Jan 24, 2022
[Column] Enhancing Empathy for a Better Future

Special column in Hakodate Newspaper
January 24th, 2022. Noyuri Mima

 About a year ago, Hakodate newspaper published a special seven-series article on the 20th anniversary of the opening of Future University Hakodate. The articles described how the mayor, city hall, and Hakodate’s political and business circles played a central role in making a university in Hakodate on its own, the faculty members who joined the university, the distinctive name of the university, its innovative learning methods and contents, the first graduates who are active in Hakodate, and its unique building. Based on interviews with the people involved, these articles are sure to become a valuable source of information on the history of Hakodate in the future.

 In 1996 spring, I got a chance to join a project to plan a computer-major university in Hakodate from scratch. At that time, several people in their mid-thirties gathered. We thoroughly discussed what and how students should learn, focusing on society 20 years ahead. One of the topics was what kind of human power would not be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

 Since last September, I have been living on the West Coast of the US for six months as a visiting scholar at the world’s most advanced AI research institute. Silicon Valley is also nearby, and Future University graduate is active there. Her technical and financial capabilities far exceed the faculty members in the university.

 She was born and raised in Hakodate. Now she wants to contribute to the young people who will follow her and the adults in Hakodate, especially the women. So, she and I have started to make a plan together. I will announce the details when the time comes.

 Last October, I published a book titled “Living in the Age of AI” (Iwanami Junior Shinsho). The book provides multiple perspectives on utilizing AI and the arising issues to make a better society across different disciplines. Intended readers are high school students, but I hope adults who want to know what AI is and how it may change society will also read, think, and act.

 By learning about AI, including how it works, we will see the strengths of humans that are still difficult to do AI by itself. One of them is “empathy,” which humans have acquired in evolution.

 In a society where we live in harmony with AI and robots, we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, understand them, discover their problems, find peers, and solve them.

 For example, if steps are eliminated for wheelchair users, it will be more convenient for strollers and the elderly. If workplace rules for shorter working hours and parental leave can be established, it will be effective not only for women but also for men in various situations such as nursing care. So let’s not just leave it to the experts, but let’s pay attention to the people around us facing difficulties, raise our voices, and work together to design a better future. 

 I can understand why some people in Hakodate want the graduates of Future University to stay in town or go outside once but come back and put down roots in Hakodate. However, some things can only be seen and done by people like her who have gone outside the city. Collaboration with people in Hakodate is indispensable for this.

 Future University opened in 2000, so the first graduates became in their 40s. It is beyond our age when we started in university planning. Nevertheless, I am sure I am not the only one who would like to collaborate with them as a “backstage player” while entrusting the future to them.