Forum Report

“NEC Future Creation Forum”
The 1st Forum : Review

The 1st Forum of NEC Future Creation Forum was held on March 30, 2017.
Seven experts from diverse fields discussed the possibilities of a society evolved by advanced technologies.
How will advanced technology such as AI (artificial intelligence) change society? And how should people exist within this change?
Through this forum, let’s envision the future society in which people and technology can co-exist for an even happier future.

AI "learns" what humans
acquired through evolution

In his opening remarks, Katsumi Emura said, “Technology is evolving at a speed far beyond our imaginations, meaning that our society is also changing in parallel. At this forum, we would like discuss the ideal future of society and people based on the premise of this.”

“We mustn’t forget the issue of the longevity society which comes before immortality. We must seriously figure out ways to support an era in which people live to be 100 years old.”

Chief Technology Officer, NEC Corporation

Katsumi Emura

The members first shared the image of the future. For example, in 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9 billion people, about 1.3 times more than today, and the urban population is expected to rise from 50% to 70%. This means that the number of relatively affluent people will also increase; about twice as much water, food, energy, etc. will be in demand; and 2.4 times more goods will need to be transported(*1). We must find solutions for these issues in order to realize a more prosperous and happier society by leveraging the various technologies.

On the other hand, digital technology is already being adopted in various parts of our society. For example, digitalization of music, media such as newspapers and radio, and transportation such as automated driving technology and Uber, are already creating unprecedented value. The next form of digitalization will be the human intellect – i.e. AI.

Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics, points out that “’Singularity’ is becoming the buzz word and many people ‘fear’ AI possibly due to the widespread perception that it is an omnipotent technology. However that’s far from the truth. AI – which is created with IC chips and programs – and the human brain – created from neural networks – are completely different. There are some things that only AI can accomplish, but also there are many things that can only be done by human beings. People should not be afraid of AI taking over the world, but leverage it as a partner that supports their activities and thinking.”

Yutaka Matsuo, the foremost expert on AI research at The University of Tokyo, agrees with Dr. Kaku, but also sees AI from a different perspective. “Humans and AI both develop through knowledge and experience, but the ways in which they develop are different. Humans, through a long “evolutionary” process, have developed by modifying their DNAs, and acquired instincts and various emotions. On the other hand, AI tries to accomplish these through “learning”. What’s interesting is that “learning” can drive changes more smoothly than “evolution”. It doesn’t have to wait for the whole to change, but can advance seamlessly by continuous partial changes. In recent years, “deep learning”, which is the elemental technology, has become more sophisticated, and AI has expanded the range of its potentials at an unprecedented rate. I have tremendous expectations for AI as it is a technology with still a lot of room for growth.”

For example, since Japan’s economic growth period after the Second World War, Japanese companies have placed their strengths in manufacturing hardware products. Matsuo believes that by integrating such technological strengths and know-hows with deep learning, a highly sophisticated robot which can recognize, learn and improve various situations on its own, can be developed.

“The purpose of human evolution is merely for the survival of its own species, however, this isn’t the case for AI. That’s what makes it so different.”

Project Associate Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo

Yutaka Matsuo

However, finding the answers to what people ultimately desire and how we want the future to be has always been and will continue to be the role of humans as real living beings. With that in mind, we need to determine the proper use of required technologies to realize these goals. Without doubt, these answers will be essential for innovations by Japanese industries.

*1: According to NEC research.

Individual’s attributes changing
from “identity” to “tag”

This forum was also attended by experts outside the ICT field. Popular Japanese commentator, Chiki Ogiue, explained the framework of a new society created through technology.

“The internet has allowed us to receive and send information without having to rely on mass media. That means, we can now visualize the diversity of individuals, and people today can have multiple personalities. In other words, we can say that the internet has become a tool that can help liberate people from centralization, which are formats of existing democracy, families and nationalism and make it easier for minorities to take part in societies.”

And if this trend further accelerates, society will also change dramatically. Ogiue explains that instead of individuals having to belong to a certain group or community, the new norm will be for them to attach various “tags” to their personalities so people with similarities, such as in interests and emotions, can be connected as clusters.

Ogiue says, “Like preferences in books and music, being straight or gay is also a tag and not an identity. Based on this idea, a person who may feel uncomfortable in a certain cluster can simply shift the basis of his or her activities to a different cluster to gain acceptance. Conventional communities in which a person had no choice but to join in order to satisfy its survival and the desire for acceptance will soon diminish, and people will be able to ensure their survival, gain acceptance, earn an income, and so on, on their own timelines.”

“I believe one should lose his or her individual identity in the process of being liberated from centralization.”

Commentator

Chiki Ogiue

On the other hand, because this framework is still new, it cannot be supported by existing legal and other systems. Therefore, we must consider measures in parallel to prevent any disparities. One example, proposed by Ogiue, is a system of “a highly sophisticated AI which patrols the internet to alert illegal activities.” In other words, while technology is a revolutionary driving force that changes society, it must at the same time be the means for applying the “bandage” to heal the scars to society caused by the change.

Yoshiharu Habu had a similar view based on the world of shogi (Japanese chess) which is also facing digitalization.

Today, most of the shogi software is owned by GitHub (*2) and can be used for analysis and research by anyone. However, the shogi world is a traditional one which has lasted for 400 years since the Edo period, so naturally there were no rules to govern digitalization. Habu says, “As Mr. Ogiue pointed out, I believe that how we come to terms with the unstoppable influx of technology will become an issue that involves all aspects of future society.”

“How much of the ideas from AI – something which is not bound to emotions such as pain and fear – can we absorb? I feel that this is what people will really want to know.”

Professional Shogi Player

Yoshiharu Habu

Dr. Kaku also explained that technological progress will push current capitalism to a new stage. “We’re approaching something that I call “perfect-capitalism”, where the consumer and the producer knows everything about each other. The internet and AI will be the technologies that mediate all the information between the two.”

Kaku continued that “In this world, for example, a person may be able to look at a specific product with a specialized contact lens to quickly gain information about its features as well as its competitive products, including the best and most affordable ones in the market. Inevitably, market competition will be streamlined and wealth will be distributed accordingly. And if technology can create a system that can correct the disparities and divisions created there, a future society in which everyone can live comfortably and happily may not be such an impossible dream.”

In this way, technology will deliver a completely new social structure which will affect everyone, whether they want it or not. “When we use technology, we also have to consider its evils and how to control them properly at the same time. So, there will be greater emphasis on aiming for a society in which no one will be left behind.” says Chiaki Hayashi of Loftwork who served as the facilitator of this forum.

“What kinds of personal happiness will remain even in times of great changes? This is something we should also seriously consider.”

Representative Director, Loftwork Inc.

Chiaki Hayashi

*2 Shared web service for a software development project managed by GitHub.

People will continue to exist
forever as data in digital space

Technological progress will not only change industries and society, but “human beings” as well.

“Technological advancements may one day allow us to realize 'immortality'. There are at least two types of immortalities. The first is digital immortality. We may be able to ‘create a replica of a specific person in digital space’ simply by integrating a huge amount of that person’s past activities with advanced AI. And that person’s personality which has been converted into data can be shared with future generations, so he or she can live on forever in digital space even if he or she is no longer physically present. In fact, research on how to completely digitize the brain's neural system called "connectome" is already under way in the United States and Europe, and if realized, we may be able to replicate human activities including emotions.”

“The second type of immortality is biologic genetic immortality. Genes that govern aging have already been identified, and if they can be controlled, it may help prevent people from growing old. This is also very feasible, considering the current high standards of science. “Why not live to be 30 for many many decades into the future and solve scientific and political problems by talking to Einstein or Winston Churchill? What was once science fiction may soon become reality.” mentions Kaku.

“Technology is the engine of wealth, but it is also disruptive. That’s why education is going to be the key to this technological future.”

Professor of Theoretical Physics, City College of New York

Dr. Michio Kaku

“If immortality becomes a reality, discussions like this will need to be restarted from a more fundamental standpoint, as the prerequisites for human existence will be changed, and our goals for solving problems will also drastically change.” says Ryojun Shionuma of Jigenji Temple.

“It’s a premise in Buddhism to think that the world doesn’t turn out as one has expected. Birth, aging and dying of illness are the basic principles in living which we have no choice but to accept. However, if technology can overturn these principles, the basis for the way we feel ‘fulfillment’ or ’happiness’ will also change.” (Shionuma)

Technological progress cannot be stopped. Therefore, immortality through technology will be a huge innovation; however this may also be the cause for human worries and sufferings which we have never experienced. Furthermore, some members also pointed out that when immortality becomes a reality, it may only be available to a privileged few, thereby creating huge disparities of values between those who can acquire it and those who can’t.

Shionuma mentions that one solution will be for the person to change his or her point of view in such a situation. “Everyone is born with the desire to be happy. Through discipline, I have mastered how to be happy – no matter how harsh my world may be on the outside – by changing myself from the inside. I believe we must evolve spiritually in line with technology to live more fulfillingly in the future. And there will be more opportunities for Buddhist wisdom to become beneficial.”

“We must explore new ideas particularly in an age of such tremendous change, without changing our stance on ‘accepting things as they are’.”

Chief Priest, Jigenji Temple

Ryojun Shionuma

Other discussions during the forum included “genetic heredity and the progress of technology” and “the relationship between the spread of the internet and war”. “This first forum was not restricted to a specific subject as we wanted everyone to openly voice their opinions and ideas. We would like to next take the discussions even further by expanding and digging deeper into the topics based on the agenda presented this time.” says Hayashi.

Human history over the past two millennia has reached a huge turning point through advancements in technology. What kind of ideal future will the forum members depict? Please stay tuned to the next meetings to come.