Being really smart all about sustained action

| Davis Bookhart 20 Feb 2019

Davis Bookhart , Adjunct Assistant Professor of the Division of Environment and Sustainability and Head of the Sustainability Unit, HKUST

With great alarm, many people are recognizing the Great Acceleration, a term used to describe the rapid rate of human impact on global systems from the second half of the 20th century.

With more robust and reliable data, we can now clearly illustrate the skyrocketing levels of population and environmental stresses placed on the planet since the industrial revolution.

It is scary and feels overwhelming.

While data allows us to see the magnitude of the impact, it can also provide insights and pathways forward.

This is one of the keystone building blocks of Hong Kong's Smart City Blueprint, where prioritizing "Open Data" for public evaluation is essential for innovation and progress.

Hong Kong is heading in this direction of openness (too slowly for some, but progress nonetheless).

The recent policy address recognized that "opening up government data can provide the ingredients needed for technology research."

But accessing data alone does not solve our mounting social and environmental issues; using data to "innovate" more disposable or wasteful products or find regulatory loopholes is not progress.

There is a need to follow an observable glide path - a moral compass - that will keep the use of data focused on a larger goal of creating public benefits.

At HKUST, we believe this moral compass is rooted in sustainability thinking, which we define as "creating the conditions for human thriving over time within planetary boundaries."

We hope to frame our future research and innovation within this scope.

To demonstrate this commitment, it has formed the HKUST Sustainable Smart Campus as a Living Lab.

Its goal is to enliven our campus by experimenting and advancing new sustainability ideas through the use of smart technologies and analytics.

Putting words into action, the university is providing HK$50 million to be awarded over the next three years to students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners who develop and implement projects on campus.

If successful, we hope to transform our campus into a cutting-edge showcase for innovation and sustainable action.

Over the next few years, university members will develop projects - just to name a few - that utilize data to help streamline the transportation system and reduce harmful emissions; analyze food nutrition data and provide customized behavior and healthy customer experiences; use movement analytics combined with public artwork to reduce stress levels and increase happiness; and will build on data networks to make our buildings come alive as visible platforms for learning and experimentation.

Hong Kong is embracing smart, and rightly so.

However, smart without a moral compass is directionless. It is time to put sustainability and smart together to focus on the grand challenges posed by the Great Acceleration, and show that Hong Kong can be a global leader in showcasing the pathway toward a sustainable future.

HKUST experts have their fingers on the pulse of a new age of science, technology and innovation

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