On May 25th, 73 academicians attended the second Guangdong Academician Annual Summit held in Shenzhen, aiming at accelerating the innovation and development of this metropolis. During this summit, Professor Li Deren from School of Remote Sensing and Information Engineering at Wuhan University, who is also a member of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, shared his observations on the “Smart City”, big data and talent cultivation in an interview with Thinker and Xinhua News Agency.
The integration of industrialization, informationization, urbanization and agricultural modernization
Thinker: Shall we say that the construction of Digital Shenzhen is “testing the water” of a “Smart City”?
Li: Digital city is the basis of “Smart City”. However, up till now, there is no existence of digital city in China. The “Smart City”, as the product of digital city, requires the conformity of urban architecture, both on the ground and underground; It also involves the navigation and positioning systems, both indoors and outdoors. These help to put all the daily and financial activities under an intelligent management via smart phones and some other sensors so as to serve the sustainable development and a low-carbon lifestyle.
Thinker: What, in your opinion, are the main reasons for the he absence of smart cities in China?
Li: “Smart City” targets at a new round integration of industrialization, informatics, urbanization and agricultural modernization. This process will record people and property data online together with the previously involved natural environment. For example, we cannot switch the air conditioner via our smart phone, but the construction of “Smart City” is supposed to make it possible. Also, such activities as medical treatment, provision for the aged, city management, etc., require the government to take the lead and build a managing and operating system on a cloud platform.
The use of databases is fundamental to this system. By now, we have built two databases in Wuhan. One is concerned with labor insurance while the other about enterprises. We are clearly informed of the situation and unreasonable phenomena by analyzing the combined databases. For instance, labor insurance should not be given to those companies who own at least two cars.
The construction of the “Smart City” comes at expense, such as the cost of sensors and the sensor networks to supervise the people and properties. Therefore, the government should take the responsibility to invest and organize, yet it is the family that will make the final decision. Moreover, online security is a tough task in this process.
Thinker: Big data has become a phenomenon. Is what you mentioned just now is also about big data management of the government?
Li: The successful construction of a “Smart City” relies on the well operation of a digital city, the building of sensor networks, the utilization of videos at hand and the increasing competence of cloud computing systems to analyze, control and give feedback. I do hope that Shenzhen can take the lead in terms of “Smart City” systems and become a Model of a “Smart City” in China.
Unified big data management and ordered openness
Thinker: In this big data era, what impact have big data had on your research field geomatics?
Li: Since 1994, my brother, Li Deyi, the member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and I engaged in the research on ‘big data’ with our graduate students. It was called data mining in computing filed. This year, two basic research projects on big data process were launched. The first one was about video big data which, for example, is utilized to distinguish usual activities from the unusual ones so as to maintain public security and people’s privacy. This research has been ongoing for 20 years with many prestigious universities taking part, such as MIT, Harvard University, Tsinghua University, and Wuhan University. It is a tough task because it relies on computers’ full automatic control. Although it is far from perfect settlement, we have already made advancements. The other research is about medical big data. The medical records will reflect the health condition of the people, and such data mining is the priority on the government agenda.
Another example of big data is remote sensing. Its functions were reflected in the analysis of Libyan Conflict battlefields, B&R areas and urbanizations as well as the predictions of GDP and the social-economic development due to wars, diseases and domestic unrests.
Big data requires unified management and ordered openness. Some data such as the luminous data is open in America while some is kept from the public in China. Data lock leads to the unavailability for its general use. Government should take the lead to make public cities’ data for integrating and mining. One typical example is data openness among EU members, which has saved a huge sum of money for governmental administrations. Yet security risks still exist, which means that some data can be transparent while some cannot. Then, data mining should be encouraged in all walks of life to discover the patterns inside and promote their own development. Therefore, big data can be an important issue in the economic transition in this new era for it can serve as a new economic growth point and help to unveil the course of social-economic development.
The chain of basic and applied research
Thinker: What is your opinion on the relationship between basic subjects and applied subjects?
Li: They are two interdependent aspects with one common goal of better understanding of nature, human and society and promoting social progress and sustainable development. The absence of basic research leads to the lack of good materials. China’s lagging behind is largely due to the lack of technology, leading to the lack of new equipment and new materials. As for applied research, they refer to the processes of transferring research findings into productivity, such as high-speed railways. This kind of applied research is a product of key technologies.
The chain of basic researches and applied researches calls for equal attention on these two aspects without inappropriate crossover and overlapping. With China growing stronger, more support should be given to both the basic and applied research.
The impact of global wireless network on China’s online security
Thinker: Currently, some American social websites like Google and Facebook are planning to achieve wireless coverage worldwide. What substantial influence will it have on China’s network supervision and social formation?
Li: 43% of our planet are covered with communication networks while 57% of mountains, forests, deserts and ocean area are yet to be connected. Hence, this issue has attracted worldwide concern. In 2014, I drafted a proposal on satellite remote sensing for commercial use, and supported the involvement of private capital. Over half of the American satellites are non-government funded while this is the opposite case in China. At present, we are cooperating with some SOEs and private companies on a project to launch a luminous remote sensing satellite in Wuhan. It is necessary for China to develop such a system on our own because we should be self-sufficient during the war time.
The nurture of scientific talents should come naturally
Thinker: What efforts can be made to promote the overall capacity of our scientific researchers? Or what support can be given to the higher education?
Li: Talents are the foundation while quality and innovation are the priority in cultivating talent. Inheritance of domestic and overseas knowledge is a basic and indispensable character of talents. However, it should be noted that during this post-Moore Law period, knowledge upgrades at an alarming pace so that talents should be made the pioneers and they should jump out of the box and make innovations. Such Chinese big potatoes as Jack Ma, Pony Ma and Lei Jun are innovative figures who always think different. Therefore, we attach great importance to inheritance as well as innovations under the backdrop of “Mass entrepreneurship and innovation”. However, entrepreneurship is such a daunting task which cannot be promoted aimlessly. My educational philosophy is about “reading, thinking, innovation and practice.” Think first and then read, solve the problems that come up. This process leads to innovations, which is followed by laborious tests and years of repetitions. We should not focus only on others’ successes but also their struggles to achieve the corresponding outcomes.
The large numbers of Chinese talent in this field shows that there is a strong force contributing to our future development. In spite of so many polices to attract talents, it is sometimes unhelpful if they are pushed so hard with excessive interference because talented people tend to be those who create and make a difference by themselves. Thereby, what we need is a good mechanism to evaluate and promote rather than a rigid quantitative assessment system.
(Rewritten by Shen Yuxi, Edited by Jin Yiwen,Wang Mengtian, Mark & Hu Sijia）