BreakThrough Study Idea

Engineers must be capable of independent thinking and connecting with the outside worldYotaro Hatamura

<Series 4 / complete>

2018.11.08

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Now that we live in an information-based society, there will be increasingly greater growth in manufacturing involving AI and more IoT. The 4th and final part of this interview covers technological process and safety, the relationship between engineers and AI, and Hatamura’s message to engineers about future possibilities and the correct direction to proceed.


As technology advances, the everyday life of average people will become more convenient. For example, if we can have self-driving cars. However, it cannot be denied that significant advancements in technology are still received with vague anxiety by society as a whole. Hatamura told us his views on technology and safety.

Managed Safety VS True Safety

In the world today, we say that machine safety will be guaranteed as long as there’s a system with sensors and computers. This interpretation of safety is “managed safety.”
Managed safety certainly sounds rational, and it is also very convenient. However, “managed safety” does not cover the requirements of “true safety” as a way of thinking. First, it’s necessary for true safety to already be in place, with managed safety added as an extra layer to improve safety and convenience. If we are dependent on managed safety without thoroughly discussing true safety, then I would say that the real meaning of safety has been lost or ignored.
Engineers need to return to true safety in the new wave of manufacturing. There is an obligation to take another look and deeply discuss what true safety means for each product.

Right now, we assumed that AI is the final stage of technological advancement. Hatamura also shared his views on AI.

AI VS Engineers

When it comes to AI, there’s a lot of talk about its potential, and people are saying that it’s going to take away human jobs. But I don’t believe it, I think that AI can only beat humans at chess and shogi (laughs). I’m not even joking and let me explain why. The human brain is capable of extracting and interpreting high-level concepts like “meaning” and “intention.” But AI can’t handle either. According to the front-loading* approach to manufacturing that we discussed previously, we won’t be seeing the results of AI, we’ll see human brainpower, we’ll see the intelligence of the creators.
*Front-loading is explained in Part 3

Just like front-loading, if all the important points can be settled in the concept and planning stage, there will be plenty of opportunity to demonstrate a project’s potential. So what does that mean for the future of manufacturing in Japan, and which direction should we follow?

Which Way To Proceed & What To Expect

When we’re talking about manufacturing and production, we shouldn’t think about objects and concepts separately, we ought to think of both of these categories as one thing. Again, the iPhone is a good example. Companies will dominate the market if they can gather the right information and link it to a real product that satisfies people’s desires.
It’s completely true that Japan’s development was thanks to following the technology of North America and Europe. In Part 1 I explained that one of the reasons why Japan is currently in a slump is that companies are unable to separate themselves from successful experiences during the decades of rapid economic growth. It is probably going to take more time to transform our way of thinking.
But I also think that Japan is going to be all right, as long as we sit down and take time and keep working on developing technology. Because when you think about Japan’s unique qualities, we still have more accumulated experience with technology development than other Asian countries, and most importantly, we have domestic and political stability. Domestic stability is extremely important for technology because it allows for long-term research and development. I think we need to take advantage our situation.

Hatamura also shared a message for all engineers.

A Message To Japanese Engineers

If Japanese companies are going to survive through their technology, then they will need more than just tech specialists, they will need employees who understand every part of the process. Engineers who have a firm grasp of every step of manufacturing including cost will be able to use their knowledge as a weapon. SME in particular operate on a compact scale which allows for rapid, flexible response and an easier understanding of the full production process.

Engineers must be capable of independent thinking and connecting more with the outside world. Failure will happen, and the manufacturing world needs to accept that. It is natural and expected that things won’t always go perfectly the first time. The only way to avoid failure is to never even try. We also shouldn’t allow ourselves to ignore or forget our failures. The reason for failure must be verified and learned from - hints for making a great leap may be hidden within.
Keep your attitude open to evolution, never stop trying, continue your work, and Japan will surely change for the better in the future.

 

Series

Japan Cannot Move Past Its Previous Successful Experiences in Technology Development

Engineers need to accept that failure is part of the development process.

Identify new values: Transform latent value into concrete value to create profits

Engineers must be capable of independent thinking and connecting with the outside world


Yotaro Hatamura

Born in 1941 in Tokyo. BS and Master’s degrees from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tokyo. After working for Hitachi, he returned to the University of Tokyo as a professor. Retired in 2001, but retains status as an honorary professor. Specialties include failure studies, danger studies, creative design theory, intelligent processing and nano/micro processing. Runs the Hatamura Institute for the Advancement of Technology since 2001. Founded the NPO Association for the Study of Failure in 2002, and the Danger Studies Project in 2007. Participated as investigator and committee chair of the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company since June 2011. Hatamura has written many books, but his 2000 release “Recommendations in Failure Studies” has sold over 400,000 copies. “Traveling the Tech Highway” is his latest.

■Best-Known Books
Recommendations in Failure Studies (Kodansha) 2000/11
Creating & Planning Technology (Iwanami) 2006/11
Unprecedented & Unexpected: Lessons From the Great East Japan Disaster (Kodansha) 2011/7
Getting Real in Japan: The Tech Superpower Fantasy is Over (Kodansha) 2015/6
Traveling the Tech Highway (Iwanami) 2018/1

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