Remarks by Consul General Yoichiro Yamada at Japan Seattle AI Innovation Meetup 7.0 Reception (January 24, 2018)

Good evening. This is the second AI event that has taken place at this residence within the last three months. It is an honor for our consulate to be useful in bridging a path for the AI developers and customers of Japan and the US.

Our special appreciation goes to Mr. Tom Sato and Mr. Tetsuro Eto for organizing this meet-up event. And thank you, Mr. Brian Bonlender, Washington State Director of the Department of Commerce, and Mr. Joseph Williams, Governor Inslee’s ICT Sector Lead, for gracing the occasion with your presence.

These days Seattle is often called the “Capital of AI,” and no week goes by without hearing exciting news in this dynamic field. This week, we heard that Amazon Go is now open to customers. Amazon Go gives them the chance to pick and pay without a cashier.

AI is an abbreviation of “Artificial Intelligence,” and there seems to be a debate as to whether current technology is more artificial than intelligent. Amazon’s sensational product, Alexa, makes us wonder if AI will actually come to mean “Audio Intelligence” in the coming years.

Whether artificial or audio, the technology is getting ever more sophisticated as well as useful. Today, we use search engines without paying for the service. In the future, the cost benefit of providing some particular services can be so great for the overall good of society that the government might well consider providing them for free. For example, software might be developed by which medical diagnosis and advice, supported by the most advanced medical information, can be provided through the internet free of charge. It may even eventually be entrusted with prescribing medicine on its own. A device like that has the potential of providing good medical guidance to those who are not able to afford it. It has the potential of lowering the medical expenses of the entire society, as well as lowering the risk of an erroneous diagnosis which is so common today.

AI reminds me of another exciting development. I am a fan of the simple old board game of Go, which you play with black and white stones. Two years ago, Google’s Alpha Go caused a sensation by beating one of the best players of the game, Lee Se Dol of Korea, 4 to 1. The number of possible Go games is said to be greater than all the atoms in the universe. Before that match, the Alpha Go software had absorbed the patterns of the game played by thousands of professional players. Now, a more recent software called Alpha Go Zero accumulated data by playing against itself. Within a few hours, Alpha Go Zero surpassed the software that had beaten the human champion. Such self-learning AI technology would perhaps be better described as “Autonomous Intelligence,” rather than artificial intelligence.

Whether AI means artificial, audio or autonomous intelligence, or whether you prefer Amazon Go, Alpha GO, or Pokemon GO, AI opens an enormous intellectual horizon. Whether humans will continue to control such technology, or vice versa, will be an important issue for the future. Another issue is whether AI will help to empower ordinary humans, or empower autocrats to strengthen their control over other humans.

These are big questions. But whatever the answers, there are a few points that can be said with certainty, that AI will attract people, passion and resources unimaginable, that we will continue to be absorbed by its latest developments, and that humanity is the best check against the excesses of, or with, technology. It is therefore a privilege to be able to facilitate your efforts by providing this residence to host such an occasion this evening.

Thank you all again for coming today. I wish you all the best and I look forward to hearing of your future successes, either directly or in the news.