In recent years, the development of artificial intelligence (Al) has attracted attention from various sectors, and as a result, there has been intense competition around the world for talent in the field.
Hong Kong, however, has been falling behind its neighbors in research investment in AI. Consequently, our city remains unattractive to AI talent.
Already, there are a few cases of successful commercialization of research results in this field, and I have repeatedly urged the government to catch up in this regard.
That is why I find recent news from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on this matter extremely encouraging. The HKU Faculty of Engineering has announced a partnership with two of the world’s top universities – Harvard University and Tsinghua University – to nurture talent and conduct cutting-edge research in the field.
HKU and Tsinghua will jointly organize a bachelor’s degree program in Computer Science and Technology by 2020, with AI expected to be one of the core subjects.
This is the first time that Tsinghua, an elite university of international ranking in the Greater China region, is cooperating with another institution to organize a degree course.
The new dual degree program requires students to study two years in each of the two universities. Upon successful completion of the four-year course, they will be awarded a bachelor’s degree from each of the two universities.
Tsinghua is at the forefront of the development of science and technology in mainland China with a history of more than a decade in the field.
Since the State Council announced that it aims to develop AI at full speed last year, the university’s role has become more important.
It is expected that there will be keen competition among talents in Hong Kong and the mainland for enrolment in this double-degree course. As a result, more AI talents will be available in Hong Kong.
Two days after revealing the partnership with Tsinghua, HKU announced another plan of cooperation, this time with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to set up a laboratory in Hong Kong to develop precision instruments for medicine.
Research will focus on medical diagnostics, drug delivery, and analytical sensors.
Prof. Christopher Chao, dean of the HKU Faculty of Engineering, hopes that this cooperation could combine the scientific research superiorities of the two institutions to come up research results that will ultimately benefit the society.
This is all the more important in the context of the global aging population and the ever-increasing workload of those in the healthcare and medical sectors.
At about the same time, the MIT Technology Review selected the top ten young innovators under the age of 35 in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr. Ruibang Luo, an assistant professor at the HKU Department of Computer Science, is on the list, the first person from Hong Kong to win the award.
Dr. Luo’s research uses a new algorithm that not only shortens the time required for the diagnosis of cancer and rare diseases, but also helps to identify the illness more accurately for targeted treatment.
What is even more gratifying is that he started commercializing his research breakthrough two years ago, making it available for the public and private hospitals.
Professor W. John Kao, the HKU vice-president and pro-vice-chancellor (global), has described AI as a giant sandbox, enabling a very wide scope of research for which no single or even 100 universities could fully cope with.
The world’s problems are complicated, requiring the widest cooperation possible. Peers need not compete like enemies. “Coopetition”, or cooperation between competitors for mutually beneficial results, is the best way for the healthy development of technology and innovation.
These welcome developments, particularly enhanced cooperation among various parties, give us more reason to see a brighter outlook for the coming year.
I hope that HKU and other local tertiary institutions could work together, take advantage of the financial know-how and rule of law in our city, and help make Hong Kong an international innovation and technology hub.
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