From the Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2001

This month's issue, like always, took on a life of its own, with robotics and artificial intelligence working their way into several of the stories. That these areas are absolutely key to Japan's competitive future is not in doubt; what remains to be seen is how entertainment robots, robots for research or development, and artificially intelligent applications will develop. We've touched on these and more in our interview with Sony Robot Entertainment chief Satoshi Amagai, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at Japan's Killer Freestyle Ski-bot, and, of course, the cover feature, entitled simply "AI."

While researching the AI feature, JI AI correspondent Sam Joseph found that this field of research attracts an exceedingly eclectic mix of thinkers and doers. The president of AI-based software developer CRL, Dr. Hideto Tomabechi (covered in Sam's feature and in an interview in October 2001), practices Zen meditation to help him relax. Ni

The esoterica of AI also surfaced when Sam spoke to another Japanese technology visionary, Takuro Tomita, who is described in his company's marketing material as a "charisma engineer." Tomita was a child-prodigy computer hacker who became COO of a research company, and today he speaks about how our primitive human interactions are inhibited by our low bandwidth, vocal-chord-based communication. The ultimate high-bandwidth interface, he says, would be a full-body tactile interface able to send and receive information across every square millimeter of your body.

Tomita's company, Saver Corp., concentrates on interface design, and the Charisma Engineer sees this as the road to the true understanding of human intelligence: "We can reach what most people define as intelligence with current AI techniques," Tomita posits. "But the gap is that humans are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. Until we properly understand human intelligence, we are unlikely to be able to replicate it -- and then only with the advent of quantum computing techniques."

Our July cover feature on Shuji Nakamura, inventor of the blue LED and blue laser, presaged quite a commotion, as the Japanese press subsequently picked up the story. In our feature, we told you that Nakamura left Japan for California, thoroughly disillusioned with corporate Japan's lack of rewards for individual researchers. He and his former employer, Nichia Chemicals, are involved in extensive litigation.

To put the blue LED and laser inventions into perspective, one scientist familiar with the technology told me its ultimate commercial worth could be "well over" $6 billion. This value is based on the fact that no one else has come up with an alternative technology that avoids Nichia's patents.

But Matsushita Electric has announced that it has developed a way to produce blue-light emitting diodes that does not infringe on Nichia's patents and is much cheaper. Also, Sony Shiroishi Semiconductor said on September 21 that it has developed a blue-purple semiconductor laser diode. Maybe Nichia's pot of gold is smaller than anyone thought? In any event, we expect that, like Nakamura, other talented researchers will be drawn away -- something to consider for Japan's AI and robotics future.

This issue also marks several staff changes at JI. From this issue, Sumie Kawakami, frequent freelance contributor and experienced financial journalist, joins the magazine full-time, adding significantly to our business coverage. And this will be my last issue as Editor at Large. Starting with the December issue, I will move on to full-time freelance writing, and I look forward to contributing stories to JI in the future. Robotics. AI. Blue lasers. New staff. Old staff. The only constant appears to be change: Keep reading JI to keep up with the times.

--Daniel Scuka

Clarification: The infanoid robot shown on the September 2001 cover was conceived and developed by Dr. Hideki Kozima at the CRL Labs (a tenant of ATR), and not ATR itself, as the caption may have inadvertently implied.

. As this issue went to press, we were deeply saddened to hear of the tragic death of long time Tokyo entrepreneur Roger Boisvert. In addition to being an iconic force behind several of the most successful startups in Japan's Internet scene, Roger touched the lives of many through his friendship, mentoring, and kindness. He was one of his life's Good Guys, and we extend our sincere sympathy to his family. Roger will be sorely missed by all.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.