Hong Kong must go faster in race to be smart

Recent moves relating to transport apps, automated vehicles and tolling systems are welcome, but they do not seem innovative or creative enough given trends elsewhere.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 1:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 1:38am

Government efforts to make Hong Kong a smart city to improve lives and the economy are necessary in the face of trends and competition elsewhere in China and the world. But there is a sense that measures unveiled in a blueprint are insufficient and lack urgency. A recently unveiled five-year plan mentions apps for public transport and traffic information, automatic tolling systems and trials of automated vehicles, among much else. As welcome as these would be, they are hardly innovative, already being in use elsewhere and giving a sense of playing catch-up rather than making a great technological leap.

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Hong Kong already lags many mainland cities when it comes to e-commerce, ride hailing, bicycle sharing and technologies such as facial recognition for security. A global smart city index released last month by a Swedish parking solutions firm ranked our city 68th out of more than 500, with Copenhagen top, Singapore second and behind Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo. Despite a reputation for having world-class infrastructure, our city scored poorly in transport and mobility, sustainability, digitisation and innovative economy. Experts put the position down to starting too late on being smarter.

Authorities realise the importance of technology and innovation; the smart city idea was mentioned in the policy address of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Several schemes to move towards the goal have been put forward, with HK$700 million in funding allocated for projects. A government-commissioned study in June laid out plans to make our city “a world centre for innovation” between 2027 and 2030. A fast-track scheme to lure information technology professionals will be launched next year.

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But as welcome as these moves are, they do not seem innovative or creative enough given trends elsewhere. Worse, with so many cities either having adopted or also seeking the same aims, demand for people to create and operate schemes is a matter of urgency. Studies are necessary to assess needs, provide data on what is available and determine the best solutions. We need to move quickly, or risk being left further behind in the smart city stakes.