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The Japan Times


Japanese college dropout builds $560 million fortune through AI firm

The Japan Times

Taku Toguchi knew he wanted a career in artificial intelligence as far back as when he was a teenager. Now 36, the college dropout and serial entrepreneur has joined the ranks of Japanese founders building fortunes in AI, thanks to a stock-market rally that turned his company into one of the nation's most richly valued. AI inside Inc., which went public in December and specializes in digitizing handwritten documents, has been among the biggest beneficiaries of surging investor optimism toward companies that use AI and other technologies to enable remote working. While some analysts have questioned whether the stock's almost ninefold gain is sustainable, AI inside has ambitious plans to expand outside Japan and into other business lines. "It feels like we're being hugely recognized," Toguchi said in an interview.


Sony invests ¥27 billion in Fortnite and Unreal Engine developer Epic Games

The Japan Times

Epic Games, creator of the popular video game Fortnite and the mobile app Houseparty, said Thursday it had received a $250 million (¥27 billion) investment from Sony Corp for a minority stake in the company. Sony, maker of the PlayStation, didn't disclose the price it paid for stock in the privately held company. Last month, it was reported that Epic was close to raising a $750 million round of funding, from investors including T. Rowe Price Group Inc and Baillie Gifford, at a valuation of about $17 billion. Epic, which also develops the game engine Unreal, received $1.25 billion in funding in 2018 from investors including KKR & Co Inc. Fortnite has been an influential force in games and culture over recent years. The game had more than 350 million players as of April, benefiting from the influx of people spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic.


'Desperation science' slows the hunt for coronavirus drugs

The Japan Times

Desperate to solve the deadly conundrum of COVID-19, the world is clamoring for fast answers and solutions from a research system not built for haste. The ironic, and perhaps tragic, result: Scientific shortcuts have slowed understanding of the disease and delayed the ability to find out which drugs help, hurt or have no effect at all. As deaths from the coronavirus relentlessly mounted into the hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of doctors and patients rushed to use drugs before they could be proved safe or effective. "People had an epidemic in front of them and were not prepared to wait," said Dr. Derek Angus, critical care chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "We made traditional clinical research look so slow and cumbersome."


Singapore, in survival mode, looks to reinvent itself. Yet again.

The Japan Times

The pandemic is proving to be the ultimate test for Singapore, the tiny city-state that has a reputation for reinventing itself during times of crises. Dismissed in the past as just a "little red dot" on the map, dwarfed by larger neighbors like Malaysia and Indonesia, and with no natural resources to speak of, Singapore has nonetheless transformed itself into one of the richest and most competitive economies in the world. As Singapore's leaders now grapple with what's turning out to be its worst slump since independence in 1965, the ruling party is looking to extend its mandate in Friday's election to help reinvent the economy once again. They're already positioning for a post-COVID-19 world with planned investment in health and biomedical sciences, climate change and artificial intelligence. Crises have been a catalyst for change in the past.


Japan's foreign student digs likely to survive -- and thrive -- after pandemic

The Japan Times

It's probably the result of memories from their long-ago youth, but a lot of older Japanese people tend to have the stereotypical image that dwellings for college students are usually cramped and shabby. Yet take a look at a nine-story building standing in the Hakusan district in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. Walking through a locked automated entrance, the first thing that jumps out is the first floor looks like a cafe-style coworking space -- except that it's a public area for students. The second to eighth floors are dedicated to living space for students, offering tidy bedrooms, shared kitchens stocked with cooking ware and appliances, as well as common areas with video games and a rooftop balcony. What may be more unorthodox is that many of its residents are non-Japanese and the 364-bed facility, which opened in 2018, is not managed by a school but by a foreign business operator that only recently made a foray into Japan.


Japan figuring out how to deliver goods untouched by people amid pandemic

The Japan Times

Getting products from one place to another with as little human contact as possible is becoming an imperative for businesses as retailers, warehouses and transport providers adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to minimize the risk of infections to their employees and customers. Tsubakimoto Chain Co. is seeing more demand for its sorting and conveyor systems as companies seek ways to move things around, while startup Hacobu sees an opportunity to boost use of its online platform for trucks to exchange information as they load and unload goods at warehouses, a process that's still mostly done on paper. The need for automation is especially acute in Japan, where a labor shortage was already putting pressure on companies to find ways to run their businesses with less people. Now, that transition is being spurred on by the pandemic, which has boosted online buying and raised concerns among shoppers about being infected by items delivered to their doors. All told, the market for next-generation logistics systems in Japan is set to more than double to ¥651 billion ($6 billion) through 2025 from 2018, according to Fuji Keizai Co., a Tokyo-based research firm.


Nissan execs face off with angry shareholders over red ink and Carlos Ghosn scandal

The Japan Times

Nissan Chief Executive Makoto Uchida told shareholders Monday he is giving up half his pay after the automaker sank into the red amid plunging sales and plant closures in Spain and Indonesia. Uchida apologized for the poor results and promised a recovery by 2023, driven by cost cuts and new models showcasing electric cars and automated-driving technology. "We will tackle these challenges without compromise," he said at a live-streamed meeting. "I promise to bring Nissan back on a growth track." All the world's automakers have been hurt by nose-diving sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Data-crunching AI in Japan predicts one's chances of developing 20 diseases

The Japan Times

Health researchers have put artificial intelligence to work in crunching big data, allowing them to develop technology that can predict the future onset of around 20 diseases so people can make preventative lifestyle changes. The model developed at Hirosaki University and Kyoto University calculates one's probability of developing a disease within three years based on data obtained from voluntary health checkups on about 20,000 people in Japan. If a patient agrees to disclose data on some 20 categories collected during checkups, the model can project the potential development of arteriosclerosis, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and obesity, among other conditions. The team set up two groups of people for each disease -- those whose data suggested they could develop the ailment in the future and a control group -- and crunched their health data to predict whether would will actually develop the disease. "We made correct predictions on whether individuals will develop the diseases within three years with high accuracy," said Yasushi Okuno, professor at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Medicine.


Japanese startup creates 'connected' face mask for coronavirus new normal

The Japan Times

As face coverings become the norm amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an internet-connected "smart mask" that can transmit messages and translate from Japanese into eight other languages. The white plastic c-mask fits over standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet application that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the mask wearer's voice. "We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society," said Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of Donut Robotics. Donut Robotics' engineers came up with the idea for the mask as they searched for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus struck, it had just secured a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.


Countries agree regulations for automated driving

The Japan Times

Geneva – More than 50 countries, including Japan, South Korea and the European Union member states, have agreed common regulations for vehicles that can take over some driving functions, including having a mandatory black box, the U.N. announced Thursday. The binding rules on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) will come into force in January 2021. The measures were adopted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which brings together 53 countries, not just in Europe but also in Africa and Asia. "This is the first binding international regulation on so-called'Level 3' vehicle automation," UNECE said in a statement. "The new regulation therefore marks an important step towards the wider deployment of automated vehicles to help realize a vision of safer, more sustainable mobility for all."