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Promoting Interdisciplinary Collaboration at Home and Abroad and Awakening Innovation in Modern Society

Dean Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Dean Faculty of Information Science and Technology, Hokkaido University ProfessorHiroyuki Kita

Launch of New Graduate School

In April 2019, the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Hokkaido University was reorganized into the Faculty of Information Science and Technology and Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. The former is a research organization made up of teaching staff and the latter is an educational organization made up of students. There are two key reasons for separating the graduate school into research and educational organizations. First, the needs of research and the needs of education as demanded by society are not necessarily the same, and second, overemphasizing the independence of individual research fields makes collaboration between fields and mobilizing of resources difficult while hindering an agile response to education in interdisciplinary fields. This change will make it easier to quickly and flexibly configure a new educational organization according to the research intentions and career desires of students without having to change the research organization made up of teaching staff. Starting in April, we will lose no time in moving some of the regular students in the Department of Mathematics of the Graduate School of Science to the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology and in educating students in information science together with teaching staff of the Faculty of Science. Looking to the future, I can naturally envision mergers with other science-related graduate schools in agriculture, medicine, fisheries science, etc. as well as with graduate schools in the humanities such as law, letters, and economics. In this way, I would like to configure the most appropriate educational organization at any given time.

Toward an Era That Matches the Needs of Society and Seeds of Information Science

Today, in Japan, the society that we live in is faced with many problems that need to be solved. These include (1) an insufficient labor force and growing need for caregiving due to a falling birthrate and aging population, (2) the need to maintain a stable supply of energy in a country with few energy resources while giving due concern to global environmental problems, and (3) the need for measures and preparations to deal with large-scale disasters such as abnormal weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Some of these problems are unique to Japan while others call for collaboration with other countries, but in either case, they are problems common to mankind that need to be solved without delay.
Solutions to some of these problems, however, have reached an impasse indicating that they cannot be solved solely on the basis of existing technologies. Information science is the field that can respond to such sophisticated needs. Information science and technology has made great strides in recent years. Learning from massive amounts of data (big data) through machine learning, deep learning, optimization techniques, and other tools has pushed data processing power beyond human capabilities. Today, solutions are being actively developed in medical care, energy, and other fields through collaborative projects between industry and academia using a “solve it by AI” approach.
In this way, it can be said that the needs of society are beginning to match the seeds of information science. The know-how and technologies that have so far been cultivated by information science can reveal specific solutions to real-world problems. I feel that such an era has truly arrived.

Research Covering a Wide Range of Fields

In contrast to the information-science graduate schools of other major universities, the Faculty of Information Science and Technology, Hokkaido University covers information science not only in a narrow sense as in mathematics and computer science but also in a broader sense as in electrical and electronic engineering that includes electrical systems, electronics, precision engineering, communications, and bioengineering. This means research conducted from both a needs and seeds perspective. In other words, faculty having expertise for dealing directly with current needs (as in electrical and electronic engineering) and faculty having expertise in seeds for opening up next-generation technologies (as in AI and IoT) can pursue research within the same graduate school. This is a major feature that cannot be seen at other information-science graduate schools. In addition, we aim to become a research hub on both a national and global level by promoting positive exchanges and collaboration with both Japanese and overseas researchers. To this end, we established the Global Station for Big Data and Cybersecurity (GSB) within the Global Institution for Collaborative Research and Education (GI-CoRE) to facilitate international collaborative research with overseas universities and with researchers of other schools and faculties of Hokkaido University.

Dean Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Dean Faculty of Information Science and Technology, Hokkaido University

Producing World-class Achievements Through Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research and a Major/Minor Education Format

Conducting research from both a needs and seeds perspective within the same graduate school is also of great benefit to education in the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. A student can select a minor course of study in addition to his or her major course of study to acquire knowledge in different fields. This is called a major/minor education format. In this way, students can pursue globally competitive themes (e.g., electrical materials, nanoscience, information-communications) in their master’s theses or doctoral dissertations and take up research associated with large-scale national projects or university-born venture technologies. Students can also participate in interdisciplinary collaborative research or practical research by receiving research guidance from the teaching staff of the Faculty of Science, GI CoRE GSB, Information Initiative Center, Research Institute for Electronic Science, and Research Center for Integrated Quantum Electronics of Hokkaido University as well as from instructors at outside organizations such as the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), NTT, NTT DOCOMO, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).
In this way, information science and technology can be used to solve the many and varied problems facing modern society and foster innovation. The Graduate School of Information Science and Technology is positioned to foster interdisciplinary collaborative abilities in this cutting-edge field. My goal is to provide an open and free environ