Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Inside the AI revolution that’s reshaping Chinese society

NewsChinaSociety
2017-06-29
Artificial intelligence, once a novelty, is now being applied in everyday life. From academia to business, government and the military, ambitious China is betting big on AI, raising US suspicions yet offering opportunities for collaboration

Seven-year-old Chen Jiahao has a problem sum he can’t solve and he can’t wait to get home from school to pose the question to his all-knowing maths tutor.

His tutor is amazing, the boy says. Just snap a photograph of the question and the tutor will provide every possible approach to solve the problem, step by step – all in a split second.

Jiahao’s tutor is inside his mother’s smartphone. It is, in fact, an app that draws on artificial intelligence (AI) technology to solve challenging maths problems for primary school children.

And it’s just one of many AI-enabled apps Jiahao uses daily on his mother’s phone. When the boy started primary school in Beijing, his teachers recommended that his parents install the apps on their phones. The software give out school assignments, grade pupils’ work and even generate unique sets of exercises for each child based on their areas of weakness.

“Jiahao likes his AI teachers,” said his mother, Yu Ting, adding that her son spends at least two hours on the AI apps every day. “He greets my phone as eagerly as he greets me.”

AI society

Jiahao’s story shows how AI is shaping modern Chinese society as the technology shifts slowly but surely from the realm of mere novelty towards common, everyday application.

On Chinese social media, video-sharing platforms and shopping sites, AI technology is already widely used to cater specifically to individual tastes and preferences.

For example, online news aggregator Toutiao provides a selection of articles tailored for its users based on information such as their age, gender and location. Video-streaming website iQiyi recommends programmes based on users’ search and viewing history.

Ali Xiaomi, the AI-powered customer service chatbot of tech giant Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, can reply to a million text queries and takes thousands of phone calls from online shoppers every day. The use of AI has cut e-shops’ customer service costs by 90 per cent, according to Alibaba.

That’s not all. An AI traffic controller introduced on trial in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province last year eased vehicle flow on roads, allowing cars to pass at speeds of up to 11 per cent faster than usual, state-owned broadcaster China Radio International reported.

A missing man from Fujian province was reunited with his parents thanks to AI analysis of facial recognition data. Photo: Handout

In April, search giant Baidu’s AI system reunited a couple in Chongqing with their long-lost son. The machine analysed a photograph of the six-year-old boy, who went missing 27 years ago, and matched it to the face of a 33-year-old man in Fujian province, the Beijing Evening News reported. DNA tests confirmed the match.

What, exactly, is AI?

Popular culture, especially in the West, often either romanticises the notion of artificial intelligence – such as in the 2013 Hollywood film Her, in which a lonely man falls for his “female” AI operating system – or portrays it negatively, as in the hit US television series Westworld, where oppressed androids in an AI theme park turn murderous against their abusive human guests.

In reality, AI technology – at least in its current stage – is both less romantic and frightening, but its possibilities may be every bit as boundless as imagined in the movies.

AI refers to a computer software that mimics intelligent human behaviour. Creating such intelligent systems requires teaching machines to learn for themselves – an application of AI known as machine learning – rather than manually teaching them everything there is to know.

Machine learning involves feeding computer systems with large volumes of data and programming the systems to interpret the information for themselves through pattern recognition. The machines hence “learn” by calculating probabilities and drawing conclusions from patterns found in the data at its disposal.

A powerful form of machine learning is deep learning, which categorises information according to hierarchical layers of concepts. The arrangement allows systems to interpret complex data with greater flexibility, speed and accuracy.

“AI is like a child,” said Professor Feng Jufu, a machine learning scientist at Peking University’s school of electronics engineering and computer science. “The more people use it, the faster it learns. The more it learns, the faster it improves.”

United States’ rising rival

China, whose population of 1.38 billion people makes it the world’s biggest user base and data pool, is a “paradise” for machine learning technology, Feng said.

And the nation – from its computer scientists, tech businesses, the government and military – is exercising its competitive advantage.

For decades, AI initiatives have been launched and developed in the United States and the field dominated by American experts. But now, the balance appears to be tipping as China’s AI technology comes up neck and neck with that of the US.

There was no clearer demonstration of this shift than what occurred at the annual meeting of the world’s biggest AI research community this year.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence rescheduled its yearly event in New Orleans, originally set in January, to the following month after finding out that the dates conflicted with China’s Lunar New Year holiday, The Atlantic magazine reported.

“Our organisation had to almost turn on a dime and change the conference venue to hold it a week later,” the association’s president Subbarao Kambhampati was quoted as saying.

The clash might not have mattered in the past, but with Chinese scientists now producing more research papers on deep learning than Americans, the meeting would have been pointless if the Chinese could not attend, according to the association.

An artificial intelligence backed by face recognition function which can used in mobile payment is demonstrated in Wuhen on Nov. 16, 2016. Photo: Simon Song

“The race is tight,” said Li Xiaowei, executive director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ State Key Laboratory of Computer Architecture in Beijing. China has only one main competitor – the US – and its goal was to beat its rival on the other side of the Pacific, he added.

Li said he and colleagues were developing computer chips, built specifically for machine learning, that would significantly boost the speed of an AI system, running “as fast as a car against a bicycle” compared with existing AI machines on traditional CPUs.

Chinese researchers have already developed AI chips with faster performance on specific tasks such as image recognition and natural language processing, but they still consumed more energy and tended to be less reliable than American-made chips, Li admitted.

Chinese ambitions

While US experts are still making most of the fundamental AI breakthroughs, this may soon change as Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, with access to the vast amounts of data needed for AI training through their millions of customers, inject massive investment into the technology, setting up their own AI research laboratories to create new products at a speed and scale never before seen in the West.

China was the world’s second biggest investor in AI enterprises last year, injecting US$2.6 billion into the sector, according to Chinese think tank the Wuzhen Institute. The US topped the list with US$17.9 billion.

Smaller firms aren’t passing up the chance to make a foray into AI either. This month, AI robots owned by two Chinese education-tech companies sat the maths section of the nation’s notoriously difficult college examinations.

Press gathered in Chengdu earlier this month as a robot sat the maths test for the national college entrance exam. Photo: Xinhua

One, which took the test in an isolated room at a technology park in Chengdu in Sichuan province, scored 70 per cent, spending about 20 minutes completing the questions. The other, which sat the test in Beijing and was connected to the internet, scored 90 per cent in less than 10 minutes. The second bot’s score was good enough to gain admission into China’s top universities.

“Artificial intelligence has undergone several waves of hype over the past decades, but this time it’s different. This time, it may really come alive,” said Feng, the Peking University academic.

Over in the public sector, the Chinese government has pinpointed AI as a key area for advancement in its latest five-year plan. Top technology official Wan Gang said in March a national development plan was being drafted that would see AI technology adopted in areas including “the economy, social welfare, environmental protection and national security”.

Last year, the Chinese government said it would create an AI market worth more than US$15 billion by 2018. Beijing has already sunk millions into studying AI in universities and research institutes around the nation. It is also already applying the technology across the full spectrum of governance.

Traffic authorities in the city of Jiaxing in Zhejiang province this month began using an AI coach in a driving school. The system monitors students’ driving behaviour and detects mistakes they make, instructing them through a speaker and rating their performance, the Jiaxing Daily reported. The passing rate of students who learned with the AI coach was 20 per cent higher than those who had human coaches.

Over in China’s most innovative city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, the use of a tiny chip in public surveillance cameras has helped police crack hundreds of cases and find several lost children. The intelligent chip whittles down the speed of human facial recognition to just a few seconds.

And in Jiangsu province’s city of Nantong, an AI judge will be put into use later this year to organise and analyse legal documents and material as well as perform paper work to lighten the workload for human judges. The system is expected to speed up the handling of legal cases by 30 per cent, the Nantong Daily reported.

US suspicions (and collaboration)

China has also ventured into AI on the military front. The nation is developing cruise missiles with “a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation”, the China Daily quoted a senior missile designer as saying last August.

As the country’s AI capabilities grow, so have US suspicions. The Pentagon had concerns about Beijing’s access to US-developed AI technology, the Reuters news agency reported this month.

