From the land of Nokia to an AR enabled Hong Kong

Tristan BRAUD
Dec 18, 2018 · 11 min read

Roughly translated by Mr. Tong Li and Mr. Anlan Zhang from an interview article published at MingPao newspaper on 16.12.18 by Ms. Zena Tsang [i]. Special thanks to Dr. CCS Chan for proofreading

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Picture illustrating the original MingPao article

In the restaurant, a person with a humble smile sat down in front of me. I looked at him, and several lines of information were listed on my AR glasses, “Pan Hui, Nokia Chair in Data Science and Professor at the University of Helsinki.” The next line is “Director of the Helsinki-Hong Kong AI Research Center ‘H2O Project’”. This is of course still my Augmented Reality (AR) fantasy, but the reality is not far away. Prof. Pan Hui has a grand plan to establish Hong Kong as the world’s first AR enabled city with the help of 5G and AI. Here is a summary of my whole-afternoon interview with him. We have covered many interesting and trendy topics.

1. Talking about Huawei and Trade War

Under the Sino-US competition, Hong Kong has to find its place in the global technology development map. Prof. Pan Hui has a great idea — to make more strategic alliances and diversify the investment portfolio.

In September of last year, Prof. Pan Hui joined the University of Helsinki in Finland, which is a strategic partner of Nokia Bell Labs. Bell Labs is famous for cutting-edge research and has produced 9 Nobel Prizes (including a Nobel Prize in 2018).

In February, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, announced that the government would spend 10 billion Hong Kong dollars to build two innovation clusters, targeting healthcare technology, and artificial intelligence and robotics respectively. This ambitious initiative is also known as InnoHK. Prof. Hui and his University of Helsinki colleagues immediately took action for the H2O proposal. Currently, University of Helsinki has raised some collaboration matching funds in Finland and will submit proposals to the Hong Kong government shortly.

Laymen may have the perception that AI is all about robots while AR is only about playing Pokémon GO, so what is the relationship between the two? And how are they related to 5G? Prof. Pan Hui presented an AR scenario in the very near future. The stores are hidden in the high-rise buildings. You look at the building and your AR glasses will show the shops you are looking for and the latest discounts. When you arrive at the bus stop, your glasses can tell you the arrival time of the next bus. aCommerce (augmented-commerce) will provide you a completely different shopping experience compared to looking at your smartphone or your laptop. The clothes you are interested in your will be floating in the air around you, and you will even be able to see yourself wearing them through the AR glasses without going to the fitting room. Prof. Pan Hui explained that AR needs to fulfil three conditions, (1) a combination of the physical world with the virtual world; (2) it needs real-time responses; (3) the virtual objects need to be registered in the 3D world. “For example, if a Pokémon appears, it should not be half on the table and half under the table.” AR can recognize faces, buildings, and filter information according to individual needs. It relies on artificial intelligence, and 5G, the “enabling technology” that provides low latency communication. A delay even of one-hundredth of a second is enough to affect the user’s real-time experience.

Giant enterprises monopolize 5G technology patents

2. Talking about Hong Kong’s strategies in Innovation and Technology

This kind of ethos is related to Nokia’s downswing. Many tech people were facing unemployment at the time, they began starting their own businesses, resulting in numerous start-up companies. Lately, Nokia has been recovering with excellent communications and networking equipment such as radio base stations and routers. Compared with the big countries of China and the United States, Finland is a Nordic country with a population of only 5.5 million, he analysed. As such, Finland cannot spend money like China and USA and has to be more selective and strategic. The Nordic Innovation House inaugurated its Hong Kong branch last month, which was established by the Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland). The other three Innovation Houses in Silicon Valley, New York, and Singapore show the strategic considerations of the Nordic countries. H2O chose to cooperate with Hong Kong because not only Prof. Pan Hui is from Hong Kong but also Hong Kong’s English circulation and legal system offer a serious advantage over mainland cities to open the Asian market.

Finland has its strategy of selective investment like the Nordic Innovation Houses, and the big countries also are sitting on enormous resources and technologies. What is the best strategy for Hong Kong? Prof. Pan Hui proposes to “establish an alliance relationship with different economic systems.” In his view, the InnoHK project is an excellent opportunity for Hong Kong to not only benefit from innovation development but also to make strong alliances in the world.

Hong Kong is a good platform for building artificial intelligence and robotic technology innovation, thanks to the government’s strategy to attract the cooperation of the world’s top academic institutions such as Harvard. Prof. Pan Hui pointed out that choosing internationally famous schools is one way, but the Hong Kong government can also diversify its investment. Top universities in small countries can have a significant influence on their countries. For instance, many politicians and government officials in Finland are graduates of the University of Helsinki. Of course, there are many highly ranked universities in the United States, but the government should not only consider the rankings and also think about the alliance. By spending all your money in a specific country, you increase the risk to get nothing back if a trade war suddenly occurs. However, the small country administration is less constrained by the bureaucratic system. H2O started its plan at the beginning of this year and has already been supported by the mayor of Helsinki and the Chairman of Nokia. This again demonstrates the efficiency of the Finnish system.

3. Set up the Think Corner in ToKwaWan, a down-to-earth place

ToKwaWan is also the place where Prof. Pan Hui grew up. His younger brother, Yuk Hui, is a young philosopher who is highly regarded in the West nowadays. He is famous for examining the concept of Chinese and Western science and technology, and promoting the idea of multi-universe science and technology (cosmotechnics). Yuk Hui recalled that when he was young, he spent a lot of time in the Kowloon Public Library with his elder brother, enjoying books related to physics and Mou Zongsan’s Chinese philosophy.

Professor Pan Hui went on to describe the importance of science and technology education and his early inspirations from science fictions, popular science books, and technology books, which later influenced his decisions to take up engineering in the University of Hong Kong and further his academic pursues at the University of Cambridge.

4. Privacy is not an obstacle. It is just hard to establish a universal standard for regulatory issues

Cardea: A visual privacy protection system

Comment on China’s “Social Credit System”

Living in “the happiest country in the world”, Prof. Pan Hui needs to fly back to Hong Kong to meet his students every one or two months. “I am living in the best of the two worlds although the commuting is hard.” People in Hong Kong yearn for Christmas in Finland, but Prof. Pan Hui stays in Hong Kong for the holidays. Slush, a venture capital conference was held in Helsinki at the beginning of the month. Slush is also snow mud consisting of semi-snow and semi-water. Prof. Pan Hui described the beginning of December as the worst time in Helsinki. The sun sets very early, and there is not much snow to reflect light. But the Finns choose to hold this international conference at this time. “Can you imagine that the hotels were full of people in such weather?” He laughed, “Maybe this can also be regarded as an invention.” In addition to liquorice chocolate, he also felt the Finns’ open minds when he was in the local supermarkets. “In the ordinary supermarkets, you can see Asian seasonings such as oyster sauce.” You can also find a brand of cup noodles that are common in Hong Kong there. There is freedom as well as openness. “Finland’s working hours are very flexible. I need to work 1624 hours a year. No matter how I distribute the time, I just need to meet the requirement of the total time, although as a workaholic I work much more.”

[i] The original article is available at

[ii] Translator’s note: The Think Corner is a physical space located in the city center of Helsinki, offering information and dialogue in easily digested form. Experts, researchers, influencers and the audience meet through themed events, hot topics and demos will be available from a broad range of fields.

[iii] Translator’s note: The Global Open Data Index tracks the state of open government data publication.

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