Table Speech

My Encounter with Computers

January 24, 2018

Mr. Masanori Nagashima

 I was born in 1949, the last year of the baby-boomer generation and grew up in the aftermath of World War II where there was dire scarcity of material goods in Japan. Almost everyone craved affluence and I was no exception. I decided to major in architecture at university and met Professor Yoshichika Uchida who had pioneered the development of Systems Building that takes due account of building design as well as methods. Around that time, I learnt about CAD (Computer Aided Design) and found it could revolutionize Systems Building. I chose to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and completed the Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies project and dissertation in 1976, under the supervision of Professor Nicholas Negroponte at the Architecture Machine Group laboratory.

 When I started using computers around 1975, I was taught that “all forms of information can be digitalized”. Today, as predicted, we can search for information by smartphones and get the answers in digital forms. I was also taught that “the physical world of ‘atoms” and the digital world of ‘bits’ are different. Computers relate to the latter but not directly relate to the former”. For example, chefs who prepare meals or carpenters who build beautiful structures mostly live in the world of ‘atoms’.

 Information Science is an academic field that constitutes natural sciences together with mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and so on. But it is worth noting that information science is completely different from other fields as it pursues “action” while all the others pursue the “truth”. “Action”-oriented computers have made a miraculous advancement, thanks to the evolution of networks that accelerated data transmission both in terms of distance and contents. With innovative technologies, we succeeded in making the impossible possible with ease. Artificial intelligence has continued to evolve beyond our expectations.

 After mastering the basics of computers at MIT, I moved to the U.K. in 1976 and joined a small business started by researchers of University of Cambridge where I was in charge of developing the architectural CAD system. I came back to Japan and established my company in 1981. Thanks to the bubble economy and the construction boom, I had the CAD system adopted one after another by design offices, construction companies and prefabricated housing manufacturers.

 The invention of computers is one of the great turning points in human history. I feel fortunate that I could get involved in the business since its early days.

About Uber

January 24, 2018

Mr. Takehiro Mikoda
President & CEO, TEITO MOTOR

 I joined the Industrial Bank of Japan Limited in 1976 and worked for 30 years in the banking industry. I was then seconded to Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd. in 2006 and spent 8 years formulating the group’s business strategies. I was again seconded to Teito Motor Transportation Co., Ltd. in 2014. Today let me speak about the taxi and chauffeur-driven limousine business, focusing on Uber, based on my four-year-experience with the company.

 Uber Technologies Inc. is a large-scale company with a market capitalization of 4 trillion yen. It is a hedge fund, raising financial resources from investors with significant assets or pension schemes and investing in leading-edge IT technologies. While the Uber app is highly efficient in matching customers with nearby drivers via smartphones, should any problems arise, the company does not intervene to resolve the situation. The European Court of Justice recently made a final decision on forbidding Uber from conducting app-based taxi dispatch business unless it registers as a transportation company and concludes labor contracts with its drivers.

 Taxi companies in Japan are strictly regulated under the Road Transportation Act and the Road Transport Vehicle Act. As public transportation entities, we put utmost priority on safety and are held accountable for any troubles or accidents. I must say Uber’s unlicensed taxi dispatch business tries to evade multiple running costs and its responsibilities for drivers’ management. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism does not permit Uber for the same reason.

 Having said that, I must say Uber is a groundbreaking service that taps into miraculous technologies including ICT, AI and IoT. I believe automobiles will come to generate massive market value as movable information units under the concept of connected cars. The ultimate goal of Uber is not to run the taxi business around the world but is to track taxi riders’ movements to compile traffic flow data to be utilized for future businesses.

 Thanks to the rapid technological advancement, it is planned that autonomous vehicles will transport passengers on highways between Haneda Airport and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics venues in 2020. But I am rather skeptical as the current legal framework fails to catch up with the dramatic technological development. Should there be any accidents, there is no general consensus on who to take responsibility and how. It is no surprise that Uber faces legal challenges and scrutiny in many countries around the world.

 In Japan, Uber launched on a new business model this year under the new CEO. It will focus on selling a taxi dispatch app solution to taxi companies. It is quite an expensive service, accounting for 20-30% of the sales. I must say taxi riders will end up getting an expensive bill. We should keep a close eye on the direction of Uber and follow the discussions of the Regulatory Reform Council, focusing on 1) who will take responsibility for drivers’ management to ensure safety and security, and 2) whether the social framework of safety-first can keep up with rapid technological advancement.