Professor Murata works on the design and construction of information networks that are attuned to their surroundings, informed by insights into how organisms adapt and evolve. In order to enrich his research, he communicates actively with researchers in other disciplines.
Information networks inspired by the living world
Information networks are exposed to many environmental changes, and must be capable of adapting flexibly. It is certainly possible to make existing information networks more adaptable if we expend sufficient financial resources, but this approach clearly has its limits. We need to come up with better solutions within the many limitations that face us.
Living organisms, on the other hand, have remarkable powers of adaptation that belie their limitations in terms of functionality. Even those with only fairly basic functions manage somehow to adapt successfully. This observation is behind my work to design and build information networks inspired by organisms. This research includes collaboration projects with carriers and vendors to develop network control technologies based on the deviation principles of organisms.
Applying the ideas of “evolution” and “behavioral diversity”
One of the mechanisms that enhances organisms’ adaptability is self-growth; in other words, evolution. This mechanism provides one focal point for my research, which I am undertaking as an interdisciplinary project in partnership with Professor Yomo, another member of the Humanware Innovation Program. Another project that is beginning to yield results is one that involves design of an online service that is equipped with numerous latent functions, but manifests only a small portion of those functions in line with the environment in which it is operating. If such a mechanism can be realized in software, it will be possible to create an extremely robust service that can respond to a diverse range of demands, even unanticipated ones.
Furthermore, I have recently been working with partners from CiNet (the Center for Information and Neural Networks) drawing ideas from the study of brain function in order to advance the disciplinary area known as “network science” and develop more sophisticated information networks.
An opportunity to break out of established ways of thinking
The great advantage of interdisciplinary research is not only that it broadens your understanding, but that it enables you to break out of compartmentalized knowledge systems and approach things with a broader outlook. The 20th century saw great advances in discrete fields of academic research, but as a result, it is now difficult for experts in one field to comprehend the advanced knowledge developed in others. Approaches focused on digging deeper into existing techniques may yield improvements, but not new creations. Interdisciplinary research, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to make new creative discoveries at every turn.
Identifying new innovations
What is important in interdisciplinary research is a sense of surprise when encountering ideas from other disciplines, and a desire to make use of those ideas. Through discussion with researchers from other fields you can develop a reciprocal relationship that leads to mutual inspiration and drives the research forwards.
When you read papers in your field of specialization, you aren’t reading aimlessly; you’re making full use of the knowledge and insights you have already acquired. When studying papers from fields other than your own, however, you may find it difficult to identify what exactly is important. In such cases, it is important to engage in direct discussion with an expert in the field in question and elicit the assumed knowledge that underpins their research. This demands true skills of communication, as well as a passion for academic inquiry, and a commitment to impart an understanding of your own research findings.
I hope to work with the students in the Humanware Innovation Program to achieve a new type of Japanese-style of innovation, one that is more than just an imitation of the American style of so-called disruptive innovation based on pragmatism. We can sow the seeds of this innovation through interdisciplinary research. I look forward to discussing this challenge in more depth with all of you.