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【Yohei Yamamoto】
Ricoh Co., Ltd.
Leader, Network Appliance Division

Born in 1975 in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Completed a masters program at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in 2000 and immediately joined Ricoh. Since then, he has been actively involved in Web related technologies. In recent years was responsible for developing advanced firmware and cloud infrastructure engineering for Ricoh’s video conferencing/Web conferencing system, RICOH Unified Communication system. In 2005 he learned about REST programming technology, and has advocated its use through blogging, primarily, as well as writing magazine articles, supervising translations, and giving lectures. He is also the author of “Technology that Supports the Web” (Gijutsu-Hyohron Co., Ltd.)

【Hideaki Sena】
Sci-fi writer

Born in 1968 in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Resident of Miyagi Prefecture. In 1995, won the Japan Horror Novel award for “Parasite Eve,” which he wrote as a graduate student at the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tohoku University. In 1998, he won the Nihon SF Taishō Award (Japan SF Grand Prize) for his novel “BRAIN VALLEY.” He has also written many other stories related to robots, such as the collection of short stores, titled “Haru (formerly: Tomorrow’s Robot)” and the anthology, “Robot Opera.” From 2006 to 2009, worked as Project Professor for Machines at Tohoku University. His favorite robot is Doraemon. In recent years, he earned a light aircraft pilot’s license.

What kind of world will there be in 2036?

Yamamoto: In 2036, I'll be about 60 years old. Retirement age!
Sena: Not so fast. At that time, regenerative medicine will be possible through iPS cells, and 60 could be considered still very young! If so, we might be able to be in the pink to an average age of 90.
Yamamoto: Then the population pyramid will be completely inverted. If nothing is done, it looks like it might topple over. And the office will be filled with elderly people.
Sena: To be sure, there is the question of what they will do to make money. However, it may be possible to treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. And many more people may get injections of skin cells, making it impossible to tell how old they are.
Yamamoto: Leiji Matsumoto’s comic “The Galaxy Express 999” recalled a world in which some people had an infinite lifespan. I think that, by 2036, everyone will be working remotely, and many of the jobs that we have today will disappear. But, I hope writers will still be around...

Analog technology might be the new cutting edge

Sena: Recently, AI researchers are trying to get computers to write short stories similar to those by famous novelists. By that time, it might be possible for AI to win big literary awards [laughs]. Now that we’re talking about the future, I asked several of my acquaintances what the office environment was like in 1936 when Ricoh was founded. It seems that the basic necessities have not changed. The Internet is about the only thing that is different.
Yamamoto: I thought so too, but maybe the real, analog parts are the cutting edge of office technology. Advanced digital systems are running on the backs of that.
Sena: Analog as the cutting edge technology is an interesting idea. People want to write letters using the best pens, writing on a nice writing pad, by hand. [Laughs]
Yamamoto: A human touch will be important in any age.

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Humanoid robots are not fully developed yet

Yamamoto: By the way, I did research on robots when I was in college. So, I was very interested in the subject, but there are several in your work.
Sena: Hmm... I don't think there will be any lifelike humanoid robots--indistinguishable from humans--by 2036, but they will definitely be a necessary part of our daily lives.
Yamamoto: I'm particularly interested in facilitation robots. When humans try to communicate directly among themselves, there are negative outcomes due to differences in position or emotion. Robots could intervene there and smooth things over.
Sena: Indeed. Modern humans sometimes even fear direct communication. By the way, did you know that there are two ways to feel what other people are feeling? You can sympathize or empathize. There is sympathy, where a person feels the emotions of others as if they were his own, and thus shares the same condition. Then, there is empathy, where a person understands the emotions of another, and actively considers what the other person will need in the future and provide the necessary support. I’d like the robot to be able to distinguish between the two and use them accordingly.

Similar, but not entirely the same;“sympathy” and “empathy”

Yamamoto: We live in an age where manmade objects like the Vocaloid are being used in live performances and are evoking sympathy in humans. On the other hand, people with high empathy are somehow perceived as cold.
Sena: Balance is important. When the earthquake hit, people not directly affected who were watching the news experienced sympathy, and were actually dispirited I think. At the same time, the Japan Self-Defense Forces and emergency workers dispatched to the area experienced empathy, thinking “what can I do for these people?” before taking action.
Yamamoto: That example hits close to home.
Sena: I think that, even in business, there are times when sympathy is important, and other times when we must not get carried away by emotion, when we need to have clear judgment. In those instances, empathy is called for.

Even though we are supposed to live in a three dimensional world...

Sena: I have something that I definitely want Ricoh to create.
Yamamoto: You get right to the point [laughs]. Okay, what’s that?
Sena: Actually, I have a pilot’s license, and each time I fly I get this strong feeling that, even though we exist in a three dimensional world, we are very often living only in two. So, I want you to bring back a three-dimensional atmosphere to the office of the future.
Yamamoto: That’s true. All animals on Earth, including humans, are designed to move laterally to accommodate gravity, in most cases.
Sena: When I wrote the book Doraemon: Nobita and the Steel Troops, the theme was a mirror world. I discussed how the “one-eyed robot” that started to attack the Earth from space will perceive its own-mirrored image eventually, with Tomomichi Sugihara, associate professor at Osaka University. The topic of X, Y, and Z axes came up. That’s why I had the thought now that, when the discussion gets mired down, we might introduce a three-dimensional “tremor” in our secure sense of gravity in order to stimulate new ideas?
Yamamoto: You can see in these illustrations as well that things like pencils and pens were plucked out of thin air. In other words, three-dimensional elements are used specifically. [laughs]

Anyone can use a copy machine

Sena: What do you do here at Ricoh?
Yamamoto: My primary job is research and development of video conferencing systems, particularly all the software used in the system.
Sena: Is that so? But, we have things like Skype and movie sharing sites that anyone can use. Does your system do something different from these services?
Yamamoto: Use of simple video conferencing systems like those has become widespread, but some people are stymied by the initial set-up process. That’s why we are developing a system that you simply place on your desk, press the button three times, and talk. Anyone can use it. It’s exactly like a copier: press the button and go.
Sena: I see. That’s Ricoh’s corporate culture.

On June 27, 2013. Hideaki Sena and Ricoh’s engineer Yohei Yamamoto who has made noteworthy contributions to the company had a one-on-one conversation at the Ricoh R&D Center. The conversation extended deeper into the subject of the workplace in 2036. They covered a wide range of topics, from the Doraemon animation character to iPS stem cells. What new ideas were sparked and burned intensely?

Hideaki Sena
Sci-fi writer
Yohei Yamamoto
Leader, Network Appliance Division

It would be nice to have a certain amount of ambient noise in the workplace in 2036

In the urban office buildings of today, everything is standardized, so much so that sometimes you are not sure which floor you are on.
On top of that, buildings are virtually sealed, preventing any outside noise from coming in. I think that stifles creativity.
The office of 2036 should provide some sort of stimulus to inspire our creativity.
Of course, the user should control this,
but it would be nice if there were some naturally produced environmental noise or seeming distraction.

* The text on this page was created by Ricoh based on an interview with Hideaki Sena.

Robot “butt ins” change
optimal work environments
and better human relations
Its body is one whole building and acts as a human interface. People can give orders conversationally to adjust its environment, and it could act as the moderator at meetings or other events. When necessary, it could interject well-timed comments, and contribute to smoother human interaction.
Add a three-dimensional
aspect in the office to
stimulate creativity!?
Sometimes we want vertical motion in the office, don’t you think? For example, if you were on the upper floors of a skyscraper, the interior could change to reflect that, or a pen could fly down from the ceiling when you need one. That kind of playful performance would certainly stimulate creativity.
A cleaning robot acting
ruthlessly and occasionally
In 2036, maybe humanoid robots would be good for simple activities such as cleaning. But it would be interesting if they had some function that made people help out with the cleaning as well. For example, the robots would scold you harshly when you made a mess.
All data such as sentences
from a book and
conversations is “tagged”
I don’t think that paper documents or books will disappear. Instead, it would be nice if buildings were equipped with the ability to store them in an instant and to recall any data you want immediately. It would be helpful if all conversations and ideas were tagged as well.