates the maturity level at four or five out of 100 and gives connectivity a score of just ten and electric vehicles a rating of 15.

Safety will be the key driver behind the push to autonomous vehicles, since removing the human element can reduce road deaths by 90 per cent. Each year 1.4 million die on roads worldwide: “A lot of governments are facilitating [the move] because they see the benefits, at least in terms of safety,” he said.

Ghosn said tech companies are not competing against the automakers because they make much more money in their businesses than going into the car industry.

“It’s very simple. When you migrate from one area to another, you go for areas where you make more money. You don’t go into an area where you need more investment, employ more people and have a lower return. And on top of that you’re competing against people who have been around many years,” he explained.

The tech companies, he said, are the auto industry’s partners and will help push that revolution: “We are working with Waymo, Google, Microsoft, Uber, Didi… We are not competing, they want our product, they want us to be involved. They are going to compete in their area, and we’re going to compete in ours.”

Public-private connections
The taxi-hailing space of course attracted its share of attention.

Ming Maa, president of Singapore-based Grab (pictured, below), which recently acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, outlined its vision to bring together a commuter’s journey with one-click and one consolidated payment.

He said the public infrastructure across Asia has lagged population growth, so consumers increasingly rely on private service providers like Grab. The problem is if everyone uses taxi-hailing services, it only compounds the traffic congestion.

“The real opportunity for us is tie together the private sector with public sector and make the entire transportation value chain more efficient, more reliable and more convenient,” he stated.

Ming said the acquisition expanded its footprint in Asia from just over 30 cities to more than 200, with 90 million people on its platform. It expects revenue to hit $1 billion in the current quarter, which is a fivefold increase from a year ago.

AI impact
Unsurprisingly, AI was discussed to some degree by many of the speakers, with the question about its impact on future jobs hotly debated.

Ralph Haupter, president of Microsoft Asia (pictured, below), said he is optimistic AI is on the cusp of going mainstream, citing four key areas where it can deliver the same quality as humans: facial recognition; speech recognition; machine reading; and Chinese translation.

“This shows the technology is now ready to go forward quickly. On the top of each decision maker’s to-do list is ‘how do I add an AI component in my offering’,” he said.

Citing a survey of 1,600 business executives, Haupter said respondents believe 80 per cent of jobs will be impacted by AI, with 15 per cent to 20 per cent of current positions to be eliminated: “Yet as an industry we face a shortage of skills and capacity, which I’d say at this stage is bigger than that 20 per cent loss.”

The real task is how do you reskill companies and people to take that technology and use it, he said: “We are at an inflection point. There’s a job to do to help, but it’s not a disastrous picture.”

Bing Xu, co-founder of facial recognition company SenseTime, pointed out AI has the potential to help countries overcome labour shortages as populations age.

“AI enables people to work more efficiently by using automation tools. By improving productivity, AI is going to upgrade every industry it can influence,” he said.

During a panel entitled The Scope of Threat, Andreas Weigend, director of Social Data Lab, when asked what surprised him most about the Facebook user data leak, responded: “The lack of integrity at the companies involved. This should be a wake up call for all of us and a wakeup call for democracy.”

Connie Chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, talked about how the use of mobile apps to pay for goods in physical stores is giving retailers access to data on exactly what a customer purchased, and in some cases what they considered buying, noting “the phone is a critical bridge between people’s online and offline selves”.

Coupled with the Facebook revelations over the past month, the prospect that our online behaviour is influencing our offline world, and vice-versa, is indeed startling for some.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.