Steering technology towards a more trustworthy future
Fujitsu’s senior EVP and incoming President, Takahito Tokita
Photography: Yasu Nakaoka
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Steering technology towards a more trustworthy future

Kenny MacIver — June 2019

The power of technologies such as AI and big data is raising legitimate concerns about the direction in which they are heading and their social impact. But as delegates at Fujitsu Forum Tokyo 2019 heard, there are approaches that enhance rather than erode trust in a digital future.

 

How can companies ensure they use powerful technologies such as AI without having a negative social impact? How can they exploit big data without invading personal privacy? And how can they protect their reputations and the integrity of their products and services when under constant attack by cybercriminals?

These are the kinds of fundamental questions about the evolving role of technology in business and society that global ICT company Fujitsu put to the 12,000 delegates who attended its annual Fujitsu Forum conference in Tokyo in May. What links those questions, argued the company’s executives, is a growing need for organizations to demonstrate higher levels of trust in their digital technologies and services.

According to Tatsuya Tanaka, Fujitsu president and soon-to-be chairman: “We are experiencing one of the most exciting eras of mankind in which the pace of innovation means many technologies and services that were only dreamt of a decade ago are becoming a reality.” However, not all aspects of that current transformation are positive. The potential impact of innovation in AI, IoT, quantum computing, blockchain and other areas in the near-term means that business and society leaders — as well as the people they serve — have to assess and decide just how their world is shaped by these technologies. “Given the ambiguous nature of technology, we need to ask ourselves how we feel about what is happening,” said Tanaka.

Tatsuya Tanaka, President and soon-to-be Chairman of Fujitsu

 

Expanding on the theme, senior EVP Takahito Tokita, who takes over as the company’s President at the end of June, spoke about how Fujitsu’s strategic investment is progressively being channelled towards technologies that support a more trustworthy, human-centric future. “Today ICT is the fabric that underpins trust in business. But in a rapidly changing environment, we now have a higher bar [to aim for] when building trust in technology,” he said.  

“There are many roles that technology can play to increase trust, such as maintaining the credibility of complex transactions or increasing the ability to handle cyber risks. Fujitsu is working closely with research institutes around the world [including its own Fujitsu Laboratories] to advance such technologies,” he continued.

It’s increasingly clear that decisions made by AI systems are often made within a ‘black box,’ with little understanding of the underlying assessment processes or the data on which they are based. But as AI gets involved in more important decisions, can we trust the results that it generates? This was the question posed by Toshio Hirose, head of Fujitsu’s Global Marketing Unit. Evidence suggests that many do not: a recent global survey of 900 senior executives by the company found that 52% are unwilling to trust an AI system because the data it has access to may be incorrect or biased, while 63% would trust AI decisions but only if its workings were explained.

To address such misgivings, Fujitsu has developed what it argues is the world’s first ‘Explainable AI’ approach by combining two related technologies, Deep Tensor and Knowledge Graph, that expose the workings of AI decisions and the data on which they were based.

Toshio Hirose, head of the Global Marketing Unit Fujitsu

 

During the forum, the company’s executives showcased a series of Fujitsu technologies that they believe reinforce trust.

Hirose pointed to one application where AI algorithms are being used in medical examinations of pregnant women to rapidly identify abnormalities in foetal heart structures. Fujitsu worked with Japan’s RIKEN research institute, the country’s National Cancer Center and Showa University to develop AI algorithms for spotting the anomalies with the aim of providing high-quality treatment to pregnant mothers while confronting the serious shortage of obstetricians and gynaecologists with specialist skills in this area.

Another strand of Fujitsu’s drive to rebuild trust in technology revolves round the Digital Annealer, a cutting-edge, quantum-inspired computer that can tackle problems beyond the scope of conventional systems – notably dealing with the vast number of potential data combinations known as combinatorial optimization problems.

The Digital Annealer is already tackling tough problems at some major companies. Volkswagen, for example, has looked at how Digital Annealer technology could be used to optimize the sequencing of industrial robots in its factories. The German automaker has also explored how the Digital Annealer can be used to help optimize the shape of side-view mirrors to minimize the noise caused by airflow.

This is just the beginning, argued Hirose. In the future, such technologies will tackle problems such as alleviating congestion across entire metropolitan areas or hastening the exploration of novel molecular combinations that could lead to new life-saving drugs.


“FF19”

 

First published June 2019
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