Making a collaborative effort to shape our future
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Faculty of Science of the University of Hong Kong (HKU). As a graduate, apart from setting up the “Winnie S M Tang Scholarship in Applied Artificial Intelligence" for outstanding students of the new interdisciplinary degree program in Applied Artificial Intelligence, I also want to dedicate my upcoming book to the Faculty in celebration of its anniversary.
The theme of my newly-released book Are You Future Ready? is “embracing the future"; the finale of the innotech trilogy that I composed over the last few years.
The first book in my trilogy, Surfing the IT World, published in 2016 is about my startup story. The book won the Publishing Award (Commerce and Management Category) in the first Hong Kong Publishing Biennial Award 2017 hosted by the Hong Kong Publishing Association.
The second one, Smart City 3.0, provides a comprehensive review of the concept of smart city with a lot of vivid examples and stories. It is a reference book for young people planning to study a Master’s course on the subject, and for the general public to grasp the new ideas.
The final book in the series explores how information technology and geographic information systems (GlS) have changed our lives in the past, the present and the future, thereby encouraging Hong Kong people to embrace technology and work together to build an advanced and liveable city.
In the course of publishing, I am most honoured to have prefaces written by three current deans and an emeritus professor of HKU. They are Professor Matthew Evans, Dean of the Faculty of Science; Professor Christopher Chao, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering; Professor Christopher Webster, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture; Professor John P. Burns, Emeritus Professor of the Department of Politics and Public Administration; as well as Jack Dangermond, Founder and President of Esri. They wrote on how to be future ready, and their views are summarised below:
Many engineering experts have gradually provided solutions to global challenges and lobbied national leaders to utilise technology for the benefit of mankind. However, does the general public realize how technology has changed their everyday lives? Are they ready for the ever-changing job market? To meet the future challenges, everyone should be equipped with basic scientific knowledge, otherwise they will be locked out.
Therefore, we need to inspire our children to learn science and explore the world. In universities, basic numerical skills and computer programming should be compulsory subjects in addition to basic languages. In terms of research and development (R&D), it is also necessary to invest a considerable percentage of GDP (for example, 2-3% as in many cities around the world) in order to reap the benefits of smart technologies.
Avoiding black-box thinking
The emergence of the internet of things, combined with advanced sensing technology, urban big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and ultra-high speed data processing implies that technology will bring a completely new era in the near future. However, processing large amounts of complex data requires AI and advanced mathematical models. The advantage is that the prediction is accurate. But due to black-box thinking, it is difficult to explain which data generated the result, so it is not assuring. On one hand, we need to improve people’s scientific literacy; on the other hand, we should improve the confidence of using black-box thinking of AI.
Collaboration essential for problem solving
Why do we need to be scientifically literate? Why do we have to avoid black-box thinking? We need people, academia, public and private organisations, as well as the government to work together to solve urban problems, such as housing and transportation issues, and jointly shape the future.
As the book title “Are You Future Ready?" suggests, I expect readers to be ready both in mindset and action after reading the book, and all of us will work hard to meet the challenges of the present and the future!
Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong