The Japan Times


With help from AI, Japanese students colorize Hiroshima photos taken before A-bomb

The Japan Times

HIROSHIMA – With technology powered by artificial intelligence, high school students are colorizing black and white photos of Hiroshima taken before the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.


U.S. lawmakers want Google to rethink links to China's Huawei, seen as security threat

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers asked Alphabet Inc.'s Google on Wednesday to reconsider its work with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which they described as a security threat. In a letter to Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, the lawmakers said Google recently decided not to renew "Project Maven," an artificial intelligence research partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense. "While we regret that Google did not want to continue a long and fruitful tradition of collaboration between the military and technology companies, we are even more disappointed that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military," they wrote. The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, Republican Reps. Alphabet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


SoftBank vows to bolster startup investment through its Vision Fund at shareholders meeting

The Japan Times

SoftBank Group Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son said Wednesday that the company will bolster its investment business in a shift in the telecommunications giant's growth strategy. "I have used 97 percent of my brain to consider the telecom businesses, but will shift that to investments," Son said at a meeting with more than 2,300 shareholders in Tokyo. Son, one of most influential investors in the technology industry, said his company will strengthen its focus on investments in startup ventures possessing artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies through its $100 billion Vision Fund, which was set up last year with partners such as Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. "We are the unicorn hunter," Son said, referring to unlisted startups valued at more than $1 billion. Among its recent investment projects, SoftBank has taken a stake in ride-hailing service provider Uber Technologies Inc. and has also bought U.S.-based robotics company Boston Dynamics.


IBM pits computer against human debaters

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – IBM pitted a computer against two human debaters in the first public demonstration of artificial intelligence technology it's been working on for more than five years. The company unveiled its Project Debater in San Francisco on Monday, asking it to make a case for government-subsidized space research -- a topic it hadn't studied in advance but championed fiercely with just a few awkward gaps in reasoning. "Subsidizing space exploration is like investing in really good tires," argued the computer system, its female voice embodied in a 5-foot-tall machine shaped like a monolith with TV screens on its sides. Such research would enrich the human mind, inspire young people and be a "very sound investment," it said, making it more important even than good roads, schools or health care. The computer delivered its opening argument by pulling in evidence from its huge internal repository of newspapers, journals and other sources.


Should the elderly be stopped from driving?

The Japan Times

On June 10, a car crashed into a supermarket in Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, injuring 14 people. At first the incident sounded like yet another elderly person losing control of a vehicle and causing destruction, but then it transpires that the driver was a 55-year-old man. Does that count as elderly? Police arrested the man on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in injuries. Reports say he bore down on the accelerator after he felt the right side of his body go numb, a condition that could be age-related.


Afghanistan president says U.S. drone killed Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, wanted over 2012 Malala Yousafzai shooting attack

The Japan Times

KABUL – President Ashraf Ghani confirmed Friday that Pakistani Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah has been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Fazlullah is believed to have ordered the failed 2012 assassination of Malala Yousafzai, who became a global symbol of the fight for girls' rights to schooling, and who later won the Nobel Peace Prize. U.S. forces targeted Fazlullah in a counterterrorism strike Thursday in eastern Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. officials said, without confirming his death. "I spoke with Prime Minister of #Pakistan Nasir ul Mulk and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and confirmed the death of Mullah Fazlullah," Ghani tweeted, adding: "His death is the result of tireless human intel led by #Afghan security agencies." Ghani added the Pakistani leaders had assured him the strike was "a great step toward building trust between the two nations," while urging them to "bring (the) Afghan Taliban residing in Pakistan to the negotiation table."


China carries out missile drills in South China Sea amid heightened tensions

The Japan Times

BEIJING – China's navy carried out drills in the South China Sea to simulate fending off an aerial attack, state media said on Friday, as China and the United States trade barbs over who is responsible for heightened tensions in the disputed waterways. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern during a visit to Beijing on Thursday over China's efforts to militarize the seas. His remarks came after a flurry of U.S. activity in the region, including reports last week that U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers had flown near disputed islands that drew a sharp rebuke from China. China's navy carried out a simulated missile attack in an unspecified area of the South China Sea using three target drones making flyovers of a ship formation at varying heights, the official army newspaper said. The drills were part of efforts by an also unspecified training base to prepare for real-life combat against aerial targets after China's leadership said some training failed to prepare troops effectively, the paper said.


Government backs 3D mapping in race to develop technology deemed crucial for driverless cars

The Japan Times

Technology companies are racing to develop ultra-precise digital maps that can guide self-driving cars to within inches of where they should be -- a hurdle the industry needs to clear if it hopes to deliver on its promise of widespread use of driverless vehicles. The government is backing a three-dimensional mapping system developed by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. that includes a wealth of details, such as trees and pedestrians. It promises to be off by no more than 25 cm. That would be a big improvement over satellite-based GPS, which is used by ships, aircraft and increasingly by drivers or those on mobile phones but can be off by up to 20 meters, especially inside buildings or underground. The developers say the improved mapping technology will likely be used first in vehicles in isolated areas such as warehouses, or it might be used to help drivers of vehicles that aren't entirely autonomous.


Communication difficulties continue to torment Japan

The Japan Times

If communication is measurable in terms of number of words, we are the greatest communicators in the history of our species. There's the rub, says President magazine. Listening is the hard part. It's harder than talking -- in part, writes Toshiyuki Goda of the NHK Broadcast Research Center in his contribution to President's feature on "listening ability," because, as speakers, we can keep the dialogue within our comfort zone, while listening may take us outside it -- into the realm of our own ignorance, which is uncomfortable enough; or, worse, into that of the awkward silence. The on-air broadcaster is particularly sensitive to the latter, but it bedevils all social intercourse.


Toyota mulls using driverless vehicles as mobile convenience stores

The Japan Times

Toyota Motor Corp. is considering to use self-driving vehicles as unmanned mobile convenience stores in cooperation with Seven-Eleven Japan Co., sources close to the matter said Friday. Under the plan, Toyota's autonomous electric vehicles -- which would carry Seven-Eleven products -- would offer self-service in the country's underpopulated areas, where it is less profitable for convenience store chains to operate outlets, the sources said. Toyota could also team up with Yamato Holdings Co. on door-to-door delivery services using driverless vehicles. The sources added Toyota is also looking to offer similar services, including mobile cafes for Starbucks coffee. In January, the automaker unveiled its e-Palette Concept Vehicle, announcing it will use the driverless electric platform to build an alliance with U.S. partners such as Amazon.com