Energising HK's creative industries through cultural big data

May 23, 2022 10:10
Photo: HKMOA

The government has planned to allocate nearly HK$300 million for the development of Art Tech. How can the funding effectively improve the level of local culture and arts, and further consolidate Hong Kong’s development as an “East-meets-West centre for international cultural exchange" in the Mainland's 14th Five-Year Plan?

In recent years, there have been a lot of discussions about establishing a national cultural big data in the Mainland, which is worthy to be Hong Kong’s reference.

The purpose of the cultural big data is to open up the data of different stakeholders, so as to enable the government, cultural groups, investors, and sponsors to make data-driven decisions. The cultural big data also improves the evaluation ability and operation level of the practitioners, as well as enhances quality which benefits consumers in the end. In the meantime, it provides job opportunities for arts workers and technological talents, and promotes their development.

However, to get started is difficult. Hong Kong, like other places, has scattered cultural data. For example, the definition of “cultural creativity” varies: the Census and Statistics Department divides it into 11 component domains based on the international statistical guidelines of the United Nations and the situation of Hong Kong; while the CreateHK under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau only targets eight sectors; the Hong Kong Arts Development Council focuses on 10 major art forms. The government's open data platform "Data.gov.hk" also has fragmented cultural information, ranging from grant list of the Cantonese Opera Development Fund, attendance of museums, use of public libraries, and more.
In addition to fragmented data, the data is insufficient in quantity and lacks diversity. Guo Quanzhong, a Mainland's cultural industry researcher pointed out that cultural big data needs to be massive and in diverse formats, including text, audio, video, regular data and irregular data, and should be of high frequency, real-time, full-dimensional and online.

Besides, emerging content should also be included, such as We Media which generates a large amount of news and entertainment every day, as well as non-fungible token (NFT) and metaverse that are still niche but have unlimited potential.

In Hong Kong, currently we only have data silos from individual organisations, not to mention most data are static, such as attendance rate, number of employees, age of the audience. Real-time and online activity records are uncommon. Moreover, it is a big challenge to incorporate the internet content in the government's big data, because real-time information possesses huge commercial value and is well guarded by telecom companies and several internet giants.

Last but not least, we have to take the issue of personal data privacy into serious consideration. Cultural big data reveals personal preferences which could be sensitive. Clear and strict regulations are required to reduce public concerns for which advanced technology can help. For example, apart from the aggregated information open to the public and the business sector, if a business or a government department needs to dip into more in-depth data, even if it has been agreed in advance, the data owner needs to be notified upon receipt of these requests, so that people have the chance to raise objection, thus, protecting the privacy of personal information. At the same time, the information extracted will be recorded using blockchain. The blockchain technology ensures that the record cannot be tampered or modified which prevents the information from being used without authorisation.

A Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau has been proposed for the next-term government. I hope that the Bureau will actively study the construction of a cultural big data, so as to integrate with the Greater Bay Area and energise Hong Kong's cultural and creative industries.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong