Progress of the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform -Part 1-
By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)
A Japanese language version of the following article from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun is a good source of information related to accessibility standards in Japan.
Setting up Platforms
It has been almost a year since the start of the Creation of Science and Technology Knowledge Platform project. This report describes how this project is making progress.
The function of the platform is for researchers and engineers to freely exchange their ideas and opinions beyond organizational boundaries. Anyone can set up a platform and collect participants. In a platform, participants can discuss specific technological issues, store associated documents in a common file space, and post information on related URLs on a board to share with others.
A participant who has the role of activating discussion is called a platform master. A platform master periodically casts new subjects to the platform, and "controls traffic" of discussions. Therefore, a platform master can be said to be the "chairperson" of a virtual study group.
Establishment of these platforms began around August of 2001. About 30 platforms were formed by the fall of the same year, when the increase in numbers slowed. However, numbers increased drastically in February of 2002, and nearly 100 platforms are working now.
One of the platforms is attracting as many as 200 participants. This platform consists of technological consultants for exchanging opinions. The total number of participants of all the platforms tops 1200, even if an individual participating in more than two platforms is counted only once. By this calculation, an average of more than ten individuals participate in a platform.
In one platform, about 40 participants have exchanged nearly 200 opinions. It is a site for information exchange on the form processing technology of plastic, rubber and metals. In another, nearly 150 participants have discussed how to ideally carry out Technology Licensing Organizations (TLOs) as well as how to advance industry-academia cooperation. In the latter site, participants are debating enthusiastically on how to establish and grow start-up companies that originated from universities. The master of this platform actually operates a TLO of a university. He himself is worried about activation of his TLO and wishes to gather ideas for the activation. The site is considered to be actively working with the platform master's need as the pulling power.
Another active platform is called Platform for Management of Highly Complex Systems. As of mid February there were about 40 participants who have made as much as 180 statements of opinions so far.
The purpose of establishing this platform is as follows:
The systems of public services such as telecommunications, electricity, and gas are facing a need of renovation. In the case of telecommunications, it is becoming a common practice to construct local area networks (LANs) to connect to the Internet. Also, operations to construct and share wireless LANs within limited areas, among others, are being tried. In the future, some expect that such ad-hoc networks represented by the above mentioned LANs will become mainstream, and will be connected directly with core optical fiber networks.
In an era when such ad-hoc networks are utilized, operating any local or mobile communications corporations may become difficult. On the other hand, however, if society still requires using telephone networks in an emergency--a large-scale earthquake, for example-- discussion will be needed on how to provide the cost of maintenance for the hardly-utilized facilities.
In electric power operation, liberalization is progressing. For example, cogeneration systems are spreading widely, and electric power companies are purchasing excess electricity from the small-scale self-operating power stations attached to factories. Such liberalization should be promoted to further energy-saving measures. However, if some users or small-scale businesses would receive electricity supply from electric power companies only when air-conditioning is necessary in the summer, social cost sharing will again become a problem.
Liberalization of telecommunications, electricity, and gas has something in common as they are all in transition from centrally controlled systems towards dispersing ones. Developments of technology push these changes from behind, and social policies are steering in the same direction as well for economic reasons. Meanwhile, a dispersion system includes the potential danger of spreading local destruction or breakdown of the whole system. In the State of California, the liberalization of electricity was limited to that of wholesale prices, and it caused an electricity crisis and social confusion. This problem can be seen as a breakdown in wholesale prices.
Managing highly complex systems with intricately dispersing technology and with more and more complicated decision-making systems in society requires solving many problems to secure social stability and profit simultaneously. Exchanging opinions between people from different fields such as engineers and social scientists are also necessary for resolution of these problems. This platform aims to clarify research themes on management of highly complex systems which natural scientists and social scientists should cooperate in studying.
When many players interact complicatedly within an industrial area, it sometimes makes the whole industry unstable. Many such examples have been pointed out during discussions in this platform. To stabilize the system as a whole, an intermediator who