19 October 2019
Boosting public sector R&D spending and nurturing local technology talent are some of the key issues scholars hope Carrie Lam would address. Photo:
Boosting public sector R&D spending and nurturing local technology talent are some of the key issues scholars hope Carrie Lam would address. Photo:

Four expectations from the Policy Address

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will deliver her maiden Policy Address on Oct. 11. From the viewpoint of a locally bred practitioner of information technology industry, I hope that the Policy Address can inject new impetus into Hong Kong’s economy in the following four areas:

1. Strengthening AI-related and coding education 

While our chief executive has shown her concern for education by allocating an additional HK$5 billion as promised in her election campaign, her follow-on step should strengthen training of innovation and technology talent in Hong Kong.

In China, since setting a goal of becoming a global innovation center in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030 in its Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, the government is well aware of the necessity to increase human resources in this aspect.

As a result, an ambitious plan in education starting from primary school all the way to tertiary education and beyond has been implemented. For example, there is a requirement of at least one-hour science lesson weekly for primary 1-2 students; an increase in position for study in master and doctorate degrees in AI-related subjects have been specified.

In Hong Kong, we expect to see improvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and introduction of coding in the formal curriculum of primary and secondary schools as soon as possible with the HK$5 billion additional funding. Prof. Lap-Chee Tsui, former president of the University of Hong Kong, recently said that the university entry requirement “3322″ of the core subjects had set back students’ interest in selecting basic science and advanced mathematics courses, which hinders the training of local talent in technology.

I hope the Policy Address will consider views from various stakeholders and address our shortcomings on training talent.

2. Encouraging R&D to facilitate innovation ecosystem

Take a look at the research and development (R&D) expenditure in South Korea and China. The expenditure has shot up over the past 20 years. Singapore has been able to maintain it at 2 percent or above the annual government expenditure while ours has remained well below 1 percent since 1996. As a result, we have experienced slow development and a brain drain.

It is not enough to encourage investment in the private sector through relevant tax deductions to get private enterprises to undertake R&D. I hope the Policy Address would also address the R&D investment in the public sector to encourage a healthy development of the entire IT ecosystem in Hong Kong.

3. Facilitating public participation and innovation through data sharing

The success stories of Dubai Pulse and GeoHub of Los Angeles have proved that opening up government and public data can cultivate relationships and encourage creativity.

Dubai Pulse has provided an all-round city information platform for the public to access updated information of various city locations, public projects and events, such as the status, estimated expenditure and completion time of construction works.

In the US, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti believes that opening up data can “make city operations more efficient, stimulate partnerships between the city and the community and give residents a greater controlling stake in government”.

Its common spatial data infrastructure (CSDI) GeoHub can also boost the creativity of Angelenos to relieve the problems brought about by economic downturn and climate change.

In order to implement the process of “public participation” as promised by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, she may follow these good practices to engage public organizations and the community through CSDI which is under development, so that the community can develop various mobile applications with government data and establish a dynamic communication channel between society and the government. To take it further, a 4P or partnership among the people, private and public (government and public organizations) can be formed, stimulating community innovation and promoting social development.

4. Implementing smart city services as soon as possible

A driver in New York City spends an average of 107 hours per year looking for a parking space, according to global real-time traffic information company INRIX. The cost to the US due to traffic congestion leading to wasted fuel and loss of productivity is estimated at US$87.2 billion, according the US Department of Transportation. A large amount of existing public infrastructure is underutilized, or used inefficiently due to a lack of real-time information from individuals, companies, and government agencies. As such, adaptive signal control technology has been applied in the US to allow traffic lights to change their timing based on real-time data. Travel time has improved by more than 10 percent.

As recommended in a recent report by a consultant of the Hong Kong government, we should adopt as soon as possible a number of smart technologies, such as smart parking, smart traffic lights, digital travel, smart grid, and gerontechnology which have been proven in other cities. I hope the Policy Address will allocate adequate resources accordingly.

The IESE Cities in Motion Index ranks Hong Kong 139th in the aspect of social cohesion among 181 cities this year. Opening different channels to collect public opinions and allowing diversified economic development would provide more opportunities to everyone, especially young people, to express their views and pursue their career objectives. This certainly would inject a positive energy to the city. 

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong