Presidential Address 2019/2020 Knowledge Transfer • Our Commitment for the Future 教澤廣被 源遠流長
Fellow members, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
I would like to start with a quote from a famous American President. Don’t worry, I won’t be reading a tweet from Donald Trump…. but rather words that were spoken by the second youngest person ever elected as President in American history.
It goes like this: “The greater our knowledge increases, the more our ignorance unfolds.”
Part of John F Kennedy’s “moonshot” speech that ignited the space race, these words inspired mankind to pursue what then seemed a fanciful dream: to put a person on the moon and to bring that person back safely. And despite seemingly being a pie in the sky at that time, it took a mere decade for Neil Armstrong to take a giant step for humanity after leaving his footprints on the dusty soil of our moon.
It may sound paradoxical to associate knowledge with ignorance but we, as engineers, know very well the limits of our own knowledge. It’s fair to say - and for those who haven’t yet, you will sooner than later! - we’ve all experienced moments in our career when we would inevitably have to admit: “If only I knew more”.
And while acknowledging our ignorance can be humbling, it can also be liberating. It is often these moments that drive us to go beyond what we know, begin learning what we don’t, and start imagining what we must in order to solve difficult problems.
Now I am no President Kennedy, and I don’t intend to challenge our members to get us to Mars by Christmas. Even though I suspect we could do it, if we had to!
But as an engineer, the President of the HKIE and a Hong Konger, it is my duty to challenge our members to do better when it comes to sharing their knowledge, expanding their horizons and testing their limits.
From big data to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, a fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming a world that is globalising fast. Soon, driverless cars will roam our cities, doctors will replace our organs with improved 3D printed versions and the sun will become our biggest source of energy. And while these changes are thrilling, we must also consider how they will disrupt our values, transform our culture and impact our children.
Like our society, the engineering profession is facing tremendous headwinds as these same megatrends are transforming our profession.
Engineering has long been a pillar in the development of Hong Kong and engineers have played a key role in improving the safety, quality of life and standards of living of the people of Hong Kong.
Yet in order to continue fulfilling our essential role, we too must change. With the sum of humanity’s knowledge readily available to anyone equipped with a smartphone and as AI systems apply machine learning tools to digest yottabits of data in the blink of an eye, it would be simple-minded to believe we can still thrive doing what we always have done.
That’s why the HKIE has an unequivocal role to play. It is incumbent upon the Institution to push engineers to strive for excellence and, more importantly, to inspire a new generation to embrace engineering as a career and a passion. But how are we to achieve this?
The answer lies in knowledge transfer. Because while computers may trump humans across a wide range of activities, they can’t yet hope, dream or imagine like we do. And it’s because only humans can think this way that it is vital we share our knowledge.
Under this premise, the theme of my presidency is:
“Knowledge Transfer • Our Commitment for the Future”
There are three main axes of knowledge transfer: knowledge transfer within the profession, knowledge transfer beyond our borders and knowledge transfer to the next generation.
I will first address how we, as engineers and members of the HKIE, can help prepare for the demands of this new era. I will then discuss what initiatives we have taken to ensure our talents and skills are recognised - and thus used - not only in Hong Kong, but around the world. Finally, I will discuss our most important duty as HKIE members: to help nurture a new generation of engineers.
Knowledge transfer within the profession
Driven by our vision of “Sustained Excellence in the Engineering Profession”, the HKIE is committed to helping members share the knowledge they have accumulated via their unique and valuable experiences, professional or otherwise.
By re-engineering how knowledge is transferred between members, we hope all engineers can stay on top of the latest technological developments and engineering know-how so as to be ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow. It’s only by fostering a culture driven by the pursuit of engineering expertise and professional development that we can achieve professional excellence.
So please expect to hear the Institution talks about developing a culture of knowledge transfer and professional development throughout this Session.
But, as good engineers, we first need a plan before getting to work!
While we have an intuition about what needs to be done, we need some facts before committing to a course of action if we are to achieve the outcomes we want.
Getting the facts right is our first task and we have established a special Task Force to do just that. Chaired by myself with the support of both an experienced as well as a young member of the HKIE as Deputy Chairmen, the Task Force surveyed our members, Scheme “A” companies and our Divisions/Committees. The objective is to assess what our members and stakeholder groups believe are the professional development needs of engineers and to determine the tools required to facilitate knowledge transfer.
We appointed a specialised service provider to design and execute the survey, which was recently completed. We are currently analysing the results to develop and submit a comprehensive proposal to the HKIE Executive. We aim to seek the approval of the HKIE Council by the end of this year.
Assuming all goes according to plan, we should begin developing programmes to address our members’ professional development and knowledge needs sometimes next January.
This year, we launched the competence-based approach for Professional Assessment and Scheme “A” Training, while our competence-based approach to Continuing Professional Development activities is also fully implemented following a transition period that began in January 2017. By empowering members to demonstrate their competencies across our 21 engineering disciplines, we can ensure our parity with international development of assessment for engineers while sustaining excellence across our profession. Looking ahead, we prepare to also develop a competence-based approach for the assessment of candidates seeking Associate Membership of the Institution.
Development related to accreditation
We are also continuing to develop the infrastructure for the accreditation of Master of Science Degree Programmes under engineering fields. Feedback from the universities in Hong Kong and our 21 HKIE Disciplines are collected to develop the accreditation requirements and we plan to conduct a pilot accreditation exercise in 2020.
Knowledge transfer to fellow Hong Kongers
But we need to reach beyond our profession. Trained to solve difficult problems, engineers have been instrumental in making Hong Kong a world class city. Whether building bridges, hospitals, highways, power stations, … or playgrounds for children, no matter how big or small, engineers have made our city better, cleaner and safer.
Yet the vast majority of Hong Kongers have little awareness about what we, as engineers, have contributed to Hong Kong. Most professionals are called upon to solve individual problems, so it’s common for a patient to thank his doctor for prescribing a course of antibiotics or for a plaintiff to thank his lawyer for negotiating a profitable settlement.
Engineers are different. Rarely asked to solve individual problems, we are mostly tasked with delivering turnkey solutions that work for millions of people and won’t narrowly pride ourselves on our work and skills. In essence, we are a bit like the professional version of the proverbial Schrödinger's cat of quantum physics: invisible when things work smoothly, we are violently thrusted into existence whenever a tunnel has seepage problems, a parking lot is partly flooded after heavy rains or someone gets stuck in the lift of a 50 year-old building.
And as frustrating as this may be, we must deal with these issues head on.
The relative lack of recognition we receive as engineers mostly results from our casual attitude about transferring knowledge to the general public. Too often, we are content to hide behind the scenes and happy to work in the background. And while people admire our greatest achievements, the very quality of our work means it quickly goes unnoticed.
That is why it’s fundamental that all of us - starting with the HKIE - get involved in the important societal debates taking place in Hong Kong. From promoting engineeringly-sound greentech solutions to discussing land reclamation mega-projects and proposing new construction methods, engineers need to bring their expertise to the fore. Our voices must be heard not only because it’s to our benefit, but because of the unique perspective we bring. As we are grounded in facts and science, it lies upon us to ensure our Hong Kong understands our ideas. Last year, we made 17 submissions to various public bodies on issues like waste management, housing supply, ground settlement and land policy, and we will continue to contribute to the betterment of the society with our professional views.
Knowledge transfer beyond Hong Kong
We live in a world much different than the one I grew up in. When I graduated from McGill University in 1982, the personal computer was named Person of the Year by Time’s Magazine, and Motorola introduced the first mobile phone. Called DynaTac 8000X, it was a 2 lbs monster with a battery life of less than 30 minutes. Priced at a cool US$3,995, or about HK$80,000 in today’s term1, just saying good night to your loved one was a pretty expensive proposition!
