The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) provided students with a rare chance to experience world-class AI and robotics technologies first-hand on 13 May 2023.
An exhibition featuring the latest topics such as AI Art Showcase, Pedestrian Multi-Feature Recognition, Multi-modal Intelligent Surgical Operation Guidance and Instrument Segmentation, Multi-modal Smart Operating Theatre, Flexible Endoscopic Robotic System for Neurosurgery, Real-time Simulation Platform for Neurosurgery, and Flexible Minimally Invasive Surgery Robot was introduced.
Two science talks on “Playing Chess and Its Computational Game Theory” and “The Past and Present of Robotic Surgical Systems” were delivered by the Assistant Professors of CAIR, Dr ZHANG Youzhi and Dr HU Jian, respectively.
Students gained valuable exposure to technologies including flexible minimally invasive surgery robots that will shape the future.
Our students had the opportunity to visit ASMPT for an educational tour on 14 April 2023. The tour aims to foster students’ growth as future leaders as well as equip them with a deeper understanding of technology and industry practices.
Mr. Peter Ng, Vice President of Enabling Technology Group (ETG) of ASMPT, and Mr. Kenneth Fung, Director of Vision Group of ETG of ASMPT, as leaders in the high-tech manufacturing field generously took the time to share their knowledge and industry experience with our students.
The professionals who guided students through demonstrations of equipment were excellent at explaining the development, applications, and future possibilities of the technologies.
The visit proved to be a rewarding and memorable experience for our students, broadening their horizons and igniting their passion for science and innovation.
Sr. Paul Tsui, Chief Executive Officer of Esri China (Hong Kong), delivered an insightful talk on how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) powers location intelligence through spatial data analytics on 14 March 2023.
He discussed case studies showing how integrating spatial data of various types and applying spatial statistics and artificial intelligence on GIS helps discover spatial patterns and make predictions. Students found the talk highly enlightening and gained a new appreciation of the importance of spatial thinking and geospatial technology in an increasingly data-driven world.
Students were invited to visit the Geospatial Lab (GeoLab) of the Civil Engineering and Development Department on 7 March 2023. The visit aimed to introduce students to geospatial technology and its applications.
The visit started with an introduction to GeoLab and an overview of spatial data and Geographic Information System (GIS). Students then participated in a hands-on workshop using GIS to solve real-world problems.
The visit was an eye-opening experience for students which inspired them to pursue studies in geospatial science and technology.
As someone who somehow managed to score zero in a maths exam as a 12-year-old in middle school, Professor Leng Ming-ming has certainly come a long way.
Now Chair Professor of Computing and Decision Sciences at Lingnan University, he views that early setback as a definite turning point. It actually inspired a fascination for the subject, which ultimately led to a distinguished career in academia and notable research on game theory, operations and supply chain management, and the interface between operations and other disciplines.
“Taking my father’s advice, I began to read the textbook by myself before classes and, surprisingly, found that I could understand everything very easily,” he says. “I quickly developed a very strong interest and, since that time, have been addicted to mathematical problems and logical thinking. Even now, the best way for me to relax at weekends is by solving one or two problems from past Maths Olympiads.”
Clear proof of this new passion was evident when he took China’s National College Entrance Examination in the late 1980s. Completing the paper in less than half the allotted two hours, Leng also achieved full marks, setting him on the road to a subsequent PhD in management sciences at Canada’s McMaster University, where from 2001 he focused on dynamic programming, stochastic processes and, in particular, game theory and its applications.
“Game theory contributes to the analysis of situations involving conflict and cooperation, with two or more decision makers,” says Leng, who is also Dean of the Faculty of Business. “Since the early 1940s, it has been widely applied to many areas including business studies. And, in the 21st century, game-theoretic analysis of supply chain management became one of the hottest research issues, mainly because any supply chain consists of two or more firms at different echelons.”
The overall subject came to much wider attention thanks to the Oscar-recognised film A Beautiful Mind about Nobel prize-winning game theory scientist Professor John Nash. The book which inspired the film was on Leng’s PhD reading list and, in due course, caused him to look more closely at computational approaches for solution concepts in cooperative game theory.
“The rapid development of digital technology and social media has also brought about many changes in organisational and operational models,” he says. “Relationship management has become a key to supply chain success, so we need to understand how firms interact in an efficient manner to achieve win-win outcomes. Game theory has been a primary methodology in this analysis and has led to a significant number of managerial insights to help improve operations.”
Since becoming a full-time Lingnan faculty member in 2005, Leng has developed and taught business courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The themes encompass project management, simulation, e-business models and start-ups, drawing on his five-year experience of working in industry in Beijing before his PhD, as well his widely acknowledged areas of specialisation.