Citing a leaked document, the report said the US defence department recommended blocking Chinese organisations from investing in some American start-ups working on cutting-edge technologies. The report suggested Washington fears that its advanced algorithms might be re-purposed for Chinese military use.

Individual Chinese AI researchers might also have become a concern for the US government, according to Zhang Lijun, an associate professor of computer science with Nanjing University’s learning and mining from data group in Jiangsu province.

“Each time we go to the US for an academic conference, we encounter extensive background checks by the US embassy,” Zhang said. But if the US stopped issuing visas to Chinese AI scientists, the move would do as much damage to America as it would to China, he added.

Despite Washington’s concerns, American companies are still flocking to join hands with their Chinese counterparts in AI research given the sheer amount of funds injected into the industry. And the collaborations have seen considerable progress in the field.

In May, Google’s AlphaGo AI programme – developed to play the Chinese board game Go – defeated world champion Ke Jie in a series of three matches, all of which the machine won.

The strategy game, played on a 19×19 grid board with more permutations than the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe, was previously believed too sophisticated for the machine to handle. Scientists had predicted AI would take at least a decade to decisively conquer the game; the final match took less than four hours.

The same month, Microsoft’s Chinese-language chatbot Xiaoice published the world’s first collection of AI-authored poems in a book titled The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. The book caused a stir among China’s literary circle, with some poets hoping the technology would revive appreciation of the art. Pirated copies have already appeared on Chinese websites, reflecting interest in the book.

“The US is good at coming up with new ideas in fundamental research while China is good at implementing these ideas in applications. International collaboration has played a key role in the rapid development of AI technology in recent years,” Zhang at Nanjing University said.

The future

All these advancements are just the beginning of an AI revolution, according to the Peking University academic Feng.

“The only limit is your imagination,” he said, adding that AI technology could have even broader and deeper applications in people’s lives.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ expert Li concurred. The AI user experience of the future would be vastly different from today, as with software and hardware upgrades newer AI machines would become far faster and more human-like.

The collection of AI written poems, The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. Photo: Handout

For instance, Feng said, today’s exam taking robot could be developed into an exam-setting machine. Like AlphaGo considered permutations never conceived by human players in the past, the AI system could pose students challenging questions that would push them to achieve results beyond what they thought possible.

“If you can answer maths questions designed by machines, you should then be able to easily tackle questions designed by humans,” he said.

But Professor Li Qingan, an educational psychologist at Beijing Normal University, cautioned against the unregulated use of AI in schools.

“Artificial intelligence may create super students, but it can also turn them into cold-blooded creatures with little care for how others think and feel,” Li said. “Thirty years from now, we may regret giving our children over to AI.”

There is also a limit to AI systems, according to professor Huang Biqing, a robotics scientist with Tsinghua University.

“If human-generated data can no longer improve an AI system’s performance, the machine will treat it as noise,” Huang said, adding that this meant the system would regard human input as no longer necessary and could evolve based on its own machine-generated data.

Chen Yi, the father of Jiahao the primary schoolboy who loves his AI tutors, recalls his childhood addiction to Nintendo’s Game Boy as he observes his son interacting with the apps on his wife’s smartphone.

“This is different from my childhood addiction,” Chen said, referring to Jiahao’s attachment to the AI-enabled programmes. “Jiahao’s condition is more like, I don’t know, a kind of dependence?”


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Hong Kong must focus on innovation and science to maintain its edge over economic rivals

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-06-15

Ken Chu says its core values and a free, open market still set Hong Kong’s economy apart despite some challenges, but continued success in the digital age will depend on its ability to innovate and upgrade

Hong Kong has been named the world’s most competitive economy by the IMD Business School in Switzerland for the second straight year. The title is indicative of our strong fundamentals due to our core values and, together with “one country, two systems”, this sets Hong Kong apart from its rivals.

Therefore, we must safeguard and uphold our core values for continued economic success.

Given its small economy and market size, Hong Kong does not enjoy the economies of scale like mainland China. Relatively high wages mean Hong Kong does not have the advantage of competing on cost.

