The Japan Times


Genius triumphs: Japanese mathematician's solution to number theory riddle validated

The Japan Times

KYOTO – A proof by mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki of a major conundrum in number theory that went unresolved for over 30 years has finally been validated, Kyoto University said Friday following a controversy over his method, which was often labeled too novel or complicated to understand. Accepted for publication by the university's Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences was Mochizuki's 600-page proof of the abc conjecture, which provides immediate proofs for many other famous mathematical problems, including Fermat's last theorem, which took almost 350 years to be demonstrated. The abc conjecture, proposed by European mathematicians in 1985, is an equation of three integers a, b, and c composed of different prime numbers, where a b c, and describing the relationship between the product of the prime numbers and c. "There are a number of new notions and it was hard to understand them," Masaki Kashiwara, head of the team that examined the professor's theory, said at a news conference. He proved the abc conjecture with a "totally new, innovative theory," said fellow professor Akio Tamagawa. "His achievement creates a huge impact in the field of number theory."


Kyocera plans health-analysis device based on odor of feces

The Japan Times

Kyocera Corp. has started developing a device to check human health and immunity from the odor of one's stool, aiming to put it into practical use in three years. In collaboration with AuB Inc., a Tokyo-based startup, Kyocera will analyze data from the device, which will be installed in toilet seats. The Kyoto-based electronics giant will create a system that infers the intestinal environment of the user with the aid of artificial intelligence technology and data collected by AuB, according to Kyocera officials. Kyocera will deliver the results to clients through a smartphone application and propose measures to improve diet and other elements of their lives to improve health, the officials said. As part of the development process, AuB will gather stool samples from 29 players of a youth team belonging to Kyoto Sanga F.C., a professional soccer team.


Demand for health gadgets soars amid lockdowns

The Japan Times

Hong Kong/Beijing/Seoul/Tokyo – Fitness-tracking gadgets are selling out, home exercise classes have never been more popular and robotics crews are pivoting to making sanitation robots. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a seismic wave of health awareness and anxiety, which is energizing a new category of virus-fighting tech. The fear of infection has accelerated the adoption of apps and wearables as a means to feel better protected. "Having accurate and immediate feedback about our body temperature, blood pressure and other health signals helps to restore people's sense of control," said Andy Yap, a social psychologist at the INSEAD business school. Consumers, insurers and health-care providers are all seeing the benefit of the gadgets, in a shift expected to persist long after the outbreak subsides.


Cardboard and plastic: Tottori Prefecture goes low-tech to protect officials from COVID-19

The Japan Times

In a nation famed for its cutting-edge robots and toilets, one prefecture is going defiantly low-tech in its effort to defend its officials against COVID-19. In what has been proudly dubbed a "Tottori-style office system," the Tottori Prefectural Government has begun using cardboard and plastic sheets as partitions between officials' desks. The use of cardboard boxes, which was requested in a notice sent to officials Tuesday, has already been implemented in many divisions within the prefectural office where space constraints prevent staff from sitting two meters away from each other, said Hideki Maeta, a human resources official. In fact, use of the partitions has even been adopted by other entities under the prefecture's jurisdiction, such as tax offices, Maeta said. "Almost all divisions have a stockpile of unused cardboard, so it's a very low-cost, immediate way of reducing the risk of droplet infections," the official said.


AI tool predicts which coronavirus patients will get deadly 'wet lung'

The Japan Times

Washington – Researchers in the U.S. and China reported Monday they have developed an artificial intelligence tool that is able to accurately predict which newly infected patients with the novel coronavirus go on to develop severe lung disease. Once deployed, the algorithm could assist doctors in making choices about where to prioritize care in resource-stretched health care systems, said Megan Coffee, a physician and professor at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine who co-authored a paper on the finding in the journal Computers, Materials & Continua. The tool discovered several surprising indicators that were most strongly predictive of who went on to develop so-called acute respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS), a severe complication of the COVID-19 illness that fills the lungs with fluid and kills around 50 percent of coronavirus patients who get it. The team applied a machine learning algorithm to data from 53 coronavirus patients across two hospitals in Wenzhou, China, finding that changes in three features – levels of the liver enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT), reported body aches, and hemoglobin levels – were most accurately predictive of subsequent, severe disease. Using this information along with other factors, the tool was able to predict risk of ARDS with up to 80 percent accuracy.


