OPINION: Open data and AI – A powerful combination

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Big data with open data and artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful combination. With Internet-of-Things (IoT) becoming more and more prevalent, we now have unprecedented access at a very fine-level of detail for a wide range of measurable attributes for devices and objects as well as even people and processes. This ability to know, in real-time, exactly what’s happening with objects, equipment, vehicles in our surroundings, as well as our bodies and processes, i.e. Internet-of-Everything (IoE), is providing mankind with powerful new opportunities in improving efficiencies and effectiveness in city, government, industries, and personal life/health at levels that cannot be imagined just a few years ago.

There is no shortage of examples from around the world of innovative use of big data or open data combined with AI and machine learning. For example, Babylon Health in the UK is using big data and AI to provide accessible, affordable healthcare. It uses big data, from wearables and devices, to look for patterns and combine that with the world’s largest AI knowledge base in primary-care medicine. General Electric (GE) in the US uses big data collected from sensors and IoT devices to create a virtual digital twin model of factories, power plants, aircrafts, and machineries. Digital twins are real-time live models of the real world. This allows AI to, for example, predict performance and maintenance needs, as well as optimize operations as well as diagnose problems.

How about Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is also moving fast in leveraging AI to create applications with big data or open data. Numerous examples can be found in applications for smart city, health, finance, and insurance industries.

For example, insurance companies in Hong Kong are streamlining and improving efficiencies and effectiveness in the overall customer experience through innovative use of AI and big data. For example, face recognition and BMI prediction can reduce time needed to sign up a new customer. Big data and AI prediction will make the process of underwriting and pricing a lot faster and much more accurate. More and more insurance companies are using AI to automate claims processing. AI and big data are also used for fraud detection as well as ensure compliance. Similarly, other financial services companies in Hong Kong are also using big data and AI data analytics to predict risks in investment, manage portfolios, and detect fraud.

In fact, Hong Kong is home to SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI company with a valuation of several billion US dollars. Founded by academics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong only a few years ago, Sensetime focuses on using AI and deep-learning for face/image recognition, autonomous driving, and medical imaging. Its high-performance deep learning supercomputing platform is one of China’s largest, able to support building models with hundreds of billions of parameters, categorizing hundreds of millions of data and training billions of images.

Hong Kong ranks high in AI research

Scopus, one of the most respected database of research papers, ranked Hong Kong’s AI research to be third globally in terms of producing the most highly cited and impactful research in recent years in 2018. This is quite an amazing achievement.

Hong Kong technology innovation got a big boost with a HK$50 billion investment from the Government in 2018. This budget aims to strengthen innovations in the areas such as biotechnology, ICT, AI, big data, and fintech. Part of this budget will provide funding for a new Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park in the Lok Ma Chau Loop, two new Technology Research Clusters on healthcare technologies and on AI and robotics technologies, development of eSports, as well as additional funding to support the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), HKSTP, and Cyberport. There will be funding to nurture IT talent, such as a Postdoctoral Hub to encourage the recruitment of postgraduate talents, as well as increased Continuing Education Fund (CEF).

Recently, Alibaba, SenseTime and HKSTP opened a non-profit Hong Kong AI & Data Laboratory (HKAI) to advance local AI development with cutting-edge technologies and expertise. There will be programs to empower startups and commercialize innovations, as well as communities to inspire new ideas and knowledge sharing among academics, scientists and entrepreneurs.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also opened its Hong Kong Innovation Node in 2017, aiming to nurture future startup founders by connecting MIT and Hong Kong students to develop tech business ideas together. The Innovation Node is a 5,000-square-foot multifunctional space with classroom, co-working space and maker space facilities, featuring advanced prototyping equipment and media centers for teaching purpose.

With these and other industry, Government and University initiatives, Hong Kong will be much better positioned to cultivate and nurture local AI and big data talent as well as to create an ecosystem to support innovation and startups in AI, machine learning, big/open data, and data science.

Prof. Andy Chun is the Convenor of the AI Specialist Group within the Hong Kong Computer Society. He is also an honorary Adjunct Professor at the City University of Hong Kong. He currently works as the Regional Director, Technology Innovation at Prudential Corporation Asia.


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