HKUST(GZ) President Lionel NI Ming-Shuan: AI opens up unlimited possibilities for cross-disciplinary collaboration


Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts from around the world came together to discuss the future development of AI at the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), held in Shanghai, China on July 8, 2021.It was also the first time a WAIC-satellite event was hosted in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Professor Wei SHYY, President of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), signed an agreement, marking HKUST’s joining the Global Artificial Intelligence Academic Alliance (GAIAA).

Founded in 2018, the Shanghai-based GAIAA was jointly established by local and foreign top universities including Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Nanyang Technological University. The alliance has now connected presidents and AI experts from many world-renowned universities.

At the satellite event in Hong Kong, Professor Lionel NI Ming-Shuan, President of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou) (HKUST(GZ)) was invited to deliver a keynote speech with “AI Promotes Interdisciplinary Collaboration” as the theme. He discussed the prodigious prospects of AI in cross-disciplinary collaboration and shared the exploration of such at HKUST(GZ), currently undergoing preparatory work.

In his speech, Prof. Ni introduced HKUST(GZ)’s innovative approach to cross-disciplinary education and research. Adopting a hub structure comprising Function, Information, Systems and Society, HKUST(GZ) has identified 16 frontier research fields (thrust areas) including Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Materials, Intelligent Transportation, and Computational Media and Arts. For AI, HKUST(GZ) will not only focus on its disciplinary development, but also its practical applications in different fields. Although originally regarded as part of the computer science discipline, AI has gradually evolved into an independent discipline thanks to years of development and constant breakthroughs in big data, computing power and algorithms. “It will be our major challenge to ensure progress in cross-disciplinary collaboration, and we have found that AI is the most capable field to realize our goal,” said Prof. Ni.

Reiterating HKUST’s continued hankering to combine technology and arts, he said that HKUST(GZ) will finally be able to make it happen. When HKUST was first established, as he recalled, the government only required the University to found the Schools of Engineering, Science, and Business, but HKUST insisted on also founding the School of Humanities and Social Science at its own cost, with the hope of cultivating students’ humanity qualities. This also explains the establishment of the Computational Media and Arts thrust area under the Information Hub at HKUST(GZ)—to create synergy between technology and arts. It is hoped that AI will inspire new ideas and contribute to artistic creation at HKUST(GZ). The potential faculty members currently being recruited have a versatile background, ranging from arts to computer science. “We hope to nurture talents through cross-disciplinary collaboration between arts and technology, as well as encouraging the creation of arts through AI," added Prof. Ni. 

Prof. Ni went on to elaborate how the application of AI might lead to the discovery of new materials and contribute to more precise healthcare services in the biomedicine field. Speaking of the field of intelligent transportation, he cited HKUST’s collaboration with Guangzhou Metro Corporation, saying that through “researching into the data provided by Guangzhou Metro, we can offer more accurate and scientific solutions to dispatch trains rationally.” In 2020, HKUST and Guangzhou Metro Corporation signed a cooperation agreement on conducting research and cultivating talents in intelligent transportation.

Following the initiatives introduced in the national 14th Five-Year Plan, cross-disciplinary innovation driven by AI will surely become a highlight of future sci-tech innovation of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, while AI will become a must-have skill for more high-level talents. Prof. Ni said that more than 60% of the HKUST(GZ) faculty members possess expertise in Machine Learning. Looking to the future, he considered it a major goal for the academia to promote knowledge transfer, encourage collaboration among experts from AI and other fields, and to provide solutions to challenges facing humankind.

Prof. Ni delivers a keynote speech
Prof. Ni delivers a keynote speech

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