The Successful ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence‘;
Off to Harvard and MIT
HUMAN DISCOVERY, July 27, 2023
Shaping the Future through Learning #4
Future University Hakodate: Professor Noyuri Mima
By Kyoko Kimura
Photo: Upon becoming the Deputy Director of the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, she selected her profile picture from a collection of outfits designed by Yuki Torii.
—The notion of crafting one’s life in a ‘100-year lifespan’ era and pursuing multiple paths is common today, but she had already started this journey in the 1980s.
I got married right after university graduation in May 1984. Although I enjoyed cooking, which I excelled at, I began to feel isolated as my contact with the outside world diminished. By August, I found work at a U.S. computer company based in Tokyo. I was tasked with creating textbooks and educational videos for ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,’ a topic not broadly covered in Japan at the time. Despite their high cost, these materials sold exceptionally well. The sales were so remarkable that they astonished the U.S. headquarters, leading them to translate products from Japanese to English.
After countless nights of overtime and saving up, I received a letter from Harvard inquiring, “What will you do this year?” My original plan was to study education at Harvard Graduate School, focusing on computer use in teaching, but the lack of a scholarship compelled me to abandon that idea. After explaining my predicament to Harvard, they replied, “Please come when you have the funds.” So, I quit my job and decided to study in the U.S. alone. I was 24, and this would be my first experience living independently.
—Her intended six-month study period extended to a year, culminating in a master’s degree.
Initially, I struggled with English and felt out of place. In my elementary school days, my father had the chance to move to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. However, due to the needs of my ailing younger brother, my mother opposed the move, forcing my father to relinquish the U.S. transfer. Had I accompanied my father, I wouldn’t have faced language barriers then, or now, which is a regret.
Once I adjusted to the classes, I began attending courses at MIT’s newly established Media Lab, taking advantage of the credit transfer system. The recently constructed lab space was innovative and brimming with energy, featuring open areas and substantial use of glass.
In the U.S., it’s encouraged to be expressive, voice your opinions, and wear bright clothes. I felt liberated.
—Upon her return to Japan, she continued her research in cognitive science at the University of Tokyo Graduate School. By 1995, she transitioned into a teaching role at the university.
Soon after, an opportunity arose to establish a new university in Hakodate, Hokkaido. The initial dialogue reached Professor Heisuke Hironaka, and a team of seven, including my IBM Tokyo Research Institute-employed husband, was assembled. During our first meeting with the city, I critiqued a consultant’s proposal by asserting, “If you change the name ‘Hakodate,’ this could apply to any university in Japan.”
Under the conditions of “budget,” “open in 2000,” and “computer science-oriented university,” we sought to create a “new style of learning.” We spent weekdays exchanging late-night emails and weekends in Tokyo, deliberating from dawn till dusk.
By the university’s opening, my family had relocated to Hakodate. My husband left his job at IBM Japan to transition into a professor role.
—Around the same time, she also participated in establishing the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) in Koto, Tokyo. From 2003, she served for three years as Deputy Director under Director and astronaut Mamoru Mori, while her husband and middle-school-aged son stayed in Hakodate.
During this period, with humanoid robot ASIMO serving as a science communicator, Miraikan drew numerous international inspection teams eager to witness Japan’s advanced science and technology.
During these times of hosting significant guests, most of my wardrobe was designed by Yuki Torii. I had the chance to meet Yuki during my university days when I accompanied my mother, an avid fan, shopping. I told her, “Someday I will be able to buy your clothes myself.” Perhaps she was touched by my determination, as I’ve since been invited to her fashion shows and home parties. The network I’ve cultivated outside of education and research is a treasure in its own right.
(Editorial Board: Kyoko Kimura)