Harry Shum



Dr Harry H Y Shum
Doctor of Science, honoris causa (2020)

Dr Harry Shum is a distinguished computer scientist and a successful business leader who has applied the fruits of his research to technological applications that help people work and live better. If your personal computer runs on the Windows operating system or you use the search engine Bing, then you have definitely benefited from the pioneering efforts of Dr Shum, who has had an illustrious career with Microsoft. If you like to use the panorama function of your smart phone’s camera, then you have also enjoyed one of Dr Shum’s inventions as its algorithm is partly underpinned by his research.

Growing up in Nanjing, Dr Shum was identified as a gifted student and admitted by the Nanjing Institute of Technology (now Southeast University) at the tender age of 13 in 1980. Later he enrolled in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering of the University of Hong Kong, and then furthered his studies at the Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, where he graduated with a PhD degree in robotics in 1996. After a brief stint at a start-up, Dr Shum joined Microsoft in Seattle as a researcher. In 1999, he was posted to Beijing as a founding member of Microsoft Research China (later renamed Microsoft Research Asia). There, he shot to prominence as a prolific researcher in computer vision and computer graphics, and was appointed head of the lab in 2004. Thanks to his team’s multiple research breakthroughs, Microsoft Research Asia has come to be regarded as a renowned research laboratory around the world, and he was recognised by Microsoft as a Distinguished Engineer in 2006.

In 2007, when Microsoft saw a need to boost the capability of its internet search engines, Dr Shum was posted back to Seattle and appointed Corporate Vice President in charge of developing Bing. Drawing on advances in artificial intelligence (AI) such as statistical machine learning and natural language processing, his team made Bing a decision engine that does more than find an accurate answer to a user’s query. Able to figure out the intent behind a query, Bing presents the user with relevant information that helps him make a decision. In 2013, Dr Shum was promoted to Microsoft's Executive Vice President responsible for technology and research. He felt strongly that AI should be used to help human beings live a better life instead of beating them. He therefore imbued the company’s AI products with emotions so that they can connect with people. Dr Shum is particularly proud of the social chatbot XiaoIce that Microsoft launched in China in 2014. Known to users as a 16-year-old girl with a lovely face, XiaoIce is designed as an AI companion who can satisfy the human need for communication, affection and social belonging. As she can understand human speech and anticipate what users are going to say, XiaoIce is capable of engaging in long conversations. Her longest dialogue with a user has gone 23 rounds, which is far higher than that achieved by other digital assistants and chatbots. Supported by a powerful AI infrastructure, XiaoIce can even write poems, compose music, present the news, sing, design and do other kinds of creative work on her own or with collaborators. So far, she has communicated with more than 600 million active users around the world. 

In November last year, Dr Shum retired from Microsoft after 23 years of service. His separation from the company has turned out to be short-lived, however. In July, Microsoft decided to spin off its XiaoIce business into a separate entity and put him in charge as chairman. So you could say Microsoft has found Dr Shum indispensable.

Dr Shum has so far published more than 200 research papers and is the holder of over 100 patents. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2006 and a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 2007. In 2017 and 2018, he was respectively elected a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Engineering, USA, and an International Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. In Hong Kong, Dr Shum is a member of the Chief Executive's Council of Advisers on Innovation and Strategic Development. He is also an Honorary Fellow of both the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. On the mainland, he holds an adjunct professorship at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Advanced Studies, while serving as the chairman of the academic committee of Peking University’s Institute for AI.

For his superb accomplishments as a scientist and business leader, Hong Kong Baptist University is pleased to confer on Dr Harry Shum the award of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.