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Knowledge-based systems in Japan.

Expert systems (ES), also called knowledge-based systems (KBS) or simply knowledge systems, are computer programs that use expertise to assist people in performing a wide variety of functions, including diganosis, planning, scheduling and design. These systems have become the most successful commercial applications of AI research, first in the U.S., and then in Europe and Asia. Thousands of systems are now in routine use worldwide, and span the full spectrum of activities in business, industry and government. Economic gain has been realized along many dimensions: speed-up of professional (and semiprofessional) work, internal cost savings on operations, return on investment, improved quality and consistency of decision making, new products and services, captured organizational know-how, improvements in the way a company does its business, crisis management, and stimulation of innovation.

The potentially large impact that knowledge systems technology can have on the economy, as well as Japan's active and well-funded programs of commercialization and research in KBS since 1982, prompted NSF and ARPA to urge the Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC) panel to study and report on the state of the art of KBS in Japan.

The primary objectives of this JTEC panel were to investigate Japanese ES development from both technological and business and trends with similar developments in the U.S. More specifically, there were five dimensions to the study:

1. Business sector applications of ES

2. Infrastructure and tools for ES development

3. Advanced KBS in industry

4. Advanced KBS research in universities

5. National projects, including: ICOT--the laboratory of the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer Project; EDR--the electronic dictionary research knowledge-based building effort; LIFE--the Laboratory for International Fuzzy Engineering.

The panel visited 19 sites during its one-week visit in Japan (March 23-27, 1992), and conferred with other Japanese computer scientists and business executives both before and after the official visits. The panel visited four major computer manufacturers, eight companies that are applying expert systems to their operations, three universities, three national projects, and the editors of Nikkei AI, a publication that conducts an annual survey of ES applications in Japan.


The panel made the following conclusions about the state of the art in Japan's KBS.

Business Sector Applications, Infrastructure and Tools

1. ES technology has now been mastered by the Japanese. Since the early-1980s, when they first entered this field, they have completely caught up with the U.S. Their best applications are equal to the best elsewhere in the world. Their use of the technology is widely spread across many business categories.

2. Computer manufacturers play a dominant role in the technology and business of ES. The Japanese have mastered and absorbed the technology as a core competence. They tend to use systems engineers rather than knowledge engineers to build systems.

Consequently, integration with conventional information technology poses no special problem for them, and is handled routinely and smoothly, without friction. These large computer companies also build many application systems for their customers; small firms play only a minor role in applications building, in contrast with the situation in the U.S.

3. Within the computer manufacturing companies, there is a close coupling between activities in the research laboratories, the system development groups, and the sales departments. The development sales groups work closely together to develop custom systems for clients, the results of which are fed back to the research lab to provide the requirements on the next generation of ES tools.

4. Viewed as a technology (rather than as a business), the field of ES is doing well in Japan, as it is in the U.S. As in the U.S., the experimentation phase is over, and the phase of mature applications is in progress. Following a normal learning curve, the number of successful deployments of ES has risen sharply, from about 5% in the early years to about 75% in recent years. Japanese appliers of the technology make electric use of AI techniques (their attitude seems to be, "try it, it might work"). Most of these techniques originated in the U.S. or Europe. As in the U.S., ES technology if often a component of a bigger system. The Japanese do not attempt to analyze payoff at the component level, but at the system level. Thus, they do not measure the return on investment of these embedded systems. However, there are many applications in which ES is the main technology.

5. Viewed as a business, the ES field did not "take off" in any exceptional way versus the U.S. or Europe. Although the overall level of activity is significant and important, there is no evidence of exponential growth. The components of the business consist of ES tools, consulting, and packaged knowledge systems. Hitachi's ES business seems the most viable. Other major players, such as Fujitsu and CSK, have not had business success.

6. With respect to tools for building KBS, the Japanese tools are similar in sophistication to those sold and used in the U.S. The techniques and methodology developed in the U.S. have been and continue to be made into products quickly.

7. Japan has more experience than the U.S. in applications of KBS technology to heavy industry, particularly the steel and construction industries.

8. Aside from a few exceptions, the Japanese and U.S. ES tool markets follow similar trends: vertical, problem-specific tools; a move towards open systems and workstations; and an emphasis on integration of these systems with other computational techniques.

9. The number of fielded applications in Japan is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000, including PC-based applications. The number of U.S. applications is probably several times that of Japan.

10. Fuzzy control systems (not counted in the tally) have had a big impact in consumer products (e.g., camcorders, automobile transmissions and cruise controls, television, air conditioners, and dozens of others).

11. We saw continued strong efforts by Japanese computer companies and industry-specific companies (e.g., Nippon Steel) to advance their KBS technology and business. This situation contrasts with that in the U.S., where we see a declining investment in KBS technology; lack of venture capital, downsizing of computer company efforts, few new product announcements. It is a familiar story, and one for concern, as this trend may lead to Japanese superiority in this area relatively soon.

KBS Research in Japan

1. A survey of three years of working papers of the Special Interest Group on KBS technology of the Japan Society for A1 shows a wide range of research topics, touching most of the subjects of current interest in the U.S.

2. The quality of research at a few top-level universities in Japan is in the same range as at top-level U.S. universities and research institutes.

3. In the remainder of the Japanese university system the quality of research is not at the same level as at first of second tier U.S. research centers.

4. The quality of research (in terms of number of projects and/or number of publications) is considerably smaller (by nearly an order of magnitude) compared to the U.S.

5. LIFE is the world leader in applying fuzzy logic concepts to classic. AI core problems.

6. The industrial laboratories appear to be doing advanced development that is tightly coupled to application or product development. The computer companies and some hightech companies are carrying out some KBS research, but most noncomputer companies do none. We saw a thin layer of excellent work at Hitachi, Toshiba, NEC, Fujitsu and NTT, and (on previous visits) also at IBM Japan and Sony. The most basic and deep work is at Hitachi's Advanced Research Laboratory, which is conducting advanced research in model-based reasoning and machine learning.

ICOT (The Laboratory of the Fifth Generation National Project)

1. Using massive parallelism, ICOT achieved its stated goal of 100 million logical instructions per second (LIPS) theoretical peak performance (actually achieving 150 million LIPS).

2. The Fifth Generation Project achieved its goal of training a new generation of computer technologists.

3. ICOT is one of only a few sites in the world that is studying massively parallel symbolic computing.

4. ICOT created the funding and motivation to spur significant interest worldwide in AI, KBS and advanced computing paradigms.

5. ICOT's logic programming research is world class, and probably the best in the world.

6. On the negative side, ICOT made little progress in the applications dimension, and has had little impact on KBS technology.

7. The choice of Prolog and logic programming, coupled with highcost research machines, isolated ICOT from industry.

EDR (Electronic Dictionary Research Laboratory)

1. EDR will likely produce a practical scale, machine usable dictionary for Japanese and English.

2. With several hundred thousand entries in their concept dictionary, the scale of EDR accomplishments is very impressive and should be taken as a model for similar research progrems elswhere.

3. A large follow-up project on very large knowledge bases may be funded, and should be closely tracked.

4. EDR has not significantly improved the underlying technology for maintaining large knowledge bases, nor significantly added to our theoretical understanding of knowledge base organization.
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Title Annotation:Japanese Technology Evaluation Center panel report on Japan's expert systems
Publication:Communications of the ACM
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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