But, as Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po noted shortly after the IMD rankings were announced, we do have a solid legal framework and rule of law that international investors feel comfortable with, an efficient administrative system, and sound banking, financial and transport infrastructure. Above all, we have an open and free market.

We must strive to maintain the cosmopolitan nature and openness of our market for Hong Kong to play the role of a super connector, for the mainland as well as the world at large. Only then will Hong Kong be able to maintain its long-term competitiveness. Competitiveness could mean high productivity, the capacity to produce more units with a given set of raw materials than rivals; it could mean efficiency, or producing at the lowest cost; it could also mean having what competitors do not.

Management guru Peter Drucker believes that, in the 21st century, knowledge-worker productivity is the real competitive advantage. That seems logical, in view of the new economy sweeping the globe. Economies everywhere need more knowledge-based workers, such as programmers, system analysts, animation artists, product designers, and so on. The more productive they are, the more competitive the new digital age economy is. If we agree, we should train workers with high technical expertise, and scientific and technological knowledge.

Harvard professor Michael Porter says competitiveness hinges on the capacity of industry to innovate and upgrade. This could be another way to maintain our competitiveness. However, we seem to have problems in innovation and science.

Hong Kong continues to slip down the Global Innovation Index rankings. Moreover, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), says Hong Kong’s performance has dropped significantly in science. Our STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curriculum must be strengthened to make future generations tech-savvy, or Hong Kong will lose out.

Fortunately, we still have a distinct edge over competitors – our strategic location. Being next to innovation hub Shenzhen and within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area lets us tap a rich pool of technological talents and innovation resources.

Setting up a tech park at the Lok Ma Chau Loop and boosting financial aid to innovation start-ups represent the right way to spur technological advances.

Yet, there are challenges that undermine our competitiveness – high living costs, exorbitant rents, escalating labour costs, damage to our natural landscape and a widening wealth gap, highlighted by the latest Gini coefficient index.

After all, a city needs not only “hardware”, such as infrastructure, financial systems and innovation parks, to boost its competitiveness, but also people to drive economic growth and energise innovation. If talented people find it isn’t worth working and living in the city, they will eventually abandon it.

Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference


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Opinion: Hong Kong’s science students shouldn’t be strong armed into liberal studies

Business
COMMENTARY
2017-05-03
‘The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives’

The recent report on “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education” (or the Tsui Lap Chee Report) issued by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong finds our secondary school curriculum and university admissions criteria have under-emphasised science education, and that this will hamper prospects in the new economy.

Another education failure, not the subject of the Tsui Report, is the underinvestment in senior secondary and tertiary education for at least two decades. This has been the leading cause of our lacklustre economic performance.

Both failures should be corrected at the same time for the sake of Hong Kong’s economic future.

Domestic and foreign investments are attracted to localities where they can recruit the necessary skilled manpower. For a small open economy like Hong Kong, an abundance of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) graduates is absolutely necessary for attracting business investments in the new innovative technology economy.

Many commentators and even economists blame our failure to develop new innovative and technology industries on the government’s misguided belief in positive non-interventionism.

Much of this criticism is ideologically motivated rather than evidence based. It is not obvious that facilitating institutions and a pro-active policy to correct market failures and capital market imperfections, and provide preferential tax treatments and land subvention advantages for innovative and technology industries, can compensate for the lack of skilled manpower. The latter is a prerequisite for attracting investments in the new economy.

I subscribe to what I call the “Gobi Desert” narrative. Adopting the best institutions and policies in the middle of the Gobi Desert will not spawn new industries because no one is willing to go there to live. It will remain empty and desolate.

In Hong Kong, among the population aged 25 to 34 in 2012, only 34.7 per cent had university degrees versus 49.3 per cent in Singapore. Among those aged 35 to 44, the corresponding figures were 24.8 per cent and 40.4 per cent. Is it at all surprising that Hong Kong has lagged behind Singapore in new economy activity given our inability to attract educated and skilled workers and our failure to invest in education?

This does not mean that everyone will become a scientist, engineer or technologist. But it does mean more and more jobs will require workers to possess scientific and technological know-how. Workers in the new economy must possess an understanding of the fundamentals and principles of science and technology to engage in lifelong learning.