In parallel, his research has consistently sought answers to practical problems. More recently, it has centred on ways to entice firms to cooperate in a fair manner. One example, originally motivated by reference to what Wal-Mart does, was to see how to incentivise the use of blockchain technology in an entire food supply chain. Another was to explore how, using cooperative game theory, two or more firms could share the high cost of 5G infrastructure as fairly as possible.
Where feasible, Leng prefers to collaborate on projects and papers, believing that teamwork, which brings together diverse expertise and complementary skills, ensures higher-quality research.
“Honestly speaking, most of my projects are challenging; there is no ‘free lunch’ in the field of academia,” he says, noting too the importance of keeping a close eye on the international business news to spot evolving trends and potential case studies. “For each paper, there are a number of revisions and reviews, and the cycle time from initial submission to a journal to final acceptance averages 1.5 years.”
Indeed, he still remembers how the referee for one publication in IIE Transactions back in 2013 asked for complicated computations from limited data and the consideration of many decision variables and constraints.
“We tried to develop some helpful algorithms, which finally made our computations feasible. It was a very tough experience, but also of great help to my future research activities.”
Looking ahead, he wants any upcoming projects to contribute in some way to improving people’s daily life or industry operations.
“I may also consider some knowledge transfer (KT) projects that are not academic issues, but allow academic knowledge to be applied to real-world problems, usually with financial support from firms and practitioners.”
A workshop was organised to equip students with job-search skills in the field of data science. Mr. Allan Lee, a certified management consultant and psychoanalyst, was invited to conduct the workshop which explored tips and strategies for how to have a successful job interview.
During the workshop, students learnt how to tailor a self-introduction which made them shine by focusing on their strengths, skills, and competencies and how they relate to potential employers’ needs.
Students actively participated in mock interviews to learn how to present themselves confidently as well as to build impromptu speaking abilities and create a professional image. Students found the workshop boost their readiness with advanced interview techniques.
A professional talk about the Outlook of I &T in Customs was jointly hosted by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department and the Department of Computing and Decision Sciences on 9 January 2023.
Prof WONG Man Leung, Head of the Department of Computing and Decision Sciences, presented a souvenir to the guest speaker, Mr LI Kin Kei, Head of Office of Information and Technology of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
As the Head of Office of Information Technology in Customs, he takes charge of not only the maintenance and development of enterprise-scale IT infrastructure and systems, but also steering the application of disruptive technologies including AI, video analytics, RPA, blockchain, cloud computing and big data, etc.
Students actively participated in the Q&A session and explored opportunities for internships at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department. Students found the talk very informative, which provided them with a better understanding of the potential opportunities and required skills for a career in this field.
Had he chosen an alternative path a few years back, Professor Xie Haoran could, no doubt, have made his name working for any of the commercial enterprises breaking new ground in the field of big data and artificial intelligence (AI).
Instead, after completing a first PhD in computer science in 2013, he opted for the world of academia, a decision he has had no cause to regret, and he did so for two well-considered reasons.
“The first was that I enjoy teaching and research which, on the one hand, allows me to transfer knowledge to my students and, on the other, to create new knowledge which can change the world,” says Xie, an Associate Professor in Lingnan University’s Department of Computing and Decision Sciences. “The second is that I come from a family of teachers. My father was a university professor; my grandfather was a secondary school teacher; and my grandmother taught in primary school. They were excellent examples and had a great impact on my own choice of career.”
The hope that results of his research work can somehow change the world is by no means overstating the case. Advances in AI and big data are already doing that and clearly have the potential to transform many aspects of our day-to-day life at home, in the workplace, in healthcare, and in the ways we interact and communicate.
“I have a strong feeling that exciting new technology and techniques will reshape how we do things today,” says Xie, who was ranked among the top 2 per cent of the world’s most-cited scientists according to a 2021 study by Stanford University. “For example, recent developments in deep learning techniques like AlphaGo and AlphaFold are bringing a significant revolution in the areas of game playing and protein structure prediction. And other AI techniques for content generation will be very impactful. The diffusion model is a powerful tool for creating new images at a level similar to professional painters, and I believe that videos, movies and music can all be generated by AI in the next few years.”
In general, he has a couple of key objectives when embarking on any research project. One is to develop more effective and efficient computational models. The other is to find ways to apply AI and big data techniques in domain-specific applications such as e-learning and e-business.
Successful examples include a novel AI model called the “least square generative adversarial network”, which won widespread recognition, with the relevant research article already cited more than 4,000 times and the key findings now covered in the deep learning course at Carnegie Mellon University.
And, in an interdisciplinary project drawing on expertise in both AI and English language education, the research team devised methods to facilitate personalised vocabulary learning.
The proposed system went on to win a gold medal and a special award at this year’s 7th International Invention Innovation Competition in Canada, with Xie’s Lingnan department colleague Professor Wong Man-leung named as joint recipient.
Also playing a big part was Professor Zou Di from The Education University of Hong Kong’s Department of English Language Education, who provided invaluable suggestions along the way on how best to apply vocabulary learning theory within the system.
