Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Internet gurus gather in Hong Kong

For two weeks in February, the best and brightest of the Internet world gathered in Hong Kong for what turned out to be the largest Internet community gathering in the Asia Pacific region -- APRICOT-APAN 2011.

APRICOT stands for Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies, and APAN means Asia Pacific Advanced Network. The former (APRICOT) is the annual conference of the Asia Pacific Internet Association (APIA), and has since 1996 become the biggest event for Internet service providers, public network builders and technologists, while the latter (APAN) is made up of national laboratories and universities researchers who need to build and maintain high-speed networks for their research and development activities in all kinds of different applications, including medicine and other scientific research.

APRICOT was first held in Hong Kong back in 1997, attended by no more than a few hundred people, who gathered to share knowledge in the early days of commercial Internet services in Asia. Obviously, Hong Kong and Asia have come a long way since then -- back in 1996, we had more Internet users in Hong Kong than all of mainland China. Today, there are an estimated 500 million Netizens on the mainland.

This is the first time APRICOT-APAN was held concurrently, and the event was successful beyond our wildest imaginations -- over 1,500 participants from more than 60 countries around the world, including not only Asia Pacific but Europe, the Americas and Africa. It's especially important for us to showcase Hong kong to the world for our unique presence in this region in terms of network deployment, service excellence and regulatory openness, and with APRICOT-APAN, I believe we have done just that.

We were also fortunate to have Dr Vint Cerf -- one of the founders of the Internet and Google's Chief Internet Evangelist -- and Dr Ya-Qin Zhang, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Head of Microsoft's Asia Pacific Research Lab, as our opening keynote speakers. I've had the privilege of knowing Vint for many years, and he has always been like a kind father to all of us in the global Internet community, working on common forums such as the Internet Society (Vint was the founding chairperson) and ICANN (where he served as Chairman).

Quality guests

During his APRICOT keynote, Dr Cerf told us about his interplanetary Internet project: he has been working with NASA for years to develop a next-generation protocol to handle the delays and interruptions brought by long-distance and hostile environments. Nobody knew where the Internet was headed back in the late 1960s when it was conceived by Vint and others in a US Department of Defense R&D project, and Vint humbly said that it was the team effort of many to make the Internet like what it is now. And it will be users and developers like us who will take the Internet to its next phase -- especially for us in Asia -- the continent now with the biggest chunk of users.

While we as the organizers -- Internet Society Hong Kong and DotAsia Organization -- were glad with a turnout that exceeded our goal, we hoped that local attendance would be higher. Neither APRICOT and APAN are primarily commercial in nature -- it isn't another Consumer Electronic Show or some IT trade fair or Computer Festival. This unfortunately reinforces our concern that our industry in Hong Kong is rather short-sighted -- so how do we tell our own government to be more visionary than ourselves?

We as the organizers can only set the forums for Vint and other technology visionaries to meet with young people under the Asia Pacific Next Generation (APNG) program, and hope that our post-90s youngsters can be inspired to new heights of innovation and creativity.

Published in Computerworld Hong Kong, March 2011 Issue

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