Government policy can address the problems of attracting skilled workers to Hong Kong but it must also address the greater challenge of developing home-grown talent.

In this regard, curriculum reform in the schools and admissions criteria of the universities should be revisited.

Nearly half of senior secondary students have no exposure to a science subject. Moreover, students taking advanced mathematics have dropped from 23 per cent in 2012, when the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) was introduced, to 14 per cent in 2016.

Moreover, over two-thirds of the students sitting the HKDSE examinations took only two electives due to overemphasis on the four core subjects—English, Chinese, mathematics, and liberal studies. Before 2012, students took on average four elective subjects outside three core subjects. The dominance of the four HKDSE core subjects crowd out electives and effectively stream students away from science.

The Tsui Report recommends trimming the core HKDSE subjects to achieve better balance between science and non-science subjects. It does not recommend which ones to trim, but liberal studies is an obvious target, which could either be dropped or changed into a pass-fail subject. This would create room for more students to pursue a balanced choice of elective subjects between science and non-science subjects.

Students showcase their all-weather electricity generator prototype during the 35th Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair held in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Xinhua

It very sensibly recommends module flexibility for science subjects to cater for a range of aptitudes among students, and greater recognition of advanced mathematics to encourage its inclusion as a core subject.

It also calls for universities to review their admissions criteria to redress the imbalance between core and elective subjects to achieve a better balance between science and non-science subjects.

The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives. The large majority of students, especially those with self-doubt about abilities, have chosen non-science subjects in a bid to improve their public examination scores as they compete for heavily-subsidised scarce university places.

Liberal studies is often mistaken for a “liberal arts” education, which it is not. The latter is a conception of university education that covers a balance of humanities, social and natural science subjects, and generally refers to studies not relating to professional, vocational or technical education. Given this, dropping liberal studies from the HKDSE core will better prepare students that wish to pursue a “liberal arts” education.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong


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The links between global integration, technological advance, and economic performance in a liberal world order

South China Morning Post
Business
2017-05-10

China sees itself as still rising economically and a beneficiary of a liberal economic order, while America worries about economic decline and being a victim of the open global economic order it once championed

The emergence of outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in last year’s US presidential election reflects the rise of right and left wing populist reaction to poor economic performance – both low productivity growth and high economic inequality.

Economic factors may not be the only reason for the rise of populism in the US and around the world, but it is certainly a major part of the explanation.

It is not without irony that the president of communist China is now championing a liberal world economic order and telling the president of capitalist America the benefits of free trade.

The irony is perhaps not surprising, since China sees itself as still rising economically and a beneficiary of a liberal economic order, while America worries about economic decline and being a victim of the open global economic order it once championed.

Since the 2008 financial market meltdown, it has been customary to blame global economic integration and free market capitalism for failed economic performance. This accusation has gained widespread popularity in the media and public policy debates. But is it justified?

I don’t think so, and here is why: the wave of global economic integration and free market capitalism did not really start until after 1980, and mostly towards the latter part of the 1980s.

But economic performance in the West, particularly in the US, started to weaken in the 1970s. The forces behind this slow weakening have remained in place up to the present time.

Research by Professor Kevin Murphy shows that the real wage rates of men grew by 19.4 per cent in the 1940s, 29.7 per cent in the 1950s, 24.1 per cent in the 1960s, and only 5.0 per cent in the 1970s and -7.8 per cent in the 1980s.

In other words, labour productivity growth had started to decline rapidly in the 1970s and turned negative in the 1980s.

Robert Gordon’s work The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016) reconfirms these results and shows that US labour productivity was at its peak during 1920-70, but fell off significantly during 1970-2014.

Gordon shows that the change in labour productivity is due mainly to changes in total factor productivity, which represents innovation and technological change.

Honda Motor Co’s famed humanoid robot Asimo descends a long staircase during its press unveiling for rental business at the Japanese automaker’s headquarters in 2001. Since then technological advances have been huge. Photo: AP

Most technological advances since the 1970s have tended to be channelled into a narrow sphere of human activity involving entertainment, communication, and the collection and processing of information.

