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Thinking about the technology that will connect people in 2020 and beyond

Yasuhiro Mochida NTT Network Innovation Laboratories
Shoko Tatsumi Device Innovation Center
Maiko Imoto Service Innovation Laboratory Group
Ryo Yamada NTT Secure Platform Laboratories

What communications technology related to “meeting” do you think has innovatively changed the world?

Mochida The technology of “telexistence” that gives you the experience of feeling as if your body has actually travelled to a remote location. This is communications technology that allows you to operate a robot in a remote environment with the same sensation as if you were inside the robot. I think it is new that you can interact with people and things in a remote location. As well as for communication, I think it may also be useful for responding to major disasters in the future.

Tatsumi Personally, when I ask myself what technology I now use the most for communicating, it is a text-based communications technology, like LINE or email. It makes me realize once again how amazing text is. It may not be face-to-face communication, but I still think it is interesting that we can communicate what we think.

Imoto I’m attracted by the simple types of communication that produce a feeling of connection, such as the long-standing monitoring service for the elderly in which people use pots to communicate with relatives in remote locations. Meeting is not something that is done face to face, but something that is done via devices. It may lack in immediacy, but I feel that a new simple way of communicating is emerging.

Yamada For me it is the Internet telephone service Skype. I have relatives who live abroad, and I used not be able to call them frequently because it cost too much. The emergence of Skype has allowed me to do video calls to people all over the world for free. At the time, I remember being so impressed that I didn’t think there could be a more innovate type of communication than Skype. Many other similar services came out after that, but Skype was the first one to be rolled out and the fact that it used P2P technology and didn’t leave any information on a server also allowed me to use it without any worries.

Which latest technology relating to “meeting” that uses communication do you think is amazing?

Tatsumi Rather ordinary, but I may say it is “driverless cars”. If old people who can’t drive any more can now go shopping or go and meet their friends, it will broaden their social life. In terms of technology, I think it could be achievable within 10 years. However, it looks as if it will be difficult to achieve in public spaces until some consensus is reached about things like who will take responsibility for people who run out in front of the cars.

Imoto I think that drones are amazing. They are already being used in various regions on an experimental basis, for things like delivery services. I expect them to become a bit more commonly used in the near future.

Mochida Recently, I have been excited by virtual reality technology. Things like being able to view a remote location in 360 degrees wearing a head-mounted display.

Tatsumi In the previous R&D Forum, there was a demo of a technology that increased the resolution of only what you are looking at.

Imoto The human’s eye range of high resolution visibility is really narrow. It can still see outside of that range, but it is blurred, so you could say that this technology matches human experience.

Yamada For me, it’s also virtual reality (VR). Up until now, we’ve only been able to extract parts of experience, such as voices and photos. However, with VR, you feel as if you can extract space itself. I think it will be fun when we can add sensations and tastes, as well as video and sound.

What sort of new communication that connects people would you like to see in 2020?

Yamada There are people coming to Japan from so many different countries, so I would like to be able to communicate with them in more friendly way! So I would like to have a technology that can automatically translate in real time.

Mochida It would help if it could just translate single words, it doesn’t even have to be able to manage whole sentences.

Imoto I am in charge of developing a technology called “Kirari!” which reconstructs spatial information from one sporting venue in another venue in real time. If we can achieve this in 2020, I think we will be able to conduct a new type of communication. For example, for sports that use a relatively small pitch, we aim to recreate the whole playing field.

Tatsumi I once went to see a baseball game, but, to be honest, I found it easier to watch on TV, because TV displays various bits of information, such as a player’s batting average, in real-time. The ability to remove information, such as the noise coming from the person sitting beside you at a concert, is another quality of remote viewing.

Yamada You can also go to the stadium and enjoy the game while watching the data on a mobile device. If you look at it objectively, it’s certainly not easy to watch sport in a stadium. It’s good for the atmosphere though such as doing high fives not really knowing what's going on … (laugh)

Mochida A senior colleague of mine who likes baseball said that he likes to watch it on Niconico Live. I think it’s fun because you can share the live coverage and the banter-fuelled atmosphere with your friends, just as if you were at the stadium together.

Tatsumi People enjoy sports in different ways, and they also want different information. I hope that the use of communications technology in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will allow us to provide an even greater number of people with information that they can enjoy.

Looking beyond 2020,
please tell us what you think will happen to technology that connects people and what you, as an engineer, hope to achieve.

Yamada I want to enter cyber space! I also think it would be fun to be able to communicate in it. The purpose of my research is to make encryption technology useful for society. So I would like to be able to contribute to things like being able to guarantee that an avatar that has been provided in cyber space really is the real user.

Imoto I think that the future of communications and technology is driven by the dreams that are told beforehand in films and on TV and that finding a way to recreate those sorts of scenes has become something of an objective or dream for us. However, being able to show a 3D video of someone in a remote place probably would not feel like communicating. Once we can start to convey the sensation of having someone else with you in the same room, then I think that we can look forward to a completely different world emerging.

Tatsumi I think there is a surprisingly large amount of technology that we all have, but don’t feel any affinity to. For example, my parents have smartphones, but they probably can’t download apps. However, they get on very well with their robot cleaner and often talk to it. (Laugh) I want to become an engineer that can increase the technology that people can use intuitively. There are various ways of approaching this and various technologies that can be created, but I would like to be able to make the things made possible by communication convenient and enjoyable for a greater number of people.

Mochida I’m researching remote collaboration, but, through this round-table discussion, I would like to create a system that extracts only the essential parts required for work, such as a feeling of connection, and that allows collaboration without any special equipment or environment. Ultimately use of this system would improve the speed and level of perfection of the work. For example, it would even be useful for having meetings with the person sitting beside you. I would like to aim for this sort of system.

Various opinions were exchanged in this round-table discussion.
The real life discussions by these engineers
have shown us once again
that there are many means of connecting people with each other and
that people are looking for different types of information in different formats.
Their soft concepts will definitely create
new forms of communication.