The Best of AI in Japan - Prologue

Article excerpt

This article is the first report in the best of AI in Japan series. This series will focus not only on prominent accomplishments made in AI research and development but also on AI-related events in society. As the first in the forthcoming series, this opening article features a historical background and outlines the contemporary AI research activities in Japan. It then highlights some recent prominent results from industry. Finally, a future perspective is given.

The history of AI research in Japan goes back to the 1960s. At Kyoto University, Toshiyuki Sakai formed a research group that focused on media information processing (computer vision, speech processing, and natural language processing). The major members included Shuji Doshita (speech recognition), Makoto Nagao (natural language processing/ computer vision), and Takeo Kanade (computer vision). At the Osaka Expo in 1970, Sakai's group presented the world's first face-recognition system.

Major AI research groups became more popular in Japan in the 1970s. The late Toshihiko Kurihara led a group at Kyushu University. The group's major contribution is a kana-kanji conversion system, which addressed the notoriously ill-formed problem of converting sequences of kana (or Japanese phonograms) into ordinary written Japanese sentences containing kanji (or Chinese ideograms), a difficult problem because of the many ambiguities that are hard to resolve even with semantic processing. This resulted in the Japanese Word Processor JW-10 that Toshiba made possible in 1979.

Knowledge information processing also became popular in the 1970s. The late Kokichi Tanaka led a knowledge information-processing group at Osaka University. Setsuo Ohsuga set up a logic-based knowledge information-processing research group at the University of Tokyo. Setsuo Arikawa established a research group at Kyushu University to harness numerous young researchers in algorithmic learning theory. A research group at NTT Labs worked on Lisp machines.

Although AI research was active in western Japan, around the 1970s it had still failed to gain the status of an established discipline in the east, even though the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) was held in Tokyo in 1979. AIUEO, an informal student community at the University of Tokyo, served as a basis for exchanging information and ideas about AI. Hideyuki Nakashima, Koichi Hori, and Hitoshi Matsubara, now senior AI researchers in Japan, "graduated" from AIUEO.

AI research in Japan rapidly expanded around 1985. In 1985, the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology (ICOT) was established to conduct research on fifth-generation computers. The late Kazuhiro Fuchi directed this project. The institute focused on a computational basis for knowledge information processing, which has resulted in hardware such as the parallel inference machine (PIM), programming languages such as the logic programming language KLIC, and applications based on the logic programming paradigm such as the legal reasoning system HELIC-II. The Japan Electronic Dictionary Research Institute (EDR) electronic dictionary project and the Real World Computing project were established after the fifth-generation computer project.

In 1986, Advanced Telecommunication Research Institute International (ATR) was founded and numerous advanced research projects have been conducted in the fields, among others, of brain science, robotics, and speech translation.

The Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (JSAI) was established in 1986, too. The major role of JSAI is to help the domestic AI community communicate with each other and with the international AI communities. It launched the Pacific Rim International Conference on Artificial Intelligence (PRICAI) and the International Conference on Algorithmic Learning Theory (ALT) in 1990. It served as the main body of the executive committee when the 15th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI'97) was held in Nagoya. …