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Technology Connecting People
What new communication technologies can be used to connect people in 2020?
From NTT’s various research facilities, technicians responsible for the future of communications gathered together for lively discussions about the year 2020 and the future beyond 2020.
The third discussion explored the theme of “Technology Connecting People”.
Connecting distant locations, connecting through text, connecting through virtual space—the lively discussion overflowed with ideas for ways of utilizing technology in various scenarios as well as possibilities for the future.
Network Innovation Laboratories
Device Innovation Center
Service Innovation Laboratory Group
Secure Platform Laboratories
What “human encounter” related communications technologies do you think have revolutionized the world?
For me, that would be “telexistence” technology, which provides the experience of feeling as if you are actually, physically, at a distant location.
At this distant location is a robot, and you feel as if you are actually inside this robot, and the communications technology enables you to operate the robot remotely.
I think that being able to touch people and objects that are far away is a new concept. In addition to communication, this technology will no doubt be useful in the event of major disasters in the future.
When I thought about what form of communication I personally use most frequently at present, the answer was communications technologies that use text, such as LINE and e-mail. I am strongly reminded of how incredible written language is.
Even though the information provided differs from face-to-face communication, I find it fascinating that communication fully containing the information that the person wishes to convey is possible using these technologies.
There has been a monitoring service for elderly people around for a while whereby electric kettles are used as a means of communication to notify family members living far away whether the kettle has been used (and the elderly person therefore safe), and I am attracted to technologies like this that provide a casual “sense of connection”.
I feel that “human encounters” taking place not through people meeting face-to-face but through devices reduces the “rawness” of the meeting, you could say, or rather creates a new form of casual communication.
I would say the Internet telephone service “Skype”.
I have relatives living overseas, but previously I was unable to call them very often because the international telephone charges were so expensive. Skype’s launch made it possible to chat with people anywhere in the world by videotelephone for free. I remember thinking at the time that there couldn’t possibly be a more innovative form of communication.
Subsequently, various similar services were also launched, but I think the reasons that Skype can be used with peace of mind are that it was the first such service to appear, and that it uses P2P technology, ensuring that information does not remain on servers, etc.
What new communications technologies related to “human encounters” do you think are amazing?
The technology isn’t commonplace yet, but I would say “self-driving cars”.
Even elderly people who can no longer drive themselves can be driven to go shopping or go to meet friends, vastly expanding the scope of their everyday lives. Technologically speaking, I think the technology itself will be sufficiently realized for practical purposes within 10 years, but I think it will be difficult to use the vehicles in public areas before general consensus is reached regarding matters such as who should take responsibility if the vehicle should hit someone who dashes out in front of it suddenly.
I think that “drones” are amazing.
On an experimental level, drones are already being used in various regions, such as for delivery services. In the near future, I expect that drones will become pretty much a reality of everyday life.
Mochida: Recently I have been sensing excitement about “VR (Virtual Reality)” technology. It is possible to watch 360 degree panoramic images of distant locations using head mount displays.
Tatsumi: At a previous NTT R&D Forum, there was a demonstration of technology that enabled you to increase the resolution of just the place that you yourself are looking at.
Imoto: The area that the eyes can see at very high resolutions is extremely narrow, and you can’t see anything of the surroundings as the images are blurred, so you could say that this technology fits with people’s experiences.
I would also say “VR (Virtual Reality)” technology
Up until now, with sound or photographs, it has been as if just a part of an actual experience has been cut out, but with VR, it feels as if the entire space itself has been cut out.
Also, I think this technology will become even more interesting when other sensations, such as touch and taste, are added to images and sound.
What new forms of communication would you use to connect people in 2020?
Yamada: Since this is an excellent opportunity with people from many different countries coming to Japan, I would like people to experience more friendly communication! To achieve this, I think it would be good if there were technologies that enabled automatic translation in real time.
Mochida: Even if the translations aren’t in complete sentences, providing translations just on the vocabulary level would be helpful.
Imoto: I am currently on the team responsible for developing the “Kirari!” technology, which is a technology that realistically recreates information from one space, such as a sporting event, in a different location. If this technology can be realized by 2020, I think that new forms of communication can take place. For example, we are aiming to recreate images of the overall field for sporting events with comparatively narrow courts.
I have been to a live baseball game just once, and when you watch a game on television, batting averages and all kinds of other information are displayed on the TV screen in real time, so to be honest, I think it’s easier to understand the game when you watch it on television.
Also, at musical performances, the person sitting next to you may be noisy, so I think the advantage of watching such events remotely is that such information can be eliminated.
Another way of enjoying sporting events is to take a mobile terminal with you to the actual stadium and look up data as you watch the game.
If you think about it rationally, stadiums are hardly places where it is easy to watch a sporting event. I think people go to enjoy the atmosphere. I don’t really understand it myself, but you see people hi-fiving each other (laughs).
A friend of mine who is a huge baseball fan said that he likes to watch games on Niconico Live.
Like the experience of watching games at a stadium, I think there is the enjoyment of sharing the exciting atmosphere generated by running commentary and commentators with friends.
Tatsumi: People enjoy themselves differently, and the information they seek is different. At the Tokyo 2020, it would be wonderful if communications technology were able to provide information that many different kinds of people could enjoy even more than ever before.
With a view to the year 2020 and beyond, what do you think about the future of communication technologies connecting people, and what are your dreams as a technician?
I want to enter cyberspace! And I think it was be fascinating to be able to communicate within cyberspace.
Since the research I am conducting is aimed at increasing the usefulness of encryption technology in society, I would like to be able to contribute to such fields, for example, as ensuring that when using avatars in cyberspace, the avatars are actually the users themselves and not imposters.
I think that a tremendous number of dreams regarding the future of communications and other technologies have already been spoken about in movies and on television, and it is one of my goals—or rather, my dream—to be able to recreate these scenes as faithfully as possible.
However, if you ask me if I think that displaying images of people in distant locations in 3D makes people feel like they are communicating with those far-away people, I think that that is probably not the case. The sense of being together with another person in the same room—when it is possible for technology to effectively convey this sensation, I anticipate that a completely new world will be born.
Although everyone has them, I think that there are many technologies for which peaople have surprisingly little affinity. For example, my parents own smartphones, but they probably cannot download apps. In contrast, they are great friends with the robot vaccum cleaner and talk to it all the time (laughs).
I want to become a technician capable of increasing the number of technologies that people are able to use intuitively. It may be how to approach the technology or the technology itself, but I think it would be great if we could transform what communications can do into people’s convenience and enjoyment.
I am researching long-distance collaboration, and through this discussion meeting I felt that it would be great to be able to realize a system that facilitates collaboration without special equipment or environments, extracting only what is truly necessary for performing work—precisely those essential elements such as a sense of connection.
Furthermore, speed and level of completion would ultimately be improved through use of this system; for example, it would also be useful when having a meeting with the co-worker whose desk is next to yours. That is the kind of system I would like to aim for.
The discussion saw various different opinions flying around the table.
Through the technicians’ authentic voices, it again became clear that there can be many different methods for connecting people, and that people differ in the information that they seek and the forms in which they seek it. The technicians’ flexible thinking will undoubtedly give birth to new forms of communication in the future.
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