Professor Hideyuki Nakashima, President Future University -
Hakodate, Internationally Renowned Computer Scientist, Visionary,
and Inspirational Leader
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP, DF/NPA, CNP, has an exclusive interview with internationally renowned computer scientist, Hideyuki Nakashima, PhD.
Professor Hideyuki Nakashima is president of Future University - Hakodate (FUN), a position he has held since 2004. Prior to this, he was the director of Cyber Assist Research Center, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).
His research field includes Multiagent systems, Artificial Intelligence, (in particular, knowledge representation and reasoning, and cognitive science). He is currently interested in a new methodology for complex information processing as well as societal application of information processing technologies.
Dr. Nakashima is very active in academic societies. He is vice president of the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ) and is also an IPSJ fellow. He was the president of the Japanese Society of Cognitive Science from 2003 to 2004. He was a board member of International Federation on Multiagent Systems from 1999 to 2004. He served as a programming committee co-chair for International Conference on Multiagent Systems (ICMAS) in 2000 and in 2006, as a general co-chair for the International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS ), and as general co-chair for Pacific Rim International Conference on Artificial Intelligence (PRICAI). He has also served as a programming committee member for many international conferences including International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), ICMAS, AAMAS and UbiComp.
He received his Ph. D. in information science at the University of Tokyo in 1983.
Visit his website at http://www.fun.ac.jp/~nakashim/welcome.html.
The latest blogs on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
|Index and links to Questions |
||At the time you became president of Future University in 2004, you were the youngest professor appointed to such a prestigious position. This is a remarkable achievement. What do you hope to accomplish in your role as President?
||What is the focus of your university?
||What do you hope to achieve through your Complex Systems department? How will its impact be felt?
||In your role as President, what were your top challenges and how did you resolve them?
||Can you provide some examples of the role/impact on business, industry, government, education, media and consumer of Information Science and how it would be applied?
||In your current role, what are your biggest roadblocks?
||What specific contributions do you wish to make to the computing field in the future and how will you accomplish this?
||Can you give examples of the construction of "new phenomena that may not exist in the world without computers?" What kinds of specific applications do you foresee, how would they be used, and how will they impact us in our daily lives?
||What are the implications to the world for new methodologies for complex information processing? How will this impact the internet, business, government, education, media and the consumer?
||Can you provide examples of multi-agent simulation? How would evolutionary algorithms for searching be better?
||Describe your work in knowledge representation and reasoning, and cognitive science.
||Can you tell us more about this new approach and some of the ideas you are developing? In what ways and how does the Eastern view of the world make the difference-what are its elements?
||Describe your work with MultiAgent Systems.
||Can you go into more detail about the RoboCup simulation leagues? Moreover, can you overview another example of things you tried with the Kyocho architecture?
||What is the current state of artificial intelligence? Where do you see it heading? What are the implications to business, and the consumer?
||What kinds of problems will we be solving in 2020? When will raw processing surpass our human abilities?
||Describe your work as Director of the Cyber Assist Research Center. Which areas of your work are you most proud of?
||"The goal of Cyber Assist project is to develop human-centered IP assistance systems (intelligence booster) usable without special knowledge or training." Can you describe other examples of this concept in action?
||"We also address the problems of information overload and privacy." In what ways do you do this?
||"Our target is to propose a plan of the future cities with information feedback control systems. It is achieved through sensors, actuators and information processing over them." What pending projects take this further-can you overview them?
||Where do you see this heading into the future: societal applications of information processing technologies?
||"Computers discover new information that was hidden to human eyes. IPT is the core technology to support so called "Web 2.0" while ICT is the core for Web 1.0." Hidey, how would you describe the elements that make up Web 2.0 and where it is going? There is an increasing trend towards social communities online and user sorting and tagging of content to add meaning-what are your thoughts on these trends and their future?
||Can you profile these societal applications? What will this feel, sound, and look like? What opportunities will this provide to business, government, education, and media?
||How can these projects build out further so they are in common use? For example, your semantic matching and semantic world-wide document authoring and sharing?
||What are the negative aspects to information processing technologies?
||Profile your role with IPSJ and what you hope to accomplish?
