Digital technology poised to transform our very society
Our world is presently approaching a time of immense change. Societal change driven by advances in digital and ICT innovation continues at an accelerated pace and we are seeing seismic shifts that may very well overturn the foundations of our society.
In 2004, Professor Erik Stolterman from Sweden’s Umeå University proposed the concept of DX, or digital transformation. DX is the promotion of advanced digital technologies to change people’s lifestyles for the better. In the 10 plus years since then information technologies have spread to every corner of Japanese society through the upgrading of communications infrastructure, penetration of IoT and sophistication of AI and as a result are becoming indispensable to our daily lives. The DX era has truly arrived.
The DX concept is not, however, only about advances in information technology, but also aims to use digital technology to greatly change future societies and create new ones. In this context information science is no longer just an area of study or branch of science and technology. It is arguably becoming a field that must adopt the ideology of society building to prepare for the future and address what kind of society we should create.
Since its inception as the Graduate School of Information Science, the central pillars of Hokkaido University’s Graduate School / Faculty of Information Science and Technology’s educational and research activities have been the collaboration of information science and other disciplines and linkages between cyber and physical spaces, and we have continued to be strong advocates for contributing to society through information technologies. Drawing on this strong historical background, we are moving forward with strategies that lead the way in capturing the zeitgeist of the new era so that we may usher in a new phase in our efforts to develop human resources capable of creating the society of 10 or 20 years into the future.
Instilling the mindset to deepen interdisciplinary collaboration and links
The development and retention of talent to oversee AI, IoT, Big Data and security technologies, as well as the data science that underpins these technologies, is now considered a matter of urgency as we move towards realizing the government’s policy of Society 5.0, and as such strong calls are being made for universities to boost education and human resource capabilities in information-related fields.
Contrasting this is the growing importance of multidisciplinary research and innovation as we struggle to solve the many and varied challenges facing modern society solely on the basis of existing technologies or stand-alone research fields. What is needed from here on in will be human resources that can uncover emerging social issues, apply a broad-ranging perspective across diverse research fields to ascertain the intrinsic nature of these issues and use information science to help solve them.
The School of Information Technology and Science offers 5 courses: electronics for informatics, media and network technologies, computer science and information technology, bioengineering and bioinformatics and system science and informatics. I am confident that our faculty is in an exceptionally unique position on a national level as it merges a diverse array of fields, from electric and electronic engineering to life sciences and information systems, to conduct extensive research activities that range from basic research through to social implementation in each of these fields.
In addition our graduate school has 5 areas of collaboration that allow large numbers of students and researchers to participate in interdisciplinary collaborative research or practical research with such national research organizations as the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), National Institute for Advanced Science (AIST) and Technology and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as well as NTT, NTT DOCOMO and other private-sector companies. Interdisciplinary research activities that go beyond existing fields or frameworks are a particular strength of our school. These activities foster an environment and mindset that allow our diverse cohort of students and researchers to apply free-thinking ideas to the creation of new value.
Comprehensive joint research system with world-class universities and research organizations
The Graduate School / Faculty of Information Science and Technology also endeavors to expand international joint leadership programs and joint research leadership systems in collaboration with domestic and overseas universities. One success story has been the Hokkaido University Global COE Program conducted from 2007 – 2011. This program delivered outstanding results by implementing numerous measures aimed at developing young talent and building in a global perspective, including introducing a system of interdisciplinary joint research projects and adopting a major/minor education format where students undertaking a master’s degree can select a minor course of study in addition to their major.
While providing an interdisciplinary collaborative education the Graduate School / Faculty of Information Science and Technology also gives its students an education with international currency through the participation of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) as promotors of collaborative research with the Global Station for Big Data and Cybersecurity(GSB), one of the global stations of the Global Institute for Collaborative Research and Education (GI-CORE). These activities are training students to develop both progressive ideas not bound by convention and a willingness to act globally beyond their existing frameworks.
Never fear failure while seeking out success
Today, as we enter an era of change and the role of information science continues to become one of society creation as well as one of technology, I believe the Graduate School / Faculty of Information Science and Technology’s mission to Japan, the outside world and science is to usher in a new phase of education and research full of creativity and energy.
I want us to value an educational and research system that enables us to quickly pool the thoughts and ideas of students and younger researchers and teaching staff and continually put these thoughts and ideas to the test. We have a responsibility to society to use information science to bring students together from all manner of fields, including physics and mathematics, electrical and electronic engineering and life sciences, so that we may gain an understanding of communities and their people from multiple perspectives and share in a diversity of ideas. It is the aim of the Graduate School / Faculty of Information Science and Technology to become a platform for this type of human resource development.
As we advance into unchartered territory, let’s imagine what is ahead of us based on the knowledge of those that have come before. That is the “frontier spirit” of Hokkaido University and I look forward to our students and young researchers drawing on this spirit to seek out success without being afraid of making mistakes along the way.