This explains why the latest advances have not had a big economy-wide impact in lifting productivity. They have benefitted only a small number of industries and a limited, highly-skilled fraction of the workforce.

The economic slowdown in the US preceded the shift to ‘right of centre’ pro-market economic policies advocated by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School by more than a decade.

Global economic integration and free market capitalism in all likelihood prevented productivity growth from declining faster.

Could the concentration of technological advances since the 1970s in a small number of sectors have worsened inequality? In the period 1979-90 when global economic integration had barely taken off, the wage premium for college graduates over high school graduates increased from 42 percentage points in 1979 to 71 percentage points in 1990. Consequently, overall wage inequality for men grew dramatically between 1979 and 1990.

As with wages, Professor Murphy has showed how the pattern of economic inequality in the US has changed due to technological advances.

During the 1970s and 1980s, technological advances demanded more skilled workers so labour markets paid them a premium, thereby increasing wage inequality.

In the 1940s, technological advances demanded more unskilled workers so they received the premium, thereby decreasing wage inequality. In the 1950s and 1960s, technological advances did not favour either skilled or unskilled workers so wage inequality remained stable.

The changing pattern of technological advances provides a more convincing explanation for the patterns of wage inequality and productivity growth over the past five decades than blaming it on global economic integration.

Failure to appreciate the true forces at work will lead to the adoption of wrong policies that will not solve the problems society faces. They may even worsen them.

It is unlikely we can control the bias of technological advances. So the best policy is to influence the supply of skilled versus unskilled workers to support productivity growth and mitigate the effects of wage inequality.

The ideological debates will continue, but it is important we bring scientific analysis and empirical evidence to illuminate the questions we wish to resolve.

In the age of social media, where communications channels are echo chambers for the convinced and converted, shouting matches add no value and only reinforce prejudice.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong


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Hong Kong’s teachers can help change mindsets on science and maths degrees

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-08

William Pang is alarmed at students’ growing aversion to science and maths fields and says the crux of the problem seems to be that educators are failing to convince them about the diverse doors STEM degrees can open

Friends and teachers from my days at Diocesan Boys’ School would never have pinned me as an engineering major. I was mediocre at best in maths.

Which is why I was surprised to hear that many of my maths-whiz friends ended up pursuing majors in the humanities, law or medicine, rather than engineering, maths or the physical sciences.

A recent study spearheaded by Professor Tsui Lap-chee, former president of the University of Hong Kong, raised further alarm: the percentage of students taking advanced maths dropped from 23 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent last year. But admission data shows that entry into engineering and science programmes is less competitive than for the humanities. So why are students increasingly uninterested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields?

The crux of the problem seems to be the poor job that educators are doing in promoting and convincing students to pursue STEM degrees. A science degree does not mean ending up in a government or teaching job. Most engineering degree holders don’t become engineers, but go on to pursue diverse careers, including in law or business. Amazon head Jeff Bezos and US Secretary of State (and former ExxonMobil CEO) Rex Tillerson have engineering degrees, as do 33 per cent of CEOs.

An essential point that has been underemphasised in the STEM discourse is that an education in STEM fields can open many doors. Engineering students don’t just learn about the nuances of thermodynamic cycles, they must learn to work as a team and solve real-life problems. Science and maths students are trained to think critically, question assumptions and form hypotheses – skills that are of incredible value.

Hong Kong’s education system places too much emphasis on the idea that there is a “model answer” for every problem: which is often not the case in science and certainly not true in real life.

Educators could turn to computer programming to kindle young people’s passion for science. The beauty of programming is that there are many approaches to tackle a single problem, which requires students to think laterally and devise creative solutions.

Educators across all levels of schooling play a role in shaping the perception of STEM fields – whether it is the primary school teacher who sparks a student’s sense of curiosity, the middle school teacher who instils a love for science, or the college professor who convinces an undergraduate student to take part in research.

Unless there’s a cultural shift in the way we approach science education, Hong Kong students will soon find themselves trailing behind the international competition.

William Pang is an engineering student at McGill University