Tokyo firm urges caution against surge in coronavirus-related disinformation on April Fools' Day

The Japan Times

A Tokyo-based risk management firm is cautioning against a potential surge in coronavirus-related disinformation on April Fools' Day, alarmed by the recent spread of what it perceives to be baseless rumors on social media that the government is secretly preparing for the start of a Tokyo lockdown that day. Unsubstantiated rumors pertaining to COVID-19 have been swirling online for months, but gossip with a more urgent tone and more fear-mongering in nature has emerged in recent days, making digital literacy against false rumors more important than ever, according to Tokyo-based Spectee Inc. The firm says it uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence to monitor, collect and analyze the deluge of online information. "Previously, the most common types of coronavirus-related misinformation and disinformation we would see were primarily medical and health-related, as in, 'granite has the power to kill the virus,' or'drinking lukewarm water is effective against the virus,'" said Kenjiro Murakami, head of Spectee. But as the number of COVID-19 cases has risen and the prospect of a citywide lockdown -- floated by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike as a possibility -- loomed large over Japan last week, Murakami said the firm detected a rise in rumors over the weekend that go far beyond misguided health tips.


SoftBank shares tumble 10% after OneWeb files for bankruptcy

The Japan Times

SoftBank Group Corp. fell as much as 10 percent after a provider of satellite-based internet service that it invested in filed for bankruptcy, ceding some gains from an unprecedented plan to sell assets and buy back shares. OneWeb made the filing late Friday U.S. time after raising about $3.3 billion in debt and equity financing from shareholders including SoftBank, Airbus SE and Qualcomm Inc. since its inception. At least $1 billion of that came from SoftBank, which said it first invested in December 2016 and declined to give a total amount. It is the latest blow to SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, who last week unveiled a plan to raise $41 billion to buy back shares and slash debt. The announcement sent the shares soaring more than 50 percent in just a few days.


Government to establish drone licenses for flights out of pilot's sight

The Japan Times

The government plans to establish a licensing system for operating drones when the flights are beyond the operator's line of sight, government sources said Monday. The proposal comes as the government hopes for increased usage of unmanned vehicles for purposes such as delivering daily necessities and medicine, or assisting security patrols in areas with an aging population, the sources said. The license, which the government hopes will be introduced in fiscal 2022, will be age-restricted, and will require operators to pass both a written and practical examination. The licenses will be only valid for a certain period of time and will have to be renewed. Illegal drone use will lead to the cancellation or suspension of a license.


Face masks can foster a false sense of security

The Japan Times

What's happening in Japan is written all over our faces -- our blank, expressionless, masked faces. Never before, it seems safe to say, have so many people gone about masked. Thus we confront the microbes that assault us. "As self-protection, your mask is practically useless," says Shukan Gendai magazine this month. Commercial face masks, medical authorities say, can block particles measuring 3 to 5 micrometers.


Virus test results in minutes? Scientists question accuracy

The Japan Times

MADRID – Some political leaders are hailing a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19: simple pin-prick blood tests or nasal swabs that can determine within minutes if someone has, or previously had, the virus. The tests could reveal the true extent of the outbreak and help separate the healthy from the sick. But some scientists have challenged their accuracy. Hopes are hanging on two types of quick tests: antigen tests that use a nose or throat swab to look for the virus, and antibody tests that look in the blood for evidence someone had the virus and recovered. The tests are in short supply, and some of them are considered unreliable.