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TALK 3/3

The seeds of the great discoveries of the future are inside "noise that is not noise": MITSUO ISO

January 21, 2015

This is a conversation with animator and screenwriter Mitsuo Iso about the way people will work in the future, conducted by Ricoh researcher Kenichiro Saisho (Part 3 of 3). In this, our final installment, we start from the concept of "noise," and our expectations and fantasies expand to the future of communication and the fates of Japanese manufacturers.

Is what we now call "noise" truly noise?

  • Iso

    Recently, it has become more common to draw pictures on computers without using paper. If there's one thing that I think is missing, it's the texture of paper. When you draw on paper, you receive different feedback from the paper based on your pencil pressure, the grain of the paper, and the hardness of the pencil. You start to understand how surprisingly important that sort of physical feedback is when drawing pictures.

  • Saisho

    Perhaps that's because the texture of the paper and the way that it catches your pencil is a kind of noise. Unlike with vision, you get a new kind of sensory noise from touch. I've heard it said in the neuroscience world that noise is required for humans to suddenly think up new things. In fact, through my own work, I've come to think that incorporating this type of noise will extend human intelligence.

  • Iso

    I don't really like the term "noise." When you hear it, you think of unnecessary, annoying sounds, but I think noise includes something that shouldn't be discarded.

  • Saisho

    I agree. For instance, let's say that we add to our head-up displays (HUDs) the noise that consists of you being able to see the view outside the vehicle behind the HUD. Without that extra element, we'd probably miss out on mental associations and behaviors that weren't possible with previous opaque interfaces. I don't think we even have a name for that kind of noise yet.

  • Iso

    We haven't discovered the right concepts or meanings, so we just treat it all as noise. But there is surely information hiding among that noise that no human has ever thought of. I think the paper we talked about just now was like that: It gave you crucial information that came through your body. It'd be great if we had a machine or tool that would allow us to discover the "noise that is not noise," wouldn't it?

  • Saisho

    Certainly, it would be nice if there were some sort of machine with which you could freely sift through the noise. By the way, Mr. Iso, what kind of noise do you want to discover with a tool?

  • Iso

    I draw pictures, so I'm very interested in physical information that you feel through your body. I think that there is a vast trove of non-verbal information lying dormant in our bodies and brains that is waiting to be unearthed. I'd like it if there were a HUD that would display your own true intentions and your abilities—that you have no knowledge of yourself—externally.

  • Saisho

    I think it's possible that there might something like that. (Laughs) The original purpose of automobile HUDs was as a tool for cleverly compressing the countless pieces of data that must be paid attention to and serving them in bite-sized pieces to drivers whose cognitive abilities are impaired because they are driving. I think if you had a tool that let you display the noise collected from all the attendees at a meeting, you might be able to change people's behavior.

  • Iso

    Automobile HUDs warn you so that you don't get into accidents, but if you took the same system and brought it into a meeting, unmodified, it might give you a warning such as, "If you continue on this course, you might collide with that person's opinion!" (Laughs)

  • Saisho

    Looking at the information on the HUD, perhaps it would say something such as, "Today Mr. Iso is looking a little under the weather, so keep the meeting short." (Laughs) I guess we'll be able to see information at a glance that usually we can't sense unless we're right next to it.

Japanese manufacturers will change that which is hidden between the lines into tangible things and experiences

  • Iso

    I wish there were an app that would automatically sift through noise to sort it into the information that you need and that you don't need. In Japanese anime, it's typical to express things in a limited way. By limiting the amount of information, we create refined moving images that stimulate your imagination. It'd be nice if HUDs used those kinds of limited techniques.

  • Saisho

    That research has already begun, so that HUDs can have the informational intelligence that is essential if they are to be able to say to themselves, "At this juncture, this information must be displayed," and to provide humans with that information when they need to assess the situation. Lately, I've been wondering if it's the Japanese who are the people most sensitive to this noise.

  • Iso

    This idea of limited is also about what's "between the lines," isn't it? The Japanese are a people who always try to look for the meaning between the lines.

  • Saisho

    We couldn't stand it if we couldn't find that meaning. (Laughs) I think Japanese people are constantly perceiving the spaces in between the lines, the things that should be subtracted, and the "unseeable." There's an anecdote about Natsume Soseki translating the English sentence "I love you" into Japanese to read, "Isn't the moon pretty?"

  • Iso

    Come to think of it, head-mounted displays (HMDs) are a kind of middleware located in the lines between people and machines. HMD interfaces might discover something, or ideas that nobody has thought of before, in the space in between the lines of machines and humans.

  • Saisho

    It seems that only the Japanese are able to picture that hazy something and turn it into a tangible thing or into an experience. I definitely would like Japanese manufacturers to do that. How to embody that which we now call the space in between the lines—I think that is another part of our jobs.

  • Iso

    Perhaps in 2036, that something will have a name and will have appeared in the office. I would really like to see Ricoh—already one of the leaders that have changed the office landscape—be the one to achieve that feat.


  • Mitsuo Iso

    Mitsuo IsoAnimator/screenwriter

    Born in 1966 in Aichi Prefecture. The anime Dennō Coil, which he created and directed, won multiple awards, including the 29th Nihon SF Taisho Award (conferred by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan) and the Excellence Award in the Animation Division of the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival (held by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs). Iso has also worked on such cinematic masterpieces as Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Kill Bill.

  • Kenichiro Saisho

    Kenichiro SaishoVision Module Development Section, Product Development Department, Photonics Research & Development Center

    Born in 1979 in Kumamoto Prefecture. In 2004, after completing postgraduate studies at Osaka University, he joined Ricoh. Since then, he has been involved in optical design for laser scanning units used in multifunction printers and other devices. He is in charge of research and development for new HMI systems, including head-up displays (HUDs).

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