Forum Report

4th NEC Future Creation Forum
AI is also the Japanese word for love

Centered around the theme “The role of technology in ensuring future security and equality,” NEC’s 4th Future Creation Forum seeks to crystalize a year-long debate on people’s ambitions, desires and fears surrounding the role of advancing technology in building a universal society. This debate focuses on four target parameters: safety, security, equality and efficiency, and explores where technology fits in the equations of love, nature, inclusivity, fear and diversity.

Group photo of NEC future creation forum members

Rethinking the concepts of safety, security, equality and efficiency

Portrait of Katsumi Emura

NEC’s defining commitment to “Orchestrating a bright world” is designed to help people live fuller and richer lives going forward. The company’s brand statement focuses on realizing four key values: safety, security, equality and efficiency. But what does living richer lives actually mean, and how can we best conceptualize these four values?

“NEC started the Future Creation Forum to explore these questions with experts from different backgrounds, and formulate concrete strategies to shape this aspired future. Technology has already changed many things but we need to ensure that future technological progress also progresses the four values of safety, security, equality and efficiency, and achieves self-fulfillment for all, whatever their position on the social spectrum,” states NEC Chief Technology Officer Katsumi Emura.

“The Maslow Hierarchy five-tier model of human needs forms a pyramid shape. Technological progress can adequately fulfill the basic psychological needs of food, water, warmth, rest, etc. However, it is a very different story at the tip of the pyramid where individuality features much more strongly in the need for self-actualization, reaching full potential and facilitating creative activities. Molding technology to achieve that ultimate task requires much more careful thought,” advises Emura.

The Maslow Hierarchy

For technology to be of true social worth, it needs to offer transformative benefits and also strive to counteract any consequential negative impacts. The development of the automobile has brought both greater freedom of movement and convenience, while the current development of automatic braking systems and self-driving cars is designed to contain the consequential increase in traffic accidents.

In the future, computers will be making scientific discoveries

What next? Yutaka Matsuo, Project Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, believes that advances in deep learning and image recognition artificial intelligence (AI) indicate we are on the cusp of huge technological advances in robotics. It all hinges on the development of “seeing” robots. To date, automatic household appliances such as the washing machine, refrigerator, and vacuum cleaner don’t require a sense of sight. Future robotic development is likely to focus first on automating tasks that do require sight, such as folding the clean laundry, putting out the trash, cooking and tidying, and then extend to automatic labor-intensive industries such as agriculture and construction.

Portrait of Yutaka Matsuo

“Imagine creating a map just by walking around, or judging size and distance just by looking at someone or something. Understanding how things exist in relation to yourself is extremely important to all living things. In other words, the ability to be able to reconstruct space using sight-derived information. I believe spatial awareness is the foundation of intellectual power. If a robot can achieve superior spatial awareness, it can understand the meaning of words and language. For instance, when you hear the word “apple,” you can spatially replicate that apple, and picture an apple falling,” explains Matsuo. “That real understanding of the meaning of words opens the door to all sorts of new technologies and huge business opportunities. In the field of automatic and simultaneous translation functions for example, Google has released earphones for automatic translations of 40 languages. Those sorts of technologies are likely to progress rapidly.”

Matsuo also predicts that robots will also be able to perform simple administrative office work by approximately 2030.

“Right now, we hear about how AI can make existing workplace IT technology and search functions more efficient. That is not a huge change. However, once we start getting into the realm of intuitive physics, robots will be able to understand instructions and fulfill tasks by imagining them in their heads and considering the psychology of the other people involved.”

As technology progresses, Matsuo takes this scenario one step further to predict, “computers will be able to make scientific discoveries, and outstrip humans in various academic disciplines as well.”

The vital relationship between technology, nature, love and talent

The idea of super-intelligent AI performing a wide range of jobs more skillfully and efficiently than humans can be extremely scary, and begs in-depth consideration of the sources of human joy and fulfillment. All experts agree that love and social inclusion are vital parts of the mix.

Portrait of Ryojun Shionuma

“I spend much of my time working in the fields so this forum is a real eye-opener, even a culture shock, for me. To consider seriously how to create a secure, equal, efficient and safe world, we should return to the question of why we were put on this earth in the first place,” ponders Buddhist Acharya Ryojun Shionuma.

Shionuma believes it is important to understand when the human soul experiences the greatest happiness, and tailor technology accordingly.

“It is not the standalone computer that has revolutionized society to date but the wires that connect those computers around the world. If intimate connections are the key, on a human level, we must remember that each human existence is highly individualistic, and we should mutually strive to link our hearts without malice or hate, as families, work colleagues or as a nation. It is our spiritual connections that link us, nothing less. We have discussed AI on several occasions but we have never linked it to the concept of love. After all, Shionuma reminds us jovially, “AI is the phonetic reading of the word love in Japanese, isn’t it?”

Shionuma draws on his own ascetic experience as a Buddhist priest to consider the question of whether technology can successfully excite, fulfill and nurture the human race.

“Humans are flesh and blood and experience multiple sufferings, which help us grow. Suffering is a good nutrient for the soul. I live in a world of ascetic practice and discipline. You may well ask why humans should have to suffer if we were put on this earth to attain ultimate joy. However, we are born as crying babies, we age, we get sick, and eventually die. We feel suffering because we are human. People clash with each other, make mistakes and become more rounded and mellow as they grow older and wiser. The only way to live a truly rich life is to accept nature for what it is. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Technological progress will never change that and should not seek to. Instead, we should work much harder to ensure technology advances in harmony with nature,” urges Shionuma.

Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of the American monthly technology, society and culture magazine, WIRED, believes that technological development throughout history is a powerful manifestation of love and obligation towards future humanity, and a promoter of world peace.

Portrait of Dr. Michio Kaku and Kevin Kelly

“Human advancement from the basic up through to the self-fulfillment needs of the Maslow Hierarchy is propelled by technology. History has produced extremely adept and expressive geniuses such as Shakespeare, Einstein, Beethoven and Van Gogh. Einstein would not have achieved great heights if he had been born before the discovery of the atom. What a waste that would have been. If Van Gogh had been born before oil paints were invented, his genius would have been wasted. Beethoven’s iconic music would not exist if the composer had been born before the invention of the symphony, the violin, the piano. It was this process of technological advancement that enabled these geniuses to achieve self-actualization,” Kelly explains.

“There is probably a 10-year-old girl out there somewhere in the world waiting for us to invent the technology to unleash her genius. If we accept there are people waiting for technology to be invented to fulfil the highest self-actualization needs on the Maslow Hierarchy, then we must also accept the moral obligation to advance technology. Everyone, everywhere should be afforded the means to achieve self-actualization and share their genius with the world. If we don’t invent that technology, that precious genius will be squandered forever.”

Kelly extends the importance of technology and self-actualization even further. ”You can only achieve world peace if everyone is self-actualized. There would be no world peace if everyone was on the bottom two layers of the Maslow Hierarchy fulfilling only physiological and safety needs. Technology is radically transforming the old order, in which only a few people were able to self-actualize. Thanks to technology, that opportunity is now open to all.”

Creating a social system that encourages purer, better value judgement

There is bountiful evidence that technological development supports current society and helps orchestrate a brighter future, but it is vital to ensure that technology embraces, not alienates people, especially minority groups.

Portrait of Yoshiharu Habu

“We are all invested in the future and like to be able to envisage, to some extent, our future in terms of safety and security. Professor Matsuo’s explanation earlier about where technology is likely to go makes me feel more comfortable, but the real impact of technology on society remains largely unclear, and that concerns me,” says professional Shogi player, Yoshiharu Habu. “We also need to consider both the macro and micro worlds when talking about efficiency. Today’s largely capitalist society tends to prioritize macro efficiency, but it is vital to ensure micro and minority needs are accommodated.”

Commentator Chiki Ogiue is also concerned about how technology might impact social diversity and self-esteem.

Portrait of Chiki Ogiue

“The concept of love is an extremely important observation. There are many types of love, which society often tries to restrict. As the brain machine or brain-net develops, it could help treat people with dementia or depression. However, if the brain-net decides gay people also need treatment, it would be tantamount to ignoring human rights. There is a battle taking place on the internet surrounding specific types of love and lifestyle. People who deviate from the norm can suffer social lynching or bullying. I fear that individual people’s values will be assimilated into the broader society and that demarcations within society and between people will change. Some people find the concept of diversity scary. They seek to insulate themselves against immigrants and refugees who might threaten their equality. We need to convince people there is no need to be scared. We should promote creativity and develop technology to help improve current social values, question social conventions and achieve a fearless, flexible and inclusive social approach.

Diverse interconnections: The foundation of future creation

To alleviate concerns about a technologically empowered future, we are advised to embrace diversity, of both the human and artificial kind. To develop a keener understanding of robotic self-awareness, and learn how to build appropriate relationships with multiple AI species.

“Once the AI industry grows bigger than the automobile industry, will they turn on us?” asks Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York. “This question sparked a heated debate last month between two prominent American CEOs; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Space X. Zuckerberg believes the AI industry is good for us and good for society. Elon Musk is convinced that AI poses an existential risk to humanity, and will seek to replace humans. During an appearance on the CNN Quest show, I was asked which one was correct. I replied, “They’re both right!” I believe Zuckerberg is correct in the short term and Musk is right in the long term. The key lies in recognizing the turning point? Where does Zuckerberg’s vision of beneficial AI generating progress and prosperity switch into Musk’s hostile vision of robots taking over the world and placing humans in cages? When robots achieve self-awareness. Robots do not know they are robots. Robots do not know the difference between humans and robots because they don’t know what a human or a robot is. I believe robots will gradually acquire self-awareness by the end of this century.”

Portrait of Chiaki Hayashi

Many people imagine powerful advances in AI could threaten the diverse patchwork of modern society. With that in mind, Chiaki Hayashi, Co-founder and Representative Director of Loftwork Inc. and Forum moderator ponders how people and AI should interact and grow into the future.

“We all experience anxiety in life but addressing our difficulties gives us a sense of achievement. Having said that, I can understand the idea that human views and actions are not always logical, and instructions from clever AI may be more accurate. We would probably achieve a temporary sense of security by offloading anxieties onto AI in the belief they can make better decisions. I suspect that security would be short-lived. Also, if we allow AI to assist with decision-making, each person will be told exactly what to do, and human vibrancy and diversity will be irrevocably damaged.”

Kelly seeks to dispel those fears by encouraging the patient development of a multi-faceted relationship between humans and AI over time.

“Can we trust robots? Can they be trusted? It’s important to realize that there is not a single AI but multiple types of AIs. Some types of AI will be easy to bond with emotionally, others not at all. Think of AI as aliens from another planet. We may ask those aliens for advice or answers, but we will always be aware that they think differently than us. We should see that as a benefit, an opportunity to gain an outside perspective. We won’t consider AI as substitute humans unless we want them to be. Sure, a doll that talks is more powerful than one that doesn’t, but it is not human-like, it is doll-like. Society will need to teach children the appropriate relationship for doll that talks back to you. In future, we will have multiple relationships with AI. AI does not have all the facets that humans do, and we will have to educate ourselves about relationships with other existing things. Today, we form relationships with animals; dogs, cats, even horses. In future, we will have relationships with robots, dolls, or things that speak to us in our kitchen, and we will educate ourselves about the proper relationship to form. The important thing to remember is that there will be multiple species and diverse varieties of AI, each with their own personality, characteristics, qualities, benefits and disadvantages. The educated person will acquire the knowledge and skill to interact with all types of AI.”

Scene photo from 4th Forum

There is no doubt that technological progress will accelerate over the next few decades. The true barometer of progress however will be how well the various developers include minorities who do not directly enjoy technical progress, and how carefully they ensure technological progress realizes a richer society that offers autonomous safety, security, efficiency and equality. The next NEC Future Creation Forum will be held at the C&C User Forum & iEXPO. In the meantime, the standout conclusion from this debate focuses on the overriding need to consider and nurture diverse interconnections.