With the new live-action Hollywood movie having just been released, the evergreen cyberpunk techno-thriller Ghost in the Shell is making a major splash in the global mainstream consciousness.
In Japan, too, for a number of years now, the property has been expanding beyond the realm of entertainment media. Now it is part of an initiative that, through a collaboration of committees, businesses and universities, aims to improve Japanese society through technological revolution.
New developments in cyber-security and advances in artificial intelligence are but a couple of the latest promising endeavors in this Ghost in the Shell Realize Project, holding an annual awards ceremony to promote public interest. The awards themselves are given to newsworthy technological breakthroughs in various sectors, which point towards a brighter future.
This year, the presentation with the newest updates on the various teams which encompass the project as a whole, as well as the awards ceremony itself, was held at AnimeJapan 2017.
How far have they come? Let us take a look at some of the projects that were given special attention.
Firstly, the session began with a rundown of the “Realize” projects in the works, which are directly inspired by Ghost in the Shell.
Among them, we have the Tachikoma Realize Project, through which a 1/8 scale Tachikoma robot had been developed by CEREVO, and went on sale just the other day. It is basically a small Tachikoma model which responds to voice commands and movement and works with your smartphone. They also had a working model of a much larger 1/2 scale type at the Production I.G booth on the main floor of the AnimeJapan event, available to rent.
Researchers and students in the Empowerment Informatics program at Tsukuba University, under the tenets of “Technology & Entertainment,” have developed some very GitS-inspired tech, such as the Bionic Scope and the Cyber Protection Suit. These achievements granted them the Augmented Human International Conference Best Demo Award last year, as well as the prize in the Innovation section of the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016 Japan preliminaries.
At the Ghost in the Shell Realize Project presentation, Tsukuba University’s Professor Hiroo Iwata—also a key member of the Realize Project itself—emphasized that his main goal was to turn university students into entrepreneurs, thus he established the “Empower Studio.”
Next, moving into the realm of cyber-security, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), in partnership with Yokohama National University, Kobe University, Okayama University, Kanazawa University, KDDI Research, and others, gave a report on the latest results of its “WarpDrive” project. WarpDrive is an acronym for “Web-based Attack Response with Practical and Deployable Research InitiatiVE,” its aim being to protect users from cyber attacks. It does this by installing a security agent on a PC that assists and learns, recognizing distinctions between targeted intrusions and indiscriminate attacks, through AI. Indeed, these days one could fall prey just by visiting websites, so an advanced AI partner that can adapt quickly to protect your data and your hardware is necessary. It was designed in the image of the Tachikoma since, according to presenter Akira Yamada of KDDI, “Tachikomas are the most loved characters!”
As for the awards themselves: the judges’ Special Recognition award went to Satoru Miyano, head of the Human Genome Center and Arinobu Tojo, head of Advanced Clinical Research, both based at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science, as well as Toshifumi Mizokami, head of IBM’s Watson Healthcare division.
One of the more fascinating of the achievements showcased during the session, this research team used AI to identify a special type of leukemia in a patient in the space of ten minutes, thus saving a sixty-year old woman’s life.
They used IBM’s Watson and other supercomputers to analyze genome data and utilize that information in treating cancer. You can now effectively look at each individual’s body and find the most effective treatment for them—something which would have been inefficient until now. For example, using Watson and AI means that you can sift through so-called “big data” in a flash, such as patents on medicines, and other such traditionally time-consuming tasks for humans. And, unlike computers that do not learn, Watson thinks by itself, without ignoring what does not fall into its experience. In other words, when Watson encounters something new, rather than get stumped in a typical “cannot compute” manner, it tries to find alternate solutions. To prove the efficiency of the AI, the research team was told to not use the supercomputer, and it resulted in them using up an entire two weeks to complete the ten-minute task Watson achieved, and by the end, Miyano said, “We were in tears!”
“Watson is not really ‘artificial’ intelligence, but more like augmented intelligence,” Miyano explains, highlighting that it is a very useful tool to make medical care more efficient.
Secondly, the prize for the artificial intelligence category went to Yutaka Hiwatashi, head of Division 4 of Automotive Research at Subaru, Fuji Heavy Industries and Hiroshi Miyasaka, IBM Global Business Services.
Their award was to commemorate their achievements utilizing IBM’s Watson, like the University of Tokyo Institute of Medical Science team mentioned above, but incorporating it into the AI employed within Subaru’s Eyesight camera system, as reported in automotive tech news last year.
Lastly, in the “Robot” Category, we have Koichi Suzumori from the Suzumori-Endo Laboratory as well as Shinichi Kurumaya and Ryusuke Morita, all at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
The researchers at the Suzumori-Endo Lab have developed an incredibly life-like “musculoskeletal robot,” or a robot whose muscles and joints behave much the same as a human’s.
You can read the technical details about the project here in the ROBOMECH Journal. And if that’s a little too hard to swallow with all the academic jargon, here is a distilled, popular science version where you can see it try to chew some food.
It is different from the robots we have had up to now in the sense that they do not need multiple motors in the joints, thanks to the key implementation of these “multifilament muscles”—thin fibers which mimic the functions of human muscle. The result is extraordinary, as you can see in the above video.
Overall, the entire event, brief as it was, packed a wide range of diverse information that just goes to show not only that Ghost in the Shell is perhaps loved even more today than during the 1990s. Over 25 years on, it is influential in various industries far beyond the entertainment business, and many have taken inspiration from it to prevent cyber-crime, tackle medical hurdles, and overall improve our lifestyles.
The world of Ghost in the Shell is truly near!