The International Academy of Digital Economy (IDEA) quietly open Last year, perched among state-of-the-art office buildings on the Shenzhen side of the river border with Hong Kong.

Although geographically separated from Hong Kong, technically the research institute is located inside a special area straddling the two cities: the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Cooperation Zone. The name is self-explanatory. It is a joint effort by the governments of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, with support from Beijing and favorable policies, to collaborate in scientific and technological research.

IDEA is one of the organizations that have settled within the 3.89 km² special area – which is about the size of 540 football fields – and is an brainchild of Harry Shum. The renowned computer scientist was executive vice president of Microsoft from 2013 to 2019 and also co-founded Microsoft’s largest research arm outside of the United States, Microsoft Research Asia.

Like his former colleague at Microsoft, Kai-Fu Lee, Shum was active in both research and the AI ​​business. Now at IDEA, his team aims to “develop disruptive innovative technologies based on social needs and give back to society in a way that allows more people to benefit from the development of the digital economy”. Several research directors at IDEA are also Microsoft veterans, including Yutao Xie and Jiaping Wang.

The sweeping regulatory crackdown on Chinese internet companies has made headlines saying Beijing has turned on the technology. But the government’s intention is more nuanced. It focuses on Big Techs deemed harmful to society and the economy, companies that have encouraged financial market risks, gambling addiction, the exploitation of gig workers and other evils.

In the meantime, China remains focused on its goal of promoting basic research and reducing reliance on Western technologies. In Shenzhen, home to tech giants like Huawei, DJI, and Tencent, the government is recruiting world-class scientists. Harry Shum and his team are among the last to join the raft.

IDEA definitely has a buzzy name (and a great acronym). The term “digital economy” comes up often in speeches by President Xi Jinping about how technology can be a driving force for the economy. The “digital economy has become a key force in restructuring the global economy and transforming the global competitive landscape in recent years,” said the president. noted in October. “The Internet, big data, cloud computing and other technologies are increasingly integrated into all sectors of economic and social development. “

IDEA examines how AI can transform industries like finance, manufacturing, and healthcare. This week he announced that he partnership with the main Chinese quantitative trader Ubiquitous on a common laboratory to work on “risk monitoring and avoidance for financial transaction markets”, as well as “basic infrastructure for high performance computing systems”.

IDEA is just one of the many research laboratories that have sprung up in Shenzhen in recent years. The Shenzhen Institute of Data Economics, located on the Shenzhen campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong with government support, is another group working at advance China’s digital economy.