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Hong Kong recruited Beijing artificial intelligence start-up to lead tech drive

A Hong Kong start-up whose face-and image-recognition technology is being used for smart cities, online entertainment and finance have been hand-picked by Beijing to power China’s ambition to be a global tech leader, according to a recent report.

The company founded by a professor and other academics from the Chinese University; it will join a bevvy of technology giants in spurring the development of next-generation artificial intelligence.

On Thursday, China’s Minister of Science and Technology announced his ministry would entrust the AI company establish an “open innovation platform for next-generation AI” on intelligent vision.

A spokesman for the company said Beijing’s endorsement indicated that the company’s research in intelligent vision, or computer vision, was recognised as the best in China.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive hailed the involvement of the company as a “vote of confidence in Hong Kong’s strengths in innovation and technology”.

An agreement was signed that saw both sides pledge further cooperation in innovation and technology.

This means that Hong Kong researchers will get greater access to top mainland Chinese laboratories, more cross-border sharing of scientific and biomedical data, and the ability for Hong Kong scientists to take part in national policymaking and international projects.

The Chief Executive said the agreement marked a new page of scientific and technological collaboration between the mainland and Hong Kong.

Under the nation’s support, Hong Kong will continue to give full play to its strengths in areas such as scientific research, internationalisation and judicial independence to become an important force in the nation’s strategies to innovate and to foster development through it.

Experts said the arrangement showed Beijing’s determination to harness Hong Kong’s strengths to deliver greater success in artificial intelligence and other areas, as well as to turn the Greater Bay Area into a global innovation hub rivalling Silicon Valley.

Possessing the best universities in the Pearl River Delta means that it is natural for the central government to collaborate with the scientists in the area if the GBA is to compete with other city clusters around Shanghai and Beijing, according to academics.

In May, China’s President directed state agencies to help Hong Kong become an international innovation hub and directed them to give Hong Kong scientists greater access to national-level funding once only available to mainland researchers.

Last month, after Hong Kong’s Chief Exec and China’s Vice-Premier, revealed a slew of new initiatives including the setting-up of two state-backed laboratories in the city’s Science Park and a cross-border cooperation arrangement to be signed later.

The AI company, valued at HK$35.3 billion and crowned the world’s most valuable AI start-up, was founded at Hong Kong Science Park in 2014 by two Chinese University academics.

Its technology has been used on the driverless cars developed by a Japanese manufacturer and the unstaffed stores of an electronics retailer. A spokesman said it had also worked with mainland governments to provide tools for analysis and crowd control in subway stations.

In response to concerns of rampant surveillance and breaches of personal privacy, the spokesman said the AI was only a provider of technologies and tools and it was up to clients how they use them; it tries its best to protect information security”.

Two other deals were also brokered aimed at enhancing cooperation in various areas, such as scientific research, nurturing of talent, and transfer of results.

The feasibility of establishing a mainland-Hong Kong joint funding scheme to support such collaborations, especially on the city’s four priorities of biotechnology, financial technology, AI and smart cities will also be explored.

Since 2005, a total of 16 national laboratories have been established at six Hong Kong universities to do research crucial to China’s scientific development.

Initially, there were uncertainties over whether they were state key laboratories on their own or just partners of such laboratories on the mainland. But doubts were cleared up on 20 September when China’s Minister for Science and Technology presented plaques to the lab’s chiefs, officially confirming them as state laboratories.

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