Exploring with Yoichi Ochiai: Making the Most of AI and People's Roles

What type of imagination makes the most out of new technology? When confronted with technology with scarce usage examples, we often do not know where to start. Today, this is precisely the stage in which we find AI. Fujitsu held a joint event with Mr. Yoichi Ochiai, Advisor to the President of the University of Tsukuba, about a creative imagination technique for making the most of AI. This article reports on the event, which introduced a way to harness new technology.

The Ochiai-style Creative Imagination Technique

The event consisted of two parts: Mr. Ochiai's lecture and a workshop. The event was publicized on NewsPicks for about 10 days. From among the approximately 600 applicants, about 30 people were selected to participate in the event. Participants included a representative from a temple, public officials, and people from the private sector, including the industries of IT, manufacturing (food, pharmaceutical, steel, marine transportation, automotive, etc.), real estate, finance, consulting, and information and sports. Thus, this event brought together businesspeople from various industries.

In his lecture, Mr. Ochiai introduced what he always keeps in mind to produce new ideas and his creative imagination technique. The following summary contains the key points in his words.

Point 1. Take a second look at common practices.

In Japan today, the once diversified society has gradually become standardized. A standardized world is easy to live in because we just need to follow set rules. Therefore, we unknowingly accept common practices that have their origin in human society and stop thinking for ourselves. Society still carries remnants from the days when people could not outsource jobs to machines.

This is where innovation starts. There is no room for fresh ideas in a specialized, standardized world where people solve problems with common sense and shared practices.

To produce unique ideas, creative jobs in particular (such as those related to technology, art, design, and manufacturing) call for an unorthodox framework rather than a modern, standardized one. Through the fusion of machine intelligence and human intelligence, we should remove the obstacles brought about by specialization and standardization.

We must be able to take a second look at the common practices formed during the period between the Industrial Revolution and the advent of the Internet, continuously asking ourselves "why?"

Point 2. Do not use words. Visualize.

Language is a typical example of standardization. My take is that the language we use every day is not the ancient, diversified one but one artificially created (translated), so to speak, in the modern standardized era. Try as you may, thinking in a modern language will not lead to unconventional ideas that can overcome the restrictions of modern humanity.

When you think, instead of using words to describe a phenomenon, try to visualize or imagine the phenomenon itself, like a picture or space-time, as much as possible. Images will not standardize your idea. Images can visualize ideas in a more original, diversified form than words can.

Those who succeed in the creative world use images, not words, to present their outside-the-box ideas. You can see examples that tap into individuality on YouTube and in social media.

Point 3. Do not confuse strategy with tactics.

When producing a new idea, it is important to clearly distinguish strategy from tactics in discussion. Are you talking about strategy or tactics? Strategy is what you should spend your time discussing. Sometimes, you may get lost in the discussion, and whenever that happens, you should make sure you are talking about strategy.

For example, since some first-year students join my lab, I ensure every lab member thoroughly understands and practices the content of this slide (below). In order to learn to think in an integrated way while shifting back and forth between tactics and strategy, you must drill it into your head, just like memorizing the multiplication table.

Point 4. Build a feedback loop between AI and people.

When you use technology, especially AI, what I want to emphasize is this: "AI does not do it all by itself."

Self-evolving AI and transfer learning-enabled AI are still in development. In other words, AI is not yet a tool for end users. In my lab, those who study AI mechanisms and those who study applications have very different focuses, and they work on different things. What we need to apply AI is actually human power.

We check AI behaviors, and if there are any problems, we feed them back to AI. Such a cycle must be iterated quickly. In other words, unless we create a feedback loop between AI and people, AI cannot perform up to its potential.

Fujitsu-style AI Workshop

A workshop on training thinking skills for implementing and making the most of AI followed Mr. Ochiai's lecture. Ordinarily, Fujitsu holds this type of workshop for individual companies and organizations, in which case dozens of people from different departments are invited to attend a six-hour workshop. This particular AI workshop was a special abbreviated version with the content compacted into 60 minutes.

It usually takes six hours to discuss 0-5, but in this special version, participants spent about an hour to complete Hands-on Work 1-3.

Special Version of the Invitational Workshop

In this workshop, participants sorted out challenges, complaints, and what they need to achieve a growth strategy in each department. Then, they learned the basics of AI as well as the process and thinking skills to apply AI in their work.

We found it interesting that the workshop effectively used images as Mr. Ochiai encouraged in his lecture.

Step 1: Choose photo cards that represent the present and ideal states.

The first step of the workshop was to visualize the present and ideal work states and choose photo cards that represent said states.

After choosing cards, participants discussed among themselves based on the cards and wrote down their answers to questions such as "Why did I choose this card?" "What complaints do I have with my current work?" and "What is my ideal work like?"

Step 2: Use inspiration cards to come up with ideas to make the most of AI.

What kind of AI is desirable to realize one's ideal work? In the second step, participants each chose two cards from among Fujitsu's original 150 inspiration cards that contain illustrations of technologies that directly link to work with which AI may be of assistance.

In the first step, one participant thought his daily work was repetitive and chose a card depicting many similar stones lying by a river. For his ideal work, he picked a card showing a loving couple snuggled up to each other. He said: "I'd like to provide individual customers with perfect proposals."