||How do you propose to get more practitioners involved with the IPSJ?
||What kinds of changes are you making to the IT curriculum at the high school and university levels?
||You did graduate studies at MIT. Can you describe your time there and what innovations you introduced?
||Please share a few stories about working with Brooks and Minsky at MIT?
||What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
||My audience is quite diverse from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. For this audience, can you describe further what you mean by semantic computing and semantic search and its applications?
||What is the biggest issue facing organizations/businesses today and what is your recommendation for meeting this challenge?
||This question ties into your last answer. What do you think about mash-ups and unconferences?
||What are your views about a skills shortage in IT? How serious is it, what are the causes and solutions?
||For those considering a long career in computer technology, what tips would you pass on to ensure their success?
||There is popular new forum or virtual world called "second life." People can hold meetings in this virtual world and even conduct commerce. There is a university campus in this world now. What are your views of this kind of world: http://secondlife.com/ ?
Opening Comment: Hideyuki, you bring a lifetime of considerable success, notable achievements and substantial contributions to our discussion. We thank you for doing this interview with us and sharing your deep insights with our audience.
A: Thank you for this opportunity to express my view to the world.
Q1: At the time you became president of Future University in 2004, you were the youngest professor appointed to such a prestigious position. This is a remarkable achievement. What do you hope to accomplish in your role as President?
A: I would like to use my position at the university to transfer my ideas to the world. Future University - Hakodate (we call it FUN) is an ideal place for this purpose because its main focus is in Information Science.
For the sake of simplicity, I will divide my life-span into two phases and estimate that I will live for 100 years. I used the first 50 years to learn and train myself and to conduct research in order to gain knowledge and insights into the nature of information processing. As I approached the age of 50, I decided to use the latter half to transfer what I had learned,(through my research activities), to the younger generations. (Incidentally, the invitation to become President came when I was 50 years old!)
Q2: What is the focus of your university?
A: FUN is a new university which was established in 2000. It focuses on information science and consists of only one faculty: Systems Information Science which has two departments, Complex Systems and Media Architecture. The research and education at FUN covers hard-core computer science, cognitive science, information system design and complex systems. I am quite interested in research fusion of the themes of these two departments. It is obvious not only that intelligent systems are complex systems, but also that there are many inter-field applications such as use of complex dynamical system to produce unexpected designs.
Q3: What do you hope to achieve through your Complex Systems department? How will its impact be felt?
A: The Complex Systems department is the first department of its kind in Japan. We have Professor Ueda, (who is the first finder of the Chaos phenomena in the world), in the department. Thus the department acts as a "sign board" of our university.
However, the concept of the complex system is hard to apply to designing practical systems because it cannot be defined in a positive sentence. It is usually defined as "a system that cannot be understood by dividing it into simpler parts". How can we use this concept? How can this affect research directions of the new information systems? I have asked both departments, (Complex Systems and Media Architecture), to come up with new collaborative research issues. If we succeed, we can be number one in the world in the new research field.
Q4: In your role as President, what were your top challenges and how did you resolve them?
- To set up efficient university management:
We have to be quick and efficient on decision making and changing the university organization. I was from a national institute where research projects were conducted by teams of researchers. Universities, on the other hand, were a pack of lone wolves called professors. It may be ok for large and established universities because one of the tasks of the universities is to maintain the tradition of the established research field. Our university, however, is new and small and information science is a new discipline.
- To establish #1, my first step was to clarify the top level goal of the university on education and research and make a concrete executable plan to fulfill the goal.
Q5: Can you provide some examples of the role/impact on business, industry, government, education, media and consumer of Information Science and how it would be applied?
A: Let me take an example of Amazon.com. By having a store on the Web, Amazon changed the way books are sold. However, the bought book must be physically delivered to your home. This portion, (transportation), is a bottleneck and has not improved much. I predict that IT will be used to this area too to improve efficiency of transportation systems.
The way government operates, education is delivered and so on will change too. In a sense, we will see much less physical movement in the future. You don't have to visit a music store to buy a CD anymore. You can download songs at home. You can download your book (and optionally print) at home. People may work and get education at home.
