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Ahead of the AI & Big Data Leaders Summit Hong Kong 2019, we interviewed Dr. James Lei, acting director, AI and Big Data Analytics of ASTRI - Hong Kong’s innovation centre in ICT. Dr Lei has more than 100 publications in journals, conferences, and patent applications. His research has led to several technology startups.
Among 5 focused areas of application at ASTRI, which area do you think that needs more R&D than the others, and why?
Our R&D strategic focus covers five areas of applications: Smart City, Financial Technologies, Intelligent Manufacturing, Health Technologies, and Application Specific Integrated Circuits through our mandate as the Hong Kong branch of the Chinese National Engineering Research Centre (CNERC). R&D is the pillar of all five focused areas as it plays a critical role in the innovation process and technology advancement. All areas need continuous R&D effort to bring cutting edge technologies and the latest innovations to address real-world applications and problems.
My team specializes in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics, and also covers on the technology areas including blockchain, healthcare technology for elderly, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT), and STEM. We closely follow the industry technology trends and provide innovative end-to-end hardware and software solutions to meet customers’ business needs, e.g. blockchain systems, AI chatbot, elderly companion, LoRa based IoT monitoring system and many more.
Can you point out some main developments in fifth-generation (5G) technology that differ from the previous generation (4G)?

5G would provide the capacity to develop a smart city and supporting life-changing technologies. 5G’s key features include enhancement of the traditional mobile broadband scenarios as well as new ultra-reliable and low latency communications and massive machine-type communications. Compare to previous generations, for examples, downloading a high-resolution movie (8GB) takes 26 hours (3G), 6 mins (4G) and 4 sec (5G) respectively.
The short network latency feature (e.g. from 45ms to 1ms) of 5G supports many more emerging technologies which 4G cannot do, i.e. the industrial IoT, V2X, remote surgery, and many more, which were unpractical earlier due to limited network performance such as long network delay.
Light pollution happened to many countries, especially in countries around Asia. What can be the solutions provided by Smart City technologies?
Leveraging AI and IoT for environmental sustainability can help maximize our current efforts for environmental protection. For example, use wireless technology to control lights from a central management system. At any time lamps could be adjusted in response to weather, circumstance and individual need.
Intelligent lighting systems have already been installed in the German village of Dorentrup and NXP Semiconductors (Netherlands), so that lighting is used more efficiently, with less waste and less creation of unwanted or unneeded illumination.

As one of the strongest FinTech R&D Groups in Hong Kong, do you have any idea to develop disruptive innovation for the finance industry?
The Financial Technologies (FinTech), is one of the cornerstones of the sector’s continued growth. It is now becoming obvious that the accelerating pace of technological change is the most creative force – and also the most destructive – in the financial services ecosystem today.
For the past few years, customers have had their expectations set by other industries and demanding better services, seamless experiences regardless of channel, requiring more value for their money. At the same time, regulators demand more from the industry, have started to adopt new technologies that will revolutionise their ability to collect and analyse information.
Our FinTech teams have developed solutions to leverage Blockchain technology, strengthen cybersecurity, make sense of big data, and provide valuable proofs-of-concept that benefit the entire financial industry.
ASTRI was commissioned by the Fintech Facilitation Office (FFO) of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) to conduct a research project on Blockchain. We carried out an open-minded, in-depth examination of the technology and identified possible applications of blockchain in financial services. Besides, we have collaborated with New World Development Co. Ltd to create Hong Kong’s First Property-Purchase Blockchain Platform, with Bank of China (Hong Kong) as the first participating bank.
Have you ever had a vision that Intelligent Manufacturing can replace human labour completely in the near or far future? Do you think that scenario is positive for human activities?
Intelligent Manufacturing is one of the five pillars of ASTRI’s R&D strategy. Enabled by IoT devices, the Industry IoT allows for the expansion and streamlining of all aspects of business, making production faster, easier and more efficient.
It is positive and possible that Intelligent Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics can replace human labour from doing repetitive and dangerous work procedures in a factory, which will make production lines more reliable, less demanding, and infinitely more accessible. It will save factory labour from boring repetitive work so workers can focus on more productive or creative job assignments.
Hong Kong hospitals and health centres have applied many health technologies, involving data collection and analysis. What serious cybersecurity problems may come up regarding patients data protection?
As technology continues to transform the way healthcare is delivered, the industry is burdened by the growing cybersecurity risks inherent in the expansion of connected devices. At the same time, health-related data—which includes not just patient data but also financial data, clinical research and intellectual property—is an appealing target by malicious actors. However, most Hong Kong hospitals and health centres are not recognizing the potential risks and just assign limited budget on that segment.
Cyberattacks on the healthcare industry can result in serious incidents, such as leaking of patient information, loss of patients’ emergency contacts and medical history and records, which could bring about the delay with emergency services.
Do you think Blockchain is a disruptive technology? It is said to go down on-trend. Therefore, in your opinion, is it necessary to keep investing heavily in R&D for this sector?
Instead of saying Blockchain as a disruptive technology, I would like to say it as a revolutionary technology. In the simplest term, blockchain refers to a decentralized database using state of the art cryptography, so that once information goes in, it is virtually impossible to get it out again without the original passcode or key.
The real innovation here is that trust is established through collaboration and code, rather than a central authority. The technology can be applied in many different areas, e.g. financial, property, healthcare, etc. It has the potential to revolutionize many industries. There are still many technical hurdles to be surmounted before blockchain can be used in large scale deployment for many applications. We anticipate more technical signs of progress in this area moving forward. People will explore the various possibilities of blockchain technology and keep investing in this sector.
Dr James Lei is a keynote speaker at AI & Big Data Leaders Summit Hong Kong2019, to find out more information about the presentation and the summit, please click here.

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