From Paradise to Progress: AI’s Potential for Hawaii

Growing up in Honolulu, I’ve always been in awe of our islands’ history and its potential. Hawai‘i is my home, my inspiration, and the place that taught me the importance of community, resilience, and embracing change. It’s with this spirit that I’m thrilled to announce my role as a Founding Board Member for the newly established Hawai‘i Center for AI (HCAI).

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the transformative power of technology. As an entrepreneur and advisor, I truly believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to be a game-changer for our island community.

AI: A Double-Edged Sword?

AI is an exponential technology that has the potential to transform every industry, sector, and job function. On an individual level, it will likely change how we live, work, learn, and play.

According to a recent report by ResumeBuilder, 37% of companies using AI say they replaced workers with the technology in 2023 — and 44% report there will be additional layoffs resulting from AI efficiency. While AI could lead to increased inequality, it also has tremendous potential for good. Recent studies suggest AI could potentially benefit lower-skilled workers more than higher-skilled ones, potentially reversing the trend of increasing inequality. Moreover, AI could make elite expertise more accessible and increase the value of middle-skill workers. Experts think that workers in 80% of occupations will save time with AI — as much as 20% of their time.

This is especially relevant for Hawai‘i, where our dependence on tourism has left our economy vulnerable. With daily arrivals to our islands continuing a downward trend in 2024, we must diversify our economy. And with most of our food arriving as imports, our islands are susceptible to supply chain disruptions. Having recently visited West Maui, I am reminded of how climate change and our colonial history have put us at risk. But I see AI as a powerful tool to help diversify and strengthen our economy.

Fortunately, there are several organizations working hard to diversify Hawaii‘s economy. Accelerators like Elemental Excelerator, Mana Up, Blue Startups — providing mentorship and funding to local entrepreneurs — and other organizations (like Purple Mai‘a) are fostering innovation and creating new business opportunities across various sectors. HCAI joins these efforts by focusing on the transformative power of AI.

Leveling the Playing Field: AI for Everyone

The beauty of AI is it creates a level playing field. Powerful AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Anthropic’s Claude, Microsoft Copilot, and Google’s Gemini are now available to everyone. Whether you’re a CEO of a big corporation or a small business owner, we all have access to the same powerful AI tools. Stop and think about that for a minute. You can access the same cutting edge technology that is available to the world’s billionaires. This means AI has the potential to be a great equalizer, providing everyone with the tools they need to succeed, regardless of background or resources.

But access is just one piece of the puzzle. We need to use AI thoughtfully to truly benefit our communities. Generative AI can streamline tedious tasks, freeing us to focus on creative, meaningful work. Predictive AI can empower businesses to optimize operations and reduce waste. These are just a few examples of how AI can be harnessed for good.

Building a Thriving, Sustainable Hawai‘i

Some worry AI will take jobs away. But I believe AI, if leveraged responsibly, will actually create new opportunities for Hawai‘i’s workers. By automating repetitive tasks, AI frees us up to focus on more meaningful, uniquely human work. Plus, organizations are looking for people with AI skills. By embracing AI, we can position our workforce for the jobs of the future.

Working with HCAI Co-Founder and Board President Nam Vu and Founding Director Peter Dresslar, I’m excited to shape HCAI’s mission, vision, and programs. Our goal is to promote the beneficial use of AI to empower our people, communities and industries. Through education, research and innovation, we’re working to make sure our islands benefit from AI in a way that aligns with our values and culture.


  • AI helping local farmers increase yields and get more fresh produce to our markets and tables, reducing our reliance on imported foods.
  • Our hotels leveraging AI for sustainable resource management.
  • Small businesses leveraging AI to streamline operations and compete effectively.
  • More of our keiki getting AI literacy education to prepare them for the careers of tomorrow.

This is just the start — there’s so much more we can do with AI to lift up our islands’ economy and our people. This is the future we’re working towards at HCAI, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Empowering Our Community With Responsible AI

Like any new technology, AI requires thoughtful implementation. With the right approach, AI can help build a more sustainable, resilient and prosperous Hawai‘i. One that honors our past while positioning us for the future.

That’s why HCAI is committed to ensuring AI is used for good — for Responsible AI. This means AI that:

  • Empowers individuals: Every local business owner should have access to AI to automate tasks, freeing them to focus on what truly matters.
  • Strengthens our economy: AI can help us diversify our economy, revolutionize our agricultural industry, increase local food production, and reduce waste. It can also help our sustainable tourism sector personalize experiences and minimize environmental impact.
  • Protects our environment: AI can be used to monitor environmental conditions, predict and mitigate natural disasters, and optimize energy usage.
  • Fosters cultural preservation: AI can be used along with traditional knowledge to document, analyze, and share Native Hawaiian language, traditions, historical artifacts, and mo‘olelo (stories) passed down through generations.
  • Bridges the digital divide: HCAI offers resources and training to ensure everyone in Hawai‘i has the skills and knowledge to benefit from AI.

Join Us in Building a Brighter Future

We are a unique community, deeply connected to our land and each other. This makes us perfectly positioned to be global leaders in Responsible AI. We can create a model for the world, one that fosters innovation, equity, and a deep respect for our cultures.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting our important work. HCAI isn’t just for techies — it’s for everyone who wants to see Hawai‘i thrive. Whether you’re a business owner, an educator, a farmer, a student, or simply a concerned citizen curious about AI, there’s a place for you at our Hawai‘i Center for AI. Get involved, ask questions, and explore volunteer opportunities to ensure AI serves our island community.

Together, let’s build a Hawai‘i where AI uplifts and empowers us all, honoring our past while positioning us for a brighter future.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. HCAI is committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, HCAI drives research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

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