ChinAI #139: Japan's View of the Future

Translating Chinese Translations of Japanese White Papers

Greetings from a world where…

people are always meeting at borders

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Feature Translations: Japan’s Endeavors to Forecast the Technological Future

Context: The National Academy of Innovation Strategy (NAIS — 中国科协创新院) is a division under China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), a professional organization that promotes scientific literacy in China. Way back in March 2018, ChinAI covered a CAST analysis of Chinese netizens’ opinions on AI. One of the NAIS’s functions is to keeps tabs on science popularization and innovation strategies of other countries, with a particular interest in Japan. This week’s two feature translations are both NAIS articles about Japanese technological forecasting exercises:

1) Japan’s “2020 Science and Technology White Paper” by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (link to coverage in Mandarin by NAIS)

  • Released in June 2020, the white paper includes results from a technology foresight survey (link to original Japanese) from the Japan Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), which has conducted this exercise every five years since 1971!

  • The NISTEP survey describes 37 new technologies expected to materialize by 2040. I’ve included the first ten in the translated table below:

2) NISTEP Cluster Predictions (link to coverage in Mandarin by NAIS)

  • NISTEP’s foresight survey also tried to identify specific scientific and technological domains that Japan should try to focus on in the future. First, a group of 74 experts from industry, academia, and government came up with a list of 702 scientific and technological topics. Then, NISTEP used co-occurrence and hierarchical cluster analysis to come up with 32 themes across these 702 topics. After subjecting these 32 themes to more data analysis, expert meetings, and a forecasting conference in June 2019, NISTEP identified 16 future-facing fields, half of which were interdisciplinary and half of which were specific research fields.

  • Here are the 8 specialized research fields of the future, according to NISTEP:

Key Takeaways:

  • ChinAI is all about seeking out information arbitrages here. Where’s the valuable information that very few people access? For anyone interested in global technology policy, I’d recommend publications from Japanese organizations like NISTEP. Sometimes white papers will have provisional English translations, and even if you don’t read Japanese, you can copy and paste stuff into Google Translate to at least get a general idea. In my own research in progress, for instance, I’ve benefited greatly from a Japanese-language analysis of co-authorship networks among researchers from different nationalities in publications at AI conferences.

  • Chinese researchers at NAIS write, “Summarizing and thinking about the technology foresight work of other countries is of great benefit to promoting China’s scientific and effective development of technology foresight and technical planning.” China does not see the U.S. as the sole model of innovation; see ChinAI#121, for analysis on Germany as another source of inspiration.

  • “Real-time translation and interpretation system for all languages” is number 5 in the list of 37 future technologies. To be sure, technological forecasting is somewhat akin to throwing darts at a moving board while blindfolded. But the prominence of translation and communication technologies in NISTEP’s forecasting exercises speaks to the our relative lack of attention to the newsworthiness of translation.

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

Should-read: How China’s Food Delivery Apps Exploit Drivers

Really enjoyed reading Yi-Ling Liu’s Rest of World piece on how China’s food delivery system exploits its workers, which makes an insightful point that white-workers are increasingly subject to these types of systems. As she notes, “This is built on the powerful & compelling work of investigative reporting by Chinese publication 人物, which can be read in translation by @jjding99” (ChinAI #111.)

Should-read: China sets hopes on blockchain to close cyber security gaps

I’ve had a few folks ask if I’m going to cover blockchain (unfortunately out of my wheelhouse). Instead, I’d recommend this MERICs analysis by Kai von Carnap, which includes a lot of detailed mini-case studies of blockchain development in China. It also has an informative slide deck that provides context on China’s approach to blockchain.

Should-read: Age of Invention by Anton Howes

I’ve really enjoyed poring through the past issues of Age of Invention, by Dr. Howes, a historian of innovation, who examines the causes of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, through the lives of individual innovators who made it happen. See, for instance, this issue on “ideas behind their time,” or the “inventions that could have been invented centuries, if not millennia, before they actually were.”

Should-read: How a Chinese Surveillance Broker Became Oracle’s “Partner of the Year”

Building on her previous reporting in The Intercept, Mara Hvistendahl digs deeper into a claim by an Oracle spokesperson that Oracle doesn’t sell surveillance tech directly to the Chinese police. Her latest finds that Oracle has worked with brokers that localize Oracle’s tech for surveillance and repression.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Predoctoral Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, sponsored by Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.

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