Market can be better judge of good ideas than government, new innovation chief admits

28-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The Hong Kong government sometimes lacked market sense when deciding which emerging ideas or services to support, the city’s innovation chief said on Sunday after being asked why a university was denied funding help to develop a coronavirus testing kit.

Alfred Sit Wing-hang made the admission in his first television interview since taking over as the secretary for innovation and technology in a rare cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday.

Sit also promised the government would better communicate with the public over privacy issues arising from new technologies, following fears “smart” lamp posts being erected across the city could track residents’ movements.

“The question is, whether we can grasp the opportunity to use our existing talents to provide services [to the public],” Sit said.

In February, researchers at Polytechnic University said the Innovation and Technology Commission one of the four main arms of Sit’s bureau rejected a funding application for a kit that could detect up to 40 types of bacteria and viruses, including the one that caused Covid-19.

Asked about the project, Sit admitted promoting innovation in Hong Kong required more than the government. “Sometimes I have to admit, our market sense may not be as good as the market itself,” Sit said. Successful product development also required private investment. “The government is only a catalyst, an advocate. Whether a product will be effectively accepted depends on confirmation from the industry and the market.”

Authorities had received about 300 proposals for different applications of technology to combat the contagion and they were being vetted by officials, the minister said.

Sit, who was previously the director of electrical and mechanical services before replacing Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, also said the government had already modified the scheme to put up about 400 multifunction lamp posts.

They are part of the “smart city” initiative and come equipped with a range of technologies. So far, about 50 have been installed, but several were ripped down last August by anti-government protesters, who suspected they were performing a facial recognition function, which authorities denied.

Sit did not elaborate on what changes to the scheme had been made, but reports indicate some cameras had been replaced with sensors that lacked facial recognition abilities.

Sit said the administration had to clearly inform the public about the pros and cons before adopting new technologies. “We need to communicate. If residents see the benefit… we can adopt a new technology. But if they say ‘no, we value privacy a lot, we cannot compromise that to bring about the benefit’, that’s fine, we can use other technologies instead,” he said. “I am confident that Hongkongers… have the wisdom to make decisions.”

While some functions of the lamp posts had been disabled, Sit said the modifications were worthwhile so long as they helped restore people’s confidence in the project.


Category: Hong Kong

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