ALEGCO DELEGATION on a tour of inspection to the Yangtze River Delta Region has returned to Hong Kong. Many lawmakers have said that Hong Kong is lagging far behind in the development of a smart city. More than a year after the government proposed a Smart City blueprint, ordinary citizens do not feel too many major changes to their daily lives apart from the advent of the FPS. This shows many public services are yet to be made "smarter".
During the four-day tour, the delegation visited many regions in the Yangtze River Delta Region that are related to innovation and technology, including the headquarters of the Alibaba Group located in Hangzhou. The delegation was received by Ma Yun, founder of the group. Members of the delegation said that Ma talked much about the problems facing Hong Kong's development of innovation and technology, such as laws failing to catch up with technology. Ma said that many people were still using "methods from yesterday" to tackle "today's problems", and that many things that were being done were aimed at "protecting the past" rather than "developing the future". Ma said that Hong Kong's inherent advantages are not set in stone. If it does not work hard to improve the situation, it will indeed be outcompeted.
Twenty years ago or so, Hong Kong led the world by rolling out the Octopus system. But technological advancements move in leaps and bounds, and a city either develops or regresses. Now Hong Kong is obviously lagging behind other major cities in the region on its path to build a smart city. In recent years, there have been all kinds of rankings of smart cities published by research institutes around the world. Despite the differences in criteria adopted by these institutes, it is an indisputable fact that cities in the region such as Singapore and Seoul are in the top positions. Not only is Hong Kong falling far behind, but it has also been surpassed by many mainland cities.
In recent years, innovation and technology has developed rapidly in mainland China. From mobile payment to the building of a smart city, it has been moving faster and further than Hong Kong. There seems to be a view in Hong Kong society that this is not something to be reckoned with. The popularity of mobile payment, for example, is down to the fact that mainlanders do not have credit cards, some people argue. They also think that the rapid development of smart cities on the mainland is first and foremost a form of "Big-Brother-style" dictatorial surveillance. No doubt the issue of privacy protection is one that has to be handled appropriately when developing big data and smart cities. What is important is to strike a balance. However, viewing the concept of the development of smart cities with the mindset "it is a blessing to fall behind" will only make Hong Kong fall far behind Singapore and Seoul. Many rapidly-developing smart cities have platforms for the sharing of data. Public resources are turned into data and shared by the public and corporations. All sectors are encouraged to make use of such data to develop applications for citizens' benefit. But in Hong Kong, the development of big data has been rather slow, so much so that a huge amount of useful data has gone to waste.
The biggest problem facing Hong Kong today is not the lack of data but the slow rate at which the government opens up data, with many providers of public services unwilling to make their data public. As Ma Yun says, for Hong Kong to develop innovation and technology, it is necessary for the government to be a smart government. If the government does not change its conservative mindset when it comes to opening up data, it will only be holding back the development of a smart city.