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Creating value for society through Marketing × Innovation

October 28, 2016

Addressing social issues through AI that explores the interior

Fujisawa:
In human evolution, humans thought and made decisions based on visual information before writing. In NEC's areas of technical expertise, AI seems to be doing what humans did at the beginning of their evolution.

Emura:
That is true. Most image data is still being analyzed from outward appearance, but we are also working on looking at the interior. For example, internal cracks or cavities in concrete can be found by looking at images of subtle vibrations on the surface. This could be used to diagnose degradation in infrastructure such as bridges and roads more efficiently. In face recognition, advances in analysis of motion can reveal a person's internal state from subtle changes in facial expression.

Katsumi Emura, Executive Vice President and CTO (Chief Technology Officer), NEC

Fujisawa:
Such as nervousness...

Emura:
Yes, that's right. When we're talking like this, we can read each other's internal state by watching subtle changes in facial expression. AI is doing the same thing. But people make the final decision on what to do. For example, thinking “My boss might be in a bad mood, so I'd better not talk to him.”

Fujisawa:
AI makes things easier for people, but people also need creativity and effort to increase their abilities.

Shimizu:
Rather than simply having excellent AI, it is a question of how to solve problems using AI for people and enterprises; how to resolve issues by combining ICT and products that incorporate AI. All capabilities, including problem approaches, integration, and consulting, must work together. Supply chains are rapidly getting more complex, so problems cannot be solved individually, and a single company cannot do everything. Each player must cooperate with the others, using the technologies and products that are their strengths.

Fujisawa:
NEC's perspective, which transcends the company and the industry, is fundamental for collaboration.

Shimizu:
What we can accomplish on our own is limited. Working together with many others, we can co-create and achieve our goal of “Orchestrating a brighter world.”

IoT destined to handle unstructured data

Fujisawa:
IoT is also an important key word, along with AI. How is NEC handling IoT and what are its main technologies?

Shimizu:
IoT goes beyond manufacturing, and is spreading to many fields, such as finance, insurance, healthcare, and logistics. IoT must handle huge amounts of unstructured data. With earlier IT processes, data was structured and organized before it was input and then processed according to rules to produce answers. In contrast, with IoT the various components, products and sensors cannot be connected without first building a standard structure, including architectures and processes. Without such connection, IoT is just pie in the sky. To solve this, NEC decided on a basic architectural approach, standardized and opened it, and provided a framework to facilitate collaboration among enterprises.

Fujisawa:
With IoT, the image of connecting things together is strong, but from what you said, organizations and systems are also being connected.

Shimizu:
That's right. We tend to think we just connect them together, but actually it's not that simple.

True value in examining “contexts”

Fujisawa:
What actual IoT initiatives do you have?

Shimizu:
We are working with Kagome Ltd. to implement IoT in the field of AgriTech. Beyond just increasing the harvest, Kagome is working to optimize the overall supply chain, including many surrounding farms and large tomato paste factories. Harvested tomatoes are transported from fields by large trucks but because the harvest peak happens almost all at once, it creates traffic congestion near factories. So if it takes a long time to bring in the tomato harvest, the tomatoes can start to rot... Beyond just increasing the harvest, Kagome is also working to shift the peak harvest of many farms, solving a global just-in-time optimization problem and thereby advancing AgriTech.

Emura:
To consider issues in social design, such as household waste and wasteful shelf-life expiry in distribution processes, requires connection among both things and contexts, and thorough investigation of what to do. Things and contexts previously not connected will be connected and globally optimized through IoT. The key is to see how much value can be created for society by increasing the harvest and eliminating waste. It is really important to take an overall perspective.

Fujisawa:
NEC also has expertise in public safety. Can advanced solutions also be found by thoroughly examining contexts in the field of security?

Emura:
In one example, we provided a video monitoring solution to the city of Tigre in Argentina. By linking two-rider motorcycles with purse-snatching events, we contributed to reducing crime rates in the city.

Fujisawa:
I think the real value of IoT comes from its ability to transcend social domains and national borders. Its uses are global and unlimited.

The IoT framework constitutes innovation in the true sense

Fujisawa:
Put another way, I think IoT can be considered as a grand stage for AI and Big Data to exhibit value.

Emura:
If we say that innovation means “creating something new from the integration of different domains,” then IoT, which connects things that previously were not connected, realizes innovation over its framework. AI and Big Data are working within this framework. Collecting all currently available data and processing it in a computer will reveal relationships between certain data. This is the essence of “generating value from data.”

Fujisawa:
With that, we can say that we are now at the age where humans and AI are working together in a mutually beneficial way. Other than the security initiatives mentioned earlier, I understand you have other different IoT initiatives for cities.

Emura:
In the city of Wellington in New Zealand, they have a smart city initiative connecting data between government ministries, to improve administrative efficiency. Data that was particular to the earlier vertical organization was connected using IoT, enabling crime reduction and increased efficiency of municipal functions.

Fujisawa:
So IoT is also expanding possibilities for resolving limitations of vertical organizations. Since cities are places where different kinds of people come to live and work together, going forward, cities need to come up with different kinds of values, including safety and efficiency, from a total perspective.

Shimizu:
Although energy and transportation are important in smart cities, I think “safety and security” are the key issues. The goal of NEC's public safety is to provide not only physical safety, but also make people feel safe and secure. It is not enough to aim for just one goal, like reducing crime alone. For example, when an accident occurs in a crowded stadium, we need to think of what happens not only in that particular place, but also the impact to surrounding areas. We need to flexibly respond according to the situation, such as what happens when a large number of people simultaneously move in one direction, or when roads or transportation are paralyzed. There is a limit to what a fixed number of police or security officers can do. I think we are on the verge of an era of automatic or semi-automatic control, including prediction of future events. In this era, IoT and AI will necessarily be built into the IT equipment used by the people performing the control.

Fujisawa:
Since everything around us is connected, solving one problem, therefore, would be like solving a much broader and public problem that involves the entire society and the entire world. It's like solving problems for the future of humanity. It seems that this is the true essence of being connected through IoT.

Emura:
NEC offers technologies and products to a broad range of customers, but speaking from the macro-perspective, most of these customers are involved in providing “public services.” The stopping of trains or the malfunctioning of ATMs each has serious consequences. Therefore, smartly operating all the basic infrastructures is related to public safety.

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