[Interview] Part 2: Dr. Nakashima

This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with leading professionals.

Hideyuki NakashimaIn this blog series, we continue our talk with Professor Hideyuki Nakashima: President Future University – Hakodate; the internationally renowned computer scientist, inspirational visionary and top-ranked leader. To find out more about Dr. Nakashima, go to the first blog in this series.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Nakashima at the invitation-only international large society summit where CIPS participated/presented. Hideyuki’s reputation for innovation and leadership is well known worldwide and this led to this blog series. Dr. Nakashima was the youngest professor to ever be offered the presidency of a university in the history of Japan, due to his significant and outstanding achievements. Dr. Nakashima is creating new branches of computer science and merging others that will impact the world into the future. It’s worth your time to follow his work. There is an element of “Star Trek” which I find compelling and in talking with Hideyuki, I can feel his passion…I wanted to share this with you too!

Thank you and Enjoy!

Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP
Top Presidential Challenges/Solutions; Impact of Information Science; Future Contributions/Applications; Implications of Complex Information Processing 

Stephen: In your role as President, what were your top challenges and how did you resolve them?

Hidey: 1) 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.

2) 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.

Stephen: In your current role, what are your biggest roadblocks?

Hidey: 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.

Stephen: What specific contributions do you wish to make to the computing field in the future and how will you accomplish this?

Hidey: 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:

  1. we do not analyze natural phenomena, and

  2. we are trying to construct new phenomena which may not exist in the world without computers.

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.

Stephen: 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?

Hidey: 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.

Stephen: 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?

Hidey: 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.

Stephen: 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?

Hidey: 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.

In the next blog, Hidey will talk about:

  • Multi-agent simulation, evolutionary algorithms;
  • Cognitive science;
  • Kyocho architecture, RoboCup;
  • Artificial intelligence.

I also encourage you to share your thoughts here on these interviews or send me an e-mail at sibaraki@cips.ca.

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