Cultivating new innovation leaders
Humanity faces many challenges that cannot be addressed using existing approaches and technologies. We desperately need leaders to drive the innovations required to tackle these challenges successfully. Japan’s failure to come up with an equivalent to the iPhone prompted much soul-searching, and eventual recognition of the need for doctoral professionals to lead social development founded on information and communications technology (ICT). This led in turn to the creation of the first five-year integrated doctoral program to train such professionals. The Program for Leading Graduate Schools is a national project for the advancement of collaboration between industry, academia, and government and the cultivation of genuine global leaders. At the vanguard of this program in the field of ICT are Osaka University’s Humanware Innovation Program (HWIP), Kyoto University’s Collaborative Graduate Program in Design, and the University of Tokyo’s Graduate Program for Social ICT Global Creative Leaders. On November 27, approximately half a year after these programs began in earnest, program representatives gathered at the Science Council of Japan Auditorium in Roppongi, Tokyo for a public symposium that included reports on progress in the programs to date. HWIP was represented by Program Coordinator Professor Shojiro Nishio and Program Director Professor Katsuro Inoue, who gave presentations on “Utilizing ICT in Social Design and Human Resource Development”. Both professors also participated in the panel discussion in the second session of the symposium, which was also coordinated by HWIP’s Professor Shinji Shimojo. A student from the inaugural HWIP class, Tatsuya Nakamura, also joined the discussion to talk about expectations and challenges for the program from a student perspective.
Outline of the presentation by Program Coordinator Shojiro Nishio
In today’s complex and large-scale networked society, we are confronted with many unforeseen problems. One example is infrastructure breakdown following a natural disaster. “Humanware” is information technology that can deal flexibly with such problems. To train human resources in this new field of Humanware, this year Osaka University launched the Humanware Innovation Program. The 28 students in the program’s first intake are currently in the first stages of their five-year doctoral degree programs under the guidance of around 50 faculty members, industry experts, and researchers from outside Japan. The program takes a distinctively interdisciplinary approach, a novel integration of the three fields of information science, bioscience, and cognitive/brain science. Through this approach we seek to apply the flexibility, robustness, and sustainability that characterizes biosystems in order to design and realize a highly livable information society attuned to both humans and the environment. For this purpose, we give priority to “What” over “How”: the program is more about art than design. We believe that this outlook, which is at the root of all creative activity that seeks to form something out of nothing, holds the key to generating innovation. Japan also needs to achieve a paradigm shift towards user-centered products and systems. To date, we have been under the illusion that revolutionary science and technology is what makes innovation possible. Our failure to pursue innovation from the users’ perspective is reflected in the decline in international competitiveness of Japan’s ICT industry to a position of around 20th in the world. We need to understand user needs and preferences scientifically. I am confident that four and a half years from now, the first students completing the Humanware Innovation Program will launch successful careers that will help reinvigorate Japan.
Comment from student participant Tatsuya Nakamura
I transferred to Osaka University from a higher college of technology in the third year of my undergraduate studies, and became part of the inaugural HWIP class this year. Out of the 28 students in the program, I am one of only three doing research in the field of information science. The rest are from bioscience and bioengineering. In information science we tend to think first and foremost about how our research will be applied in wider society, but our bioscience colleagues tend to be more interested in new inventions and discoveries. It’s hard to find common ground. HWIP’s aim is to cultivate experts integrating the three fields of information science, bioscience, and cognitive science, but pursuing interdisciplinary research with people from other fields is hardly smooth sailing; I’ve been surprised how difficult it is to make progress. But personally, I enjoy the freedom this program gives me at the moment. When I finish here, I hope to go straight into a career as an engineer at the front lines of industry.