Q6: In your current role, what are your biggest roadblocks?
Challenge one: Getting more funds.
Solution: Very difficult.
Challenge two: Getting more good students.
Our university is new, small and located in the northern island. It is hard for us to be "established" as the University of Tokyo. We try to attract the attention of high school students who are interested in IT.
Solution: One of the solutions is to change the system of the entrance examination. However, the entrance examination is strictly managed by the Ministry of Education and we have little freedom to change it. Even where we can change it, it requires about a two years lead time for announcement.
Another solution we are trying is to approach high school teachers and give them the idea of IT and complex systems.
Q7: What specific contributions do you wish to make to the computing field in the future and how will you accomplish this?
A: Information processing or computing is a rather new research domain and needs slightly different discipline and evaluation criteria from natural sciences. It is closer to mathematics in two senses:
I want researchers in the field as well as people in the world to acknowledge this difference and make proper understanding of IT and its research. Only after that can we all begin thinking about a better societal systems based on IT.
- we do not analyze natural phenomena, and
- we are trying to construct new phenomena which may not exist in the world without computers.
Q8: Can you give examples of the construction of "new phenomena that may not exist in the world without computers?" What kinds of specific applications do you foresee, how would they be used, and how will they impact us in our daily lives?
A: Computers are the first machines (non-living entity) capable of processing information. Computers can manipulate symbols faster and on a larger scale than human beings. We see examples every day, but may not notice them. A typical example is the Apollo flight to the moon which couldn't have been accomplished without computer systems. In the same sense, your car may not run without its 60 or so on-board computers.
Another example: The function of a search engine is to find useful information from a vast sea of information. The current search engines will just give you a list of candidates. The next generation of search engines may look through the extensive list it has compiled and will make a one page summary for you.
Further example: I am not sure of the situation in the US, but in Japan now almost all cars are equipped with car navigation systems. The second generation of the system uses VICS (Vehicle Information Communication System) to get traffic information and shows the fastest route based on the information. But it is known that the system is not even near optimal, because of the delay between the traffic information and the time when the car actually reaches its destination. We can do better. Every car navigation system in operation has the current position of the vehicle, the destination, and the currently chosen route to the destination. If vehicles in a city share that information, they can use this traffic information to simulate traffic situation and plan semi-optimal routes for each vehicle, thus avoiding predicted congested areas.
Q9: What are the implications to the world for new methodologies for complex information processing? How will this impact the internet, business, government, education, media and the consumer?
A: The most significant aspect of complex system is its unpredictability. We have to give up total control of the system. The behavior of the internet is unpredictable and so is the economy. We have to give up total control of the system in the traditional sense. To understand the limit is the starting point to design our new systems. But it does not mean that we cannot design a new system. In fact, we have several new approaches that rely on computational powers. Multiagent simulation and evolutionary algorithms for searching through large space are good examples.
Q10: Can you provide examples of multi-agent simulation? How would evolutionary algorithms for searching be better?
A: I talked about the possibility of future car-navigation systems. Its effectiveness was verified on our multi-agent simulation test bed at Cyber Assist Research Center. We also verified the effectiveness of a new transportation system called "bus on call". We found that in large cities like Tokyo or New York, all the buses should be run on-call mode only. The power of simulation comes from the capability of changing parameters in large scale to an extent that cannot be covered by an actual physical test (Bus-on-call in whole New York cannot be put into test unless it is known to succeed). Evolutionary algorithm is effective to find the best parameter setting from a vast search space.
Q11: Describe your work in knowledge representation and reasoning, and cognitive science.
A: A human being has an impressive ability to adjust her way of thinking according to the situation in which she is located. It is achieved automatically and no one seems to notice this capability of its own. However once we try to construct a program to reason flexibly, this ability to take the situation into account (we call this "situatedness" of thought) is recognized as a big problem. We simply do not know how to do it. In early AI, the problem was called the "Frame Problem" (McCarthy and Hayes1969).
I recently came to realize that the Eastern view of the world could be the key to a new approach. I am still working on this idea with my fellow researchers in cognitive science and architectural design.
