The Round Space Encourages Dialogue;
Launching a New Project on AI Learning
HUMAN DISCOVERY, July 28, 2023
Shaping the Future through Learning #5
Future University Hakodate: Professor Noyuri Mima
By Kyoko Kimura
Photo: Ms. Mima (second from right) engaged in discussion with students and graduates about the AI education project.
—The building of the Future University Hakodate, designed by award-winning architect Riken Yamamoto, is marked by a vast five-story space, its rooms entirely made of transparent glass.
“Open Space, Open Mind” is the university’s motto. When we actually designed a space dedicated to learning, it seemed to open people’s minds as well. There’s a transformative power in space that can influence people’s thinking. The circular area on the first floor, which we call the “Presentation Bay,” resembles the Roman Colosseum. Originally, the design had a clear front and back, but we revised it.
By eliminating upper and lower seating, we designed the space to downplay hierarchies. Both presenter and listener are on an equal footing, fostering an environment where everyone can engage equally.
—More than 20 years have passed since the university’s opening, and she has grasped the difficulty of maintaining the “change” they insisted upon when founding the institution.
In 2022, I campaigned for the position of university president. I had spent the previous year as a visiting researcher at the Center for Human-Compatible AI at the University of California, Berkeley. I returned to Japan and immediately entered the race.
The university had increasingly taken on a corporate vibe and was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I was concerned about the diminishing agility in championing the change that had been our selling point. Under the rallying cry of “Cultivating the FUN (Future University abbreviation) mindset,” I prepared detailed performance reports and a manifesto. However, among the four candidates, I finished last. The two male vice presidents of the time were left for the final vote.
Despite this, I did manage to share our original philosophy and the FUN mindset with newly appointed faculty and staff, which proved a valuable experience. In response to the expectations of the students, faculty, and staff who sought a “future” at the university and the local supporters, I initiated a new project.
It’s a student collaborative project called “aiEDU JAPAN,” offering free learning materials to enhance AI literacy.
The U.S. non-profit “aiEDU” creates AI-related learning materials for junior and senior high school students and conducts workshops for educators.
For instance, one topic prompts students to consider “how to judge whether algae grown using AI-predicted optimal harvest times can replace oil and natural gas,” based on recent research.
In collaboration with my research lab, students, and graduates from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Tokyo University of Science, we aim to introduce this in Japan. If realized, it could help reduce educational and economic disparities, providing upskilling opportunities for adults, or what I term “manabitashi.”
As AI permeates work and everyday life, it’s necessary not only to understand its principles but also to critically evaluate and question its design and implementation.
—Her husband, Yoshiaki, two years her senior, has taken early retirement, and his role at the university has diminished.
Yoshiaki, instrumental in the university’s founding, was appointed in June as the “CDO Assistant” to support the town mayor, who is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), in Kikonai, Hokkaido. He has embarked on this new role. Although only a month into his appointment, he has begun to adapt to an environment differing from his past experiences at the university.
Lately, I’ve been delivering more lectures at girls’ schools and women’s universities. Though I left my girls’ school because I felt out of place, I’ve realized that in an all-girl environment, free from male scrutiny, one can take initiative and pursue STEM subjects to one’s heart’s content. It’s hard to predict which experiences will prove useful later in life.
〼End of the series
(Editorial Board: Kyoko Kimura)