Closer to home, the mere notion that something like the Greater Bay Area (GBA) would one day exist would have been derided the same way President Kennedy’s lunar ambitions were in the early 60s.
After all, it’s only in 1980, soon after the Rubik’s Cube and Pac-Man were released that Shenzhen became China’s first Special Economic Zone. And as the PRC’s economy gradually opened, that small market town of 30,000 grew to become the modern, tech-driven metropolis of more than 13 million inhabitants2 we know today. And as Shenzhen grew, so did the entire region. With a population larger than that of the UK’s and a GDP equivalent to about twice that of America’s San Francisco Bay area,3 the potential of the GBA is immense.
As the GBA aims at establishing itself as China’s leading innovation and technology hub, it represents not only a great opportunity for Hong Kong engineering talents, but also a responsibility. The future of our city is intricately intertwined with the GBA. And while the GBA’s success matters greatly to China, it is crucial for Hong Kong. From its dams and nuclear plants to its telecommunication infrastructure and airports, everything that is being built in the GBA will impact Hong Kong’s economic prospects, the city’s quality of life and the future of our children.
Since we can’t afford not to be involved, the HKIE is keen to work with the Hong Kong Government and the relevant authorities and professional institutions of Guangdong Province to advocate for our engineers. Educated in some of the world’s best universities and having worked in marquee engineering projects both here and abroad, our engineers and enterprises have much to offer the GBA. It is imperative that our qualifications and experiences receive the formal recognition they deserve. We ask for no more than to be given the chance to contribute to the development of our city, our region and our country.
But while we have plenty to keep busy close to home, we cannot ignore what’s happening elsewhere. Despite the resurgence in protectionism and the threat of tariffs and trade wars, the fact remains that knowledge - much like talent - can’t be contained within national borders.
And as economic development increasingly occurs in even the world’s poorest countries, specialised knowledge is being developed as we speak. In addition to helping educate our members on Belt and Road Initiative projects, we also need to stay on top of what’s happening elsewhere, from international best practices to new engineering ideas. That is why the HKIE is committed to working with other leading institutions to host and participate in arranging regional conferences on engineering, innovation and technology.
A few months’ back at the beginning of the Session, we hosted the International Council on Electrical Engineering (ICEE) Conference, an event co-organised with the Chinese Society for Electrical Engineering, the Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan and the Korean Institute of Electrical Engineers.
More than 450 delegates from seven regions gathered in Hong Kong to share their experiences and debate new
ideas on topics related to “Towards Intelligent Electrical Engineering”. Keynote speakers like 2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Sir Fraser Stoddart; Prof Zhang Xiang, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Hong Kong; and other renowned electrical engineering scholars and experts set the tone for a deep dive about new trends in emerging intelligent electrical engineering, while colleagues from around the region presented more than 250 papers across 10 major topics. The event took knowledge transfer to the next level by featuring two workshops tailored to help young engineers in their career.
More knowledge transfer will occur later this month, as we turn our attention to the impact of technology on engineering at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Symposium on Science and Technology. Working with the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology (SAST), we will present “Building a World-class City Cluster - Opportunities and Challenges for Science and Technology Practitioners”. The symposium will give participants the opportunity to address some of the most important issues of our time. Part of the event will be devoted to AI, as experts will discuss trends across human-computer interaction and visual intelligence, wisdom perception and edge computing, regional intelligent manufacturing collaboration and how technology can upgrade the management of our cities via urban basic management and intelligent street and landscape lighting.
Another segment will discuss how we can use connectivity to implement an integrated transportation hub and traffic strategy, develop regional channels, improve urban traffic and make our cities greener.
We intend to further deepen our relationship with the SAST and, together with the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, are planning to co-organise a conference on smart cities to be held in Shanghai next year.
Knowledge transfer to inspire the next generation
Now on to perhaps our most important mission. To transfer knowledge in a way that inspires the next generation.
At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned President Kennedy’s “moonshot” speech not only because it mobilised a nation, but also because it inspired an entire generation of young people to become engineers. And it is engineers dreaming of going to moon that came up with innovations ranging from the humble dust buster and vacuum-sealed food to seismic shock absorbers used to protect structures like bridges from the effects of earthquakes.
But as the scientific achievements of the space race gave way to the political turmoil of the 70s, the appeal of science diminished. Once dreaming of becoming the next Neil Armstrong, young people were looking for new heroes. And as the Cold War receded, popular culture filled the void. TV series like “LA Law’ drove law school enrolment while George Clooney made the hard work of doctors glamorous in shows like “ER”. Engineers were not so lucky: about the only so-called engineering discipline that gained in popularity was financial engineering. But while the application of mathematics tools and engineering methods to solve financial problems proved useful in areas like index investing, it’s still mostly associated with the greedy excesses of Gordon Gekko, Bernie Maddoff and the Wolf of Wall Street.
But things are looking better for our profession as we enter a new era of scientific acceleration. The STEM disciplines matter again at a time when algorithms have the power to harness the latent knowledge contained in thousands of little-read academic articles published in obscure scientific journals to suggest innovative cures to deadly diseases, or identify unknown materials as possible options for new thermoelectric materials.
But while this sounds exciting to us, it’s crucial we make this inspiring to kids who are on the verge of choosing
a career. But how can they make an informed choice when they don’t even know what engineers can do?
We need to reach them where and when it matters, meaning at school when they are young. One of our more exciting outreach initiatives is the HKIE Engineer Cadet Club Programme. Designed to make engineering real to young people, the programme has already connected with more than 1,500 secondary school students, and the results are so far very promising. The STEM Education Kits, featuring presentations, comics, and a website, also demonstrate the impact of engineering on daily lives. I wish here to thank our members who have volunteered to share their time and experiences with these children and teenagers. Your energy, creativity and devotion are helping make engineering great again in the hearts and minds of many!
Gamification is a key tool of knowledge transfer and the opportunity to compete and win bragging rights as well as cool prizes is proving a strong incentive for many to learn about engineering. Our two previous competitions - a Smart City Model Design Competition for primary kids and a STEM Product Proposal and Design Competition for secondary students attracted many participants. The winning projects were showcased during the HKIE Engineer Day in April 2019. In this Session, we are planning to organise an inter-school quiz competition for students. We hope this combination of competition, knowledge and fun will inspire our children to discover and explore the many exciting fields of engineering and perhaps even draw a few into a career in engineering.
But it’s not only the engineers of tomorrow that we need to inspire. We have many young members today who could benefit from the knowledge of their elders - however ancient - to forge ahead. If bridges decay over time, so do institutions. We need to rejuvenate too.
With the objective of grooming young engineers to eventually assume leadership position within the profession, we continue with the President’s Protégé Scheme, under which talented young engineers will be invited to shadow the President. From attending key meetings, visits and conferences to networking with senior professionals, the Protégés will experience the reality of leading an organisation like the HKIE and will, hopefully, be motivated to work long-term for the development of both our profession and our organisation.
But this is all very serious. The fact is knowledge transfer also happens in more relaxed settings. By enabling engineers of all ages and specialties to congregate in a relaxed atmosphere, we aim not only to drive engagement between members, but also foster an atmosphere of casual knowledge transfer driven more by serendipity - and beer - than planning. So, please don’t hesitate to give it a try!
Since I began my speech with a quote, I’ll conclude with a few more.
On fundamental issues, our greatest thinkers - unlike many current political leaders - are in harmony. If philosopher Socrates - the fountainhead of western philosophy - once said “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”, it’s China’s very own Confucius who stated that “real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance”.
As both these wise men implied, we must keep an open mind. Knowledge transfer matters because it’s new ideas that have the power to build bridges not only between Hong Kong and Zhuhai, but also across cultures and into the future.
I hope you will join with me in doing all you can to share your knowledge and learn new things. Because the future of our profession, our city and indeed our entire planet lies in knowledge and what we do with it.