“When possible I prefer conducting collaborative research,” Xie says. “I find that the communication and discussion between scholars and domain experts in different areas gives me new insights into the questions I’m investigating.”
By providing learning paths and recommending personalised tasks for students, the prototype vocabulary system can be adopted for use in secondary schools and universities, thus integrating AI techniques in the field of education to achieve clear, tangible benefits for users.
That is exactly the kind of outcome Xie is always looking for. He is a firm believer in the idea that the role and purpose of AI is to find answers to modern-day challenges, which can be done if people are prepared to take advantage of the capacities that now exist and keep pushing the boundaries.
“Research initiatives in AI and decision sciences will be more important in solving everyday problems in the near future as AI models become increasingly powerful in specific domains,” Xie says. “Scientists and researchers are already employing AI techniques to address unsolved real-life challenges in medicine, education and many other areas, and those efforts are sure to expand and improve.”
When modesty permits, most academics engaged in breakthrough research quietly admit to two broad ambitions. One is to have the value of their work recognised by peers and institutions around the world. The other is to see their findings have a real impact, whether in terms of knowledge transfer, commercial potential, or adding in some way to the common good.
On both counts, Professor Wong Man-leung, head of Lingnan’s Department of Computing and Decision Sciences, has clearly made it.
Thanks to the range and originality of his publications, he is now among the world’s top 2 per cent of most-cited scientists, according to a respected 2021 study compiled by Stanford University. And, with his various projects and prototypes, such as those designed to integrate AI techniques and machine learning (ML) to improve education, he is opening up new pathways for students of different ages and abilities and, in the process, helping to transform lives for the better.
“The field of computer science is both active and fast-expanding and has become an essential component of the modern world,” says Wong, who was a recent joint recipient, with Lingnan colleague Professor Xie Haoran, of two top awards at the 7th International Invention Innovation Competition in Canada for work on a personalised vocabulary learning system. “I get to design innovative solutions for today’s problems, although my primary focus is exploring computational AI strategies to mimic human intelligence.”
Over the years, his research has taken in everything from big data analytics and Bayesian networks to data mining and fuzzy reasoning.
But as one of the first academics to look at grammar-based genetic programming (GBGP), he is currently breaking new ground with an AI-type system using logic and grammar to help express “context-sensitive information and domain-specific knowledge”. The aim is to expedite learning in schools and universities and, step by step, keep improving the quality of the programs that are created.
“Conducting research gives me the opportunity to follow my interests, work with the younger generation, and push myself in new and different ways,” he says. “It also enables me to share with others in the field, so that collectively we can contribute to human progress and help society at large.”
From an early age, Wong was fascinated by the fact that the programs held on a floppy disk could accomplish so much. However, his subsequent choice of degree and career path was ultimately inspired by the thought that, one day, certain kinds of computer might be able to perform tasks in a manner that was both intelligent and “human-like”. That was where he wanted to be involved.
“When I was growing up, microcomputers were still in their infancy,” he says, noting that now almost everything being developed in the field of technology seems to incorporate some form of artificial intelligence or machine learning. “This makes it possible for individuals to do more by working with ‘intelligent’ software, and it gives technology a kinder, more approachable face.”
He is convinced that widespread application of these advances will continue to transform transportation systems and accepted ways of working in medicine, engineering and the world of business, as well as design, e-commerce and communication.
“There is the potential to make our day-to-day lives more efficient and effective, thanks to AI that can perform several tasks at once,” Wong says. “But I realise too that the implications of AI and ML – and their possible effects on the future – are the subject of heated debate around the world. Therefore, when deciding on research projects, I take time to consider the likely consequences any initiative will have in the long run and believe in having the confidence to ask the correct questions in seeking answers from peers, experts and the literature. When evaluating which projects to pursue, we are aiming for breakthrough innovation with the potential to make the world a better place.” Aware that the results of certain studies may turn out to have commercial possibilities, Wong and his colleagues may also set out an early-stage business plan to interest likely partners.
“These plans are all grounded in reality, with the goal of developing products, services and other business-related ventures based on our results,” Wong says. “In the not too distant future, I want to focus my research efforts on meta-learning, using my ‘probabilistic GBGP’ technique to improve the structures of deep neural networks. This would provide new benefits and insights to enhance learning systems and algorithms.”
The year 2022 marks the 55th Anniversary of the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) and the 45th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Statistical Society. In commemoration of this meaningful moment of the local statistical community, the two organisations jointly organised a seminar on 11 November 2022, and extended the invitation to our students.
The theme of the seminar is “Perspectives on Uncertainty and Error of Statistics”, with three presentations respectively by Professor Ian MCKEAGUE of City University of Hong Kong, Professor Tarani CHANDOLA of The University of Hong Kong and young professional staff of the Census and Statistics Department. It gave students intensive exposure to the topic through presentations and discussions led by multiple experts.