What’s the real purpose of innovation?

Fujitsu / December 17, 2021

We are fortunate to live in an era of enormous and accelerating innovation. The technologies we take for granted today would seem unbelievable to people from even a few decades ago, let alone centuries.

But innovation is not a good thing in itself – what really matters is the purpose to which innovation is directed, and the human challenges it allows us to solve.

As the pace of technology innovation grows ever faster, and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing begin to find wide application, it is crucial that we focus on purpose. What will innovation deliver for society and humanity?

Answering these questions is core to Fujitsu’s ethos. Read on to find out more about how we are putting this into practice.

On the cutting edge of innovation

As Fujitsu’s CTO, I spend much of my time working with technology innovators across our global organization. I find their creativity and imagination truly inspiring, as they continue to push the boundaries of digital innovation, pioneering new approaches and creating new possibilities. Indeed, as a technologist myself, it’s easy to be excited by outstanding technology achievements. For example, Fugaku, developed by Fujitsu in partnership with the Riken Institute in Japan, was recently confirmed once again as the world’s fastest supercomputer.

But there’s more to it than creating world firsts, and that’s what I’d like to share with you today. There’s a difference about how and why Fujitsu pursues innovation.

Right through our proud history, our motivation has been to use technology innovation to improve people’s lives. Not just to help businesses strengthen their financial performance, or to make government departments more efficient, but to help people around the world live safer, more prosperous lives. This commitment, which extends to nurturing local communities and helping to create a more sustainable future for all, lies deep in our corporate DNA.

That’s why I’m so excited to see so-called ‘emerging technologies’, from AI to quantum-inspired computing, now starting to make a real difference in the everyday lives of people around the world. For me, this is the purpose of innovation for Fujitsu. Taking these exciting new technologies from the realms of science fiction and applying them to help people around the world to address practical challenges in innovative ways.

With this in mind, and instead of focusing on the technologies themselves, I’d like to share a few real-life examples of the differences these innovations are already making to people’s everyday lives. Because, for me, this is what makes being Fujitsu’s CTO so exciting.

Putting AI to work to solve societal and business challenges

Let’s start with the recent advances in AI. One of the challenges for AI to date has been the lack of transparency of its decision-making, leading to issues around understanding and trust. At Fujitsu, we’ve pioneered ‘explainable AI’, where the cause and effect behind AI decision-making is clear and understood.

This has enabled a new solution developed with the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo. Using explainable AI, doctors can now search for genomic information relevant to specific patient cases, removing the need for manual searching and enabling effective, tailored treatment plans to be produced in a fraction of the time previously possible. Clearly, this can make a real difference to the prognosis for cancer sufferers.

Elsewhere, climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather conditions, including tsunamis, and this is another area where AI is now delivering practical benefits. By bringing together the computational power of Fugaku with our advanced AI modelling, we’re now able to provide people with rapid, accurate tsunami simulations. This enables early warning of coastal flooding, opening up new possibilities for data-driven disaster mitigation and rapid evacuation planning.

Fujitsu’s AI solutions aren’t just helping people address serious health and climate challenges. They’re also helping to create better experiences for people shopping in our high street stores. For example, we’re helping the leading Japanese retailer Aeon to introduce real-time AI solutions that analyse in-store conditions and customer flows, enabling them to optimize store layouts, avoid congestion and provide rapid assistance to customers needing help.

Elsewhere in retail, we’re helping the Korean retailer BGF to realise their vision of personalised customer experience and unmanned stores. By combining AI with biometrics and cloud services, BGF are able to recognise individual customers, track purchases and charge customer accounts without needing any human intervention, removing the need for in-store cash tills and checkout lines. Another example of ground-breaking technology making a real difference to everyday experiences.

The impact of explainable AI is even being seen in competitive sport. For example, we’ve already combined AI with the latest 3D sensing technology to help judges provide objective, rather than subjective, measurement of individual performance in international gymnastics competitions.

The emerging power of quantum-inspired computing

Another area which sounds almost like science fiction but which is actually now delivering real, tangible benefits for people is quantum-inspired computing. Fujitsu Digital Annealer is a quantum-inspired solution that enables complex problem-solving in a fraction of the time taken by conventional techniques.

Early applications of this exciting technology include addressing complex logistics challenges, enabling large-scale organizations such as Toyota to improve the efficiency of their supply chains, helping ensure the global availability of parts and keeping their customers on the road. This approach is also helping to improve traffic flows and reduce congestion for organizations such as the Port of Hamburg, ensuring deliveries can be scheduled more accurately and efficiently than ever before.

Elsewhere, in the healthcare field, Digital Annealer is already helping to accelerate the process of new drug discovery. By harnessing the power of Digital Annealer alongside Fujitsu AI and high-performance computing solutions, the bio-venture organization Peptidream has created a practical digital platform that can rapidly analyze complex combinations of research data, simulation technology and research knowledge. This radically improves the accuracy of predictions for the efficacy of candidate compounds, and has already helped to significantly accelerate drug discovery for new and emerging diseases, including COVID-19.

The same technology is even being applied to the increasingly pressing challenge of space debris. With over 160 million objects already in orbit, there is a real risk of physical damage to the satellites we rely upon for everyday global communications services. Working with the UK Space Agency, we’re now combining AI and Digital Annealer technology to help plan minimum-time, minimum-fuel missions, so that this debris can be recovered in the most effective way possible.

It’s another great example of how these new technologies are both improving lives today and protecting our future tomorrow.

Co-creating for a brighter future

For me, the joy of being a CTO is that every day brings new challenges and exciting new possibilities. Right now, we’re in discussions with several partner organizations about how converging technologies can open up more opportunities for improving lives. We recognise that to solve complex societal challenges, technology innovators such as ourselves need to work closely with experts in the fields of both humanities and social sciences.

One example of this is our current joint research project with Carnegie Mellon University, based in Pittsburgh, USA. We’re exploring the possibilities for ‘human sensing’, developing new facial expression detection techniques to recognise human emotions, enabling AI-driven, real-time responses. The potential applications of this are extensive, from health and safety monitoring, for example of long-distance drivers, through to real-time employee engagement tools.

We’re also exploring the potential for a new generation of digital twin solutions, using exascale computers and advanced data processing technologies to reproduce complex real-world scenarios in the digital space, enabling new solutions that will improve people’s security and safety, as well as providing them with better experiences across everything from travel to retail.

While it might be early days for digital twin solutions, it’s great to see technologies such as explainable AI, quantum-inspired computing and biometrics moving out of the realm of science fiction and now delivering real value to people’s everyday lives around the world.

This is where being CTO of Fujitsu gets really exciting. Seeing the pioneering work of our brilliant technology innovators being developed into practical solutions that make a difference.

Accelerating drug discovery, speeding up the treatment of serious diseases, helping us combat environmental pressures, improving everyday lives.

It’s possibilities like these that drive us on. It’s possibilities like these that are the real purpose of innovation.

If you’d like to read more about our ground-breaking digital innovation projects, please check out the Fujitsu Technology and Service Vision 2021. Our annual glimpse into the future of human-centric innovation provides many more examples of how these exciting technologies are improving the lives of people around the world.

Vivek Mahajan
Vivek Mahajan is a global business leader as well as an innovation and technology executive with extensive experience working in number of global leading corporations including Tandem Computers, General Electric, Siebel Systems, Oracle and IBM. He joined Fujitsu in July 2021 as the Global Chief Technology Officer. His mission is to establish Fujitsu as a leading global technology company known for innovative technology leadership.

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