One inspiration card he chose in the second step showed facial recognition to analyze visitors using cameras. The other card showed AI technology that used a tablet to scan merchandise picked up by a customer to predict the desired service.

Yoichi Ochiai Works with Participants

Mr. Ochiai also participated in the workshop. He chose the following photo cards.

The photo card on the left, the "present work state," shows relaxed children playing with goats in a pasture. The photo card on the right, the "ideal work state," depicts a tough-looking soldier.

Mr. Ochiai explained: "Actually, I want to be more like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the movie Full Metal Jacket. I want to train new recruits in a structured training system like the Marine Corps. In reality, however, a university lab is a relaxed organization, and it is a machine made up of imperfect gears under development called students. There is no workflow, and I deal with animal-like rambunctious kids, but of course they have tremendous growth potential. The lab is idyllic, like a pasture."

Mr. Ochiai also checked out other participants' cards and gave advice.

Though participants quietly listened to Mr. Ochiai's lecture in the first half, the workshop suddenly transformed the atmosphere. Participants shared AI usage ideas to mutually give each other feedback. The room became so energized all at once that participants' voices resonated throughout the studio.

Ochiai-Fujitsu Hybrid Inspires AI Usage Ideas

After a roughly 90-minute discussion, Mr. Ochiai summarized the general points about creative imagination technique when using AI.

"Many participants seemed to be thinking about applying AI in their main businesses. Though it is important to imagine how to use AI in actual business, I suggest you first imagine using AI personally to save your energy or reduce the amount of work you do.
I often think about using AI for off-time or personal reasons. For example, use AI to help in child care. Or, use AI to relax for 30 minutes in the office before starting work."

"Why off-time? The reason is that it is important to be free from stress when you do your main work. If you work under stress, you may cause an accident or get injured. My idea is to reduce such risks by effectively using AI in one's off-time. I also think that when you consider use of AI in this way, you may unexpectedly come up with ideas linked to your main business."

"I'd like to tell you something else too. Sometimes you fail when you take on a challenge, but this is a necessary process to produce innovation. You must accept that the beginning will be difficult."

"I always tell my lab members that innovation is hard at the start and eventually becomes easy. Generally, things start easy and gradually become difficult, but innovation is exactly the opposite.
Therefore, think that you are bound to fail, and keep trying again and again. Perseverance will strengthen your efforts, and based on the odds, you will achieve innovation sooner or later."

The workshop sheets that participants filled in after the event contained many good ideas. The sheets showed that the Ochiai-style creative imagination technique and Fujitsu-style AI workshop inspired and motivated them to produce concrete ideas for applying AI. This event made us feel that mainstream use of AI in businesses is just around the corner.

(Interview and article by Tadayoshi Sugiyama. Photos by Hirokazu Hasegawa. Edited by Tsuyoshi Kimura.)

[Tour the Studio with the Latest Digital Equipment]

This special event consisted of two parts: Mr. Ochiai's lecture and a workshop. After Part 1, the participants took a recess and enjoyed a tour of the event venue, Fujitsu's co-creation workshop space called FUJITSU Digital Transformation Center.

The participants visited another studio filled with the latest digital equipment besides the one in which the AI workshop was held. The second studio is exclusively used for workshops on ICT utilization (e.g., IoT).

After listening to a brief explanation of the studio, the participants were free to experience Fujitsu's original interactive board, which was covered with inspiration cards projected onto it. Participants enthusiastically played with the technology by picking many different cards and throwing them on the wall to organize them, enlarging cards to read their details, and digitizing handwritten cards.

Over 700 cards have been created based on interactions with customers. These cards help customers realize their ideal futures by inspiring new IoT applications and ideas to solve customers' unique challenges.

To provide visitors with a concrete image of IoT utilization, this studio showcases a vital sensing band that can measure the wearer's pulse and obtain location information. Participants expressed intense interest in this device, and many spent the entire recess looking around. They seemed to be quite serious while enjoying the experience at the same time.

Besides the studio, participants toured an exhibition of the latest technologies, including robots and VR.

(FUJITSU JOURNAL Editorial Desk)

Yoichi Ochiai
Advisor to the President of the University of Tsukuba, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of SLIS, Head of the Digital Nature Group, and media artist
Yoichi Ochiai was born in 1987. He completed his studies at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo faster than others and received his PhD (in Interdisciplinary Information Studies). He specializes in CG,HCI, VR, visual-audio-tactile information display methods, digital fabrication, automatic driving, and human body control. In 2015, he joined the University of Tsukuba's School of Library Information and Media Studies as an Assistant Professor and became head of the Digital Nature Laboratory. In 2017, he became Advisor to the President of the University of Tsukuba, Visiting Professor of Osaka University of Art, and Visiting Professor of Digital Hollywood University. He is also CEO of Pixie Dust Technologies Inc. He has been recognized a number of times both domestically and internationally, including the World Technology Award 2015 from WTN (USA) in 2015, the Prix Ars Electronica from Ars Electronica in 2016, and the STARTS Prize from EU. His major publications include "The Century of Enchantment" and "Survival Strategy for the Super AI Era."