Q12: Can you tell us more about this new approach and some of the ideas you are developing? In what ways and how does the Eastern view of the world make the difference-what are its elements?
A: The answer must be somewhat philosophical. You should not talk about "effectiveness" and "elements" because the concept is Western.
I would need to write a book to answer your question. Any description within a small space like this interview would need too much simplification. However, let me just illustrate the direction of my idea. When we build a new engineering artifact such as a large building or a highway, the traditional way is to design it completely before you begin construction. Even computer software is built in this way. However, it is an illusion that we can design a complex system completely before we activate it. Reality is that we have to compose it, run it, observe it, make adjustments to the specification and modify or reconstruct it. This process must be continued while the system is in operation. There is no timing that a system is completed. The Eastern view of the world takes bugs' eye (fixed to the running system or process) view rather than birds' eye view (separated from the system). Eastern view tells us that we cannot have a complete specification of a complex system.
Q13: Describe your work with MultiAgent Systems.
A: There is a phrase in Japanese meaning three ordinary people make one Wiseman. Its English version is "Two heads are better than one" but I don't think they say the same thing. The English version may follow Amdahl's law of parallel computing (efficiency of computing with N machines are always less than N times of the power of a single machine). But the Japanese version says it can be more than N. We wanted a computing architecture that can allow "the whole is more than the sum of parts". We named the project "Kyocho architecture". "Kyocho" do not have a direct translation into English. It roughly means "cooperation" but it's more than that. My definition of Kyocho is conflict + negotiation + coordination.
We tried many things in the project. One of them is used as a platform of RoboCup simulation leagues. Another research, application of multiagent simulation to societal design, was inherited by Cyber Assist project which was launched later.
Q14: Can you go into more detail about the RoboCup simulation leagues? Moreover, can you overview another example of things you tried with the Kyocho architecture?
A: RoboCup soccer competition was proposed by my colleagues in Japan and is a world-wide event now. It consists of two categories, physical robot leagues and simulation leagues. Physical league had emphasis on smooth agile movements and simulation league had emphasis on tactics. Our Kyocho project provided the simulator. We also programmed a soccer team using Kyocho architecture.
RoboCup was later extended to include RoboCup rescue. This rescue competition also consists of physical and simulation leagues. Rescue itself is a very interesting problem in a sense that a complete specification of rescue task cannot be given beforehand.
Q15: : What is the current state of artificial intelligence? Where do you see it heading? What are the implications to business, and the consumer?
A: Every subfield of IT research alternates in two phases: basic research phase where each component technology is developed, and integration phase where basic technologies are combined into practical applications. Both phases have their own research issues and they need each other. Integration research may find that some of the element technologies are missing and this leads to basic research. Basic research without applications in mind may lead to problems with little significance.
Both AI and IT in general are in the integration phase in this decade. Computers became so powerful that we can actually apply algorithms - which can "theoretically" solve problems but only applicable to toy problems because of resource limitations ten years ago - to practical problems. This is why ubiquitous computing is a hot issue these days and also why we initiated Cyber Assist project.
Q16: What kinds of problems will we be solving in 2020? When will raw processing surpass our human abilities?
A: 2020, more than a decade from now, cannot be predicted with precision. Anyway, the future is not to predict but to design. The goal of Cyber Assist Project was to design such a future.
Q17: Describe your work as Director of the Cyber Assist Research Center. Which areas of your work are you most proud of?
A: Cyber Assist Research Center was proposed by me to AIST and accepted. Cyber Assist project, which was carried out at the center was one of the first projects on ubiquitous computing in Japan. Here is a quote of the description of the project from one of my papers:
The current information processing tools such as personal computers and Internet are not always easy to use. Novice users often have to take a class to master them. A new trend in research was initiated recently to turn the table around. MIT's Oxygen project, Microsoft's Easy Living and Hewlett Packard's Cool Town as well as our Cyber Assist project are among those announcing their new directions: making IP machines invisible from human users and yet providing rich ubiquitous supporting environment.
The goal of Cyber Assist project is to develop human-centered IP assistance systems (intelligence booster) usable without special knowledge or training. We also address the problems of information overload and privacy.
Our target is to propose a plan of the future cities with information feedback control systems. It is achieved through sensors, actuators and information processing over them. Therefore, our use of "cyber" differs from those used by mass media where the word is synonymous to "digital".
In fact, we define
cyber = digital + real
meaning that cyber world implies grounding of digital, or logical, information to the real, or physical, world.
We have two main targets:
- Situated information support, and
- Privacy protection.
These targets often contradict each other. You have better chance of getting personally tailored services when you submit more personal information, like your preference and previous experience. The key issue is that the users getting the services must have the control of their personal information, not the service provider. In this respect, we believe it important that the communication itself is anonymous, and personal identity, if necessary, must be given as the content of the communication.
To achieve the above goals, we have two main approaches:
- Intelligent content, and
- location-based communication.
Communication method and the content are closely related each other and should not be separately designed. We believe one of the important grounding of content is to the location (of its existence, use, etc.).
One of the products of the project is a battery-less information terminal called Aimulet, which was actually used in the Global House (the Japanese government pavilion) and Laurie Anderson's "Show and Walk" at Aichi Expo 2005.
(A brief description can be seen in
Aimulet LA received a good design award (G-mark) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry this year.
Q18: "The goal of Cyber Assist project is to develop human-centered IP assistance systems (intelligence booster) usable without special knowledge or training." Can you describe other examples of this concept in action?
A: Actually, it is technically harder to design such systems than to design sophisticated devices with lots of control adjustments. The best example of a system usable without special knowledge of the system is a car. To drive a car, you do not need any knowledge about its mechanism. ABS and sophisticated engine control is achieved where users do not notice. However, when the designer of a car tries to give some control to the users, the landscape changes. New BMW 7 series is computerized and its manual is over 500 pages. Thus information processing version of a basic car is hard to find these days. Evolution of mobile phones seems to be going to two directions: (1) harder to use but with a lot of sophisticated mechanisms and (2) easy to use with simple fixed functions.
Intelligent boosters are much much harder to find. We have to wait until semantic computing becomes widely available.
Q19: "We also address the problems of information overload and privacy." In what ways do you do this?
A: Semantic computing is half of the solution. An intelligent search engine is a key to cope with information overload. The rest of the solution is ID-free communication. As long as you use a global ID to specify the address of communication, your privacy is vulnerable. We proposed "location-oriented-communication" in which the target address is specified using the physical location of the user rather than her ID. Any person at the location can get the service without giving up his privacy.
Q20: "Our target is to propose a plan of the future cities with information feedback control systems. It is achieved through sensors, actuators and information processing over them." What pending projects take this further-can you overview them?
A: There are new research and development field variously called "ubiquitous computing", "pervasive computing" and "ambient intelligence". Ambient intelligence is an EU project. R&D on sensor networks to identify the context of service recipient is also active.
Q21: Where do you see this heading into the future: societal applications of information processing technologies?
A: As we all see, the Internet is changing some of our life and business styles. In addition, maturation of ubiquitous computing technology, particularly advances in positioning and telecommunication systems, allows us to design advanced assistance systems for many aspects of our everyday-lives.
We can not only increase the efficiency of the current system, but we can design a whole new system that was unable to install without IT.
A mass user support system would have a large impact on how our societal infrastructure is designed and operated. A new societal design concept would benefit not only the society as a whole but would also benefit individuals. However, societal systems are hard to design and harder to test in the real world. To design a mass user support system, multiagent simulation is very effective. I gave an example of such simulation for new transportation systems such as bus-on-call. Rescue simulation is another good example. Large-scale disaster is so rare that we need to use simulators to plan and test good rescue strategy. Such simulation was put into test using Kyoto station in Digital City Kyoto project. Simulator is also effective to train rescue personnel.
Let me take this opportunity to explain my definitions of differences of two kinds of IT, namely ICT and IPT. The Internet is an example of information communication technology (ICT) where computing power is used to transfer information from one place to another. Although data manipulations such as search and format transformation (typically encryption and decryption, compaction and expansion) are performed, no essential data manipulation (such as image or language understanding) is involved in the process. It is humans that creates and consumes information.
In information processing technology (IPT), on the other hand, it is a computer that creates, manipulates and understands information. Data mining is one of the examples. Computers discover new information that was hidden to human eyes. IPT is the core technology to support so called "Web 2.0" while ICT is the core for Web 1.0.
ICT enhances human activities. Internet provides people accessibility to world-wide information resource from anywhere in the world. The technology changed some of our economical systems. Online-shopping is the best known example. However, it is still necessary to store and transport goods in the traditional way. ICT is important, but has its own limitations unless we change the underlining societal systems. With IPT, we can go further. Free flight system using GPS locating system is one of the examples. Instead of traditional air traffic navigation, each aircraft can fly autonomously with the help of multiagent collision avoidance system. Mercedes Benz and other companies are conducting research on future transportation and delivery control system.
Q22: "Computers discover new information that was hidden to human eyes. IPT is the core technology to support so called "Web 2.0" while ICT is the core for Web 1.0." Hidey, how would you describe the elements that make up Web 2.0 and where it is going? There is an increasing trend towards social communities online and user sorting and tagging?
A Web 2.0 is hard to define. It is a combination of many programs that provide various kinds of user interfaces. However, one common aspect is the use of huge computing resources (both CPU and memories with more emphasis on CPU power). In my opinion, blogs and video/photo sharing are realizable with old technologies of Web 1.0. Although they may need a vast storage, they do not need much CPU powers. Wiki's may be a bit different. The current Wiki relies on human editors. But in the near future, computers may take it over. They can automatically gather information through Web, filter out unreliable information and prepare Wiki pages for humans to read. Of course, initial tags may still have to be given by humans. But part of it may also be automated. For example, when you take a picture, GPS information of location and orientation may automatically be added to the picture. Even semantic inference of the target and situation using other sensors may become possible.
Q23: Can you profile these societal applications? What will this feel, sound, and look like? What opportunities will this provide to business, government, education, and media?
In our Cyber Assist project, we illustrated several of them. Let me just list them here:
- Efficient transportation systems such as global car navigation, bus-on-call without any fixed route nor time table.
- Personal navigation system through a theme park or through a city.
- Semantic computing for world-wide document authoring and sharing.
- Search engine based on semantic matching (in contrast to key-word matching).
- On-line government that allow all citizens to directly participate in decision making.
Q24: How can these projects build out further so they are in common use? For example, your semantic matching and semantic world-wide document authoring and sharing?
A: The above examples are all related each other. World-wide document sharing may provide a good information source for personal navigation system. For them to be used commonly, the system must be used in commercial activities. Currently, the business model of many services on Web is based on advertisement. I do not think it healthy if companies with large resources dominate the future world. One of the keys for those systems to be practical without such drawbacks is the realization of small-payment systems. One cent or even sub-decimal cents should be able to be collected with comparably small costs. In current Japan, the cost of communication infrastructure is still relatively high to realize this.
Q25: What are the negative aspects to information processing technologies?
A: Well, I do not see any inherent problems. Of course, abuse of any technology creates negative aspects. For example, if children are raised in an Internet dominant environment where they meet others only through digital lines, there is a potential damage to their cognitive systems. It is important that children interact each other physically, sometimes fist-fighting each other. Children must also be exposed to the nature.
The slogan of Cyber Assist, "cyber = digital + real", was created with the above in mind. We must use IT to support and enhance human interaction with the nature, not to replace it.
Q26: Profile your role with IPSJ and what you hope to accomplish?
A: I am a vice president of IPSJ in charge of managing research-oriented activities of the society including management of special interest groups, publications, and annual conferences.
All academic societies are changing their roles these days as the Internet changes the structure of our society. For example, twenty years ago, we researchers could not have an international workshop without the help of an academic society. But these days we can not only organize a large conference using only the Internet, but needless to say, small workshops. An academic society must adjust its role to this new environment. Moreover, as I mentioned before, IT is mature enough to be applied to the real world problems. IPSJ used to be a closed society to academia, but now it has to deal with societal applications of IT.
I hope I can contribute to change the function of IPSJ toward that direction. One of the problems I am working on currently is to eliminate printed publications of the society and make them available only on-line. Printed technical notes distributed at the SIG workshops will be eliminated by our 50th anniversary in 2010.
At the large society summit in Vancouver, the President of British Computer Society said "Most senior decision makers - political, social or business - are almost totally unaware of the capabilities and the limitations of IT, and expectations are often totally unrealistic." I think this comment applies to many countries including Japan. IPSJ must initiate its work toward public understanding of IT. We must try to get more attention and memberships of practitioners working at companies. We must also try to change the curriculum of IT related courses not only at universities but also at high schools.
Q27: How do you propose to get more practitioners involved with the IPSJ?
A: This is a good question. IPSJ recently initiated a series of "IT forums". These forums are for practitioners as SIG's are for researchers. We are hoping IT forums will get the attention of practitioners who are potential members of IPSJ.
IBM is proposing "service science". My personal understanding of service science is that it is a study of design-construct-service-evaluation cycle of IT products. Then, IT forums of IPSJ are a good opportunity for both researchers and practitioners to get together and discuss service science.
Q28: What kinds of changes are you making to the IT curriculum at the high school and university levels?
A: The following idea is under discussion, and is not an action plan yet. In Japan, "Informatics" was introduced into the high-school curriculum several years ago. However, the content of the course is just a surface introduction of IT-literacy (how to use computer systems) rather than deep understanding of the concept of information. Viewing our world from the point of view of information and its processing (the latter is called computation) is an alternative to viewing our world as matters and energy as in physics [Cf. Jannette M. Wing: "Computational Thinking" CACM Volume 49, Issue 3 (March 2006)]. I think it is important to teach this computational view to university students not majoring in computer science, and high-school students. Either IPSJ or FUN may take the initiative toward this direction in the near future.
Q29: You did graduate studies at MIT. Can you describe your time there and what innovations you introduced?
A: My visit to MIT was my very first experience abroad. My first impression of the US was that I could behave more freely there. You know, in Japan, we have to use special honorary expressions to elderly people. In a sense we have to know who is an elder before we initiate a conversation. I thus thought that life in the US fit me better than that in Japan. However, as time goes by, I began to realize that I was raised in the Japanese culture and the Japanese way of viewing world is engraved deep in me. Thereafter I favor my Buddhist-like view even when I do research and write AI programs.
The emphasis on philosophy is what I learned from MIT. At the University of Tokyo, classes on AI taught us only technical contents, but at MIT, a large portion of time was dedicated to philosophical questions on the nature of intelligence.
My research theme at the time was on logic programming. By the way, logic programming was the key technology for Japanese "Fifth Generation Computing" project. The concept of logic programming language Prolog was invented in Europe (France and GB). When I visited MIT, researchers there did not know the success of Prolog and I was one of the first to introduce it to MIT.
Q30: Please share a few stories about working with Brooks and Minsky at MIT?
A: At 1978 when I was at MIT, the computer environment was much poorer than that of today, even at MIT. Only a small number of terminals were connected to the AI Lab's network. A visiting student had a rather hard time to find a terminal during the daytime. After 5pm, many professors left their offices but kept them open for any students to use. At night, I often used Minsky's terminal in his office because his secretary was a good friend of mine.
Brooks was not there while I was at MIT. He joined later. But we came to know each other during his several visits to Japan. We sometimes went to Karaoke together. When the Cyber Assist Research Center was established, I asked him to serve as a member of external evaluation committee of the center.
Q31: What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
A: People are talking about "Web 2.0". It is actually a good start toward a new use of the Internet and computing technologies. However, it is by no means near the end. There are much more capabilities of IT to have newer systems. One of the examples is semantic-based search engine (in contrast to the currently used keyword-based search engines). As I said earlier, the Internet was initiated as an application of ICT. Web 2.0 focuses more on IPT. The next trend is "semantic" computing, I believe. How does this relate to your business? It is up to your imagination of a new use.
Another large application area of IT is transportation. Even though Amazon.com changed the way products are sold, the final stage of service, transportation of goods to individual houses remain the same. I believe IPT in the near future will change the system drastically for more energy efficient transportation systems.
Q32: My audience is quite diverse from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. For this audience, can you describe further what you mean by semantic computing and semantic search and its applications?
A: I was visiting Stanford University frequently in 1990's. I once tried to search for a good restaurant around SRI International in Menlo Park. I entered keywords "restaurant", "near" and "SRI International", and got information of "a restaurant near the international airport at Sri-Lanka". This is the shortcomings of keyword matching. To use keyword-based search engine, you have to be creative. But if you use semantic-based search engine, you can just tell what you want in a plain sentence just as you see in movies like "List restaurants near SRI International". You can even search for a word from its description.
Q33: What is the biggest issue facing organizations/businesses today and what is your recommendation for meeting this challenge?
A: Issue: The biggest issue is that the meaning or role of "organization" in our society is changing. The most significant role of organization used to be to connect people, both internally and externally. Internal structure of organizations may become simpler and more flexible. Part of that flexibility comes from on-the-fly assembly of task force for each specific target. This kind of flexibility had to pay a large administration cost before, but it became efficient with the help of computing power used for constraint satisfaction [removing constraints or barriers]. This flexible management can also be applied to inter-organizational assembly and results in so called virtual companies.
Recommendation: Plan ahead of the trend.
Q34: This question ties into your last answer. What do you think about mash-ups and unconferences?
A: By "mash-ups", I take you mean a novel combination of applications rather than creative art works. I do not know any effective IT to support mash-ups automatically yet. But I believe technologies catch up soon. Object oriented programming makes combination of systems easier. Aspect oriented programming under research may take over in the near future.
In conferences I attended or organized recently (both international and domestic), I observe that the distinction between oral and poster sessions are disappearing, or changing the definition. It used to be that oral sessions are where high quality full papers are presented and poster sessions are for weaker shorter papers. I see many conferences having more emphasis on poster and/or demo sessions because those systems allow presenters and participants to have denser interaction. In some of the workshops I attended in Japan, a chat system was used on-line while the speaker is presenting. Two screens are used, one for the power point presentation of the speaker and another for the chat. Participants exchange their opinions and/or questions. The speaker may sometimes reply to the comments.
Q35:What are your views about a skills shortage in IT? How serious is it, what are the causes and solutions?
A: Honestly, I do not know the situation abroad. But it is serious in Japan. Many software productions rely on programmers abroad in India or China. The shortage is caused, in my personal opinion, by the wrong plan of leaders of large companies in Japan. Up to ten years ago, the Federation of Economic Organizations declared that Japan does not need domestic software development because foreign programmers are cheaper. They simply confused designing systems and programming them. To design a good system, the designer needs a good knowledge on IT. They recently changed their opinion 180 degrees and blame universities that they did not produce enough software engineers. Actually, there are not enough university departments for IT in Japan to produce enough IT engineers. Anyway, the Ministry of Education launched a series of projects to support universities to educate students with high-level IT skills.
Q36: For those considering a long career in computer technology, what tips would you pass on to ensure their success?
A: Software products, including those to support large societal systems, do not have to follow physical laws. "Scale-free" networks are an example. It can exist only on information networks. Physical networks, such as road network, cannot be scale-free because of physical limitations.
If we can imagine a good system, we can construct it with IT. Imagination is a key ability required for information architects.
Q37: There is popular new forum or virtual world called "second life." People can hold meetings in this virtual world and even conduct commerce. There is a university campus in this world now. What are your views of this kind of world: http://secondlife.com/?
A: I believe it an interesting place. It shows human's ability to live on imagination. I believe that life in virtual world may have the same or more reality than the real life. I am a fan of Science Fictions and one of my favorite "Snow Crash" describes some such life.
However, I myself am busy living the real life. I enjoy it so much that I need more time here. I ride motorcycles, drive cars and fly airplanes (yes, I am a private pilot). I am currently challenging to get a boat license.
Closing Comment: Hideyuki, we will continue to follow your contributions to the computing field. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with us.
A: It was my pleasure to talk with you, Stephen. Thank you again for providing this opportunity to present my opinion from Far East to the world.