Professor of Information Engineering
Head of Information Technology and Software Engineering
School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences
Professor Edmund Lai joined AUT in February 2016, and quickly set a new record – owning the most books in the School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences. The exact number is unknown, but it takes 47 boxes to move them.
Before coming to AUT, Professor Lai worked at Massey for nine years in the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology. Before then, his career was like a bouncing ball – from Australia to Hong Kong and back again.
Professor Lai grew up in Hong Kong but moved to Perth, Australia for his final year of high school. He completed his Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electrical Engineering at the University of Western Australia. He returned to Hong Kong to work as a semiconductor test engineer, specialising in digital watch chips. Back in the early eighties, that was considered advanced work.
Love drew him back to Perth though – his college girlfriend (now wife) lived there, and Professor Lai returned to university to complete his PhD. The topic was automatic speech recognition - the same technology Siri on your iPhone uses. That’s where his career started to cross over between engineering, software and IT. After completing his PhD, he then returned to Hong Kong and worked at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in its newly opened information engineering department. Then, he returned to Perth again; this time to work and teach. He then worked as an independent consultant for a couple of years, developing industrial engineering training courses and writing optimization software for the mining industry in Australia.
Then by chance, on the way back to holiday in Hong Kong, he stopped in Singapore and decided to visit Nanyang Technological University. What he thought was a visit turned into an interview and a job offer. He stayed there for a number of years before moving to New Zealand in 2006.
Professor Lai is an advocate for research without necessarily having immediate applications. He stresses that many applications we use now are based on the “useless” research done in the past. For example, the development of quantum mechanics started about 100 years ago as a matter of intellectual curiosity. But it is the foundation on which many useful present-day applications such as nano-technology are based. If an application was needed for funding then, we wouldn’t have that pre-existing knowledge to tap into.
When he’s not at work, he’s likely spending time with his wife at home or on the golf course. He plays golf only with his wife; she’s the only one he is comfortable losing in front of. They have two daughters – one working in Australia and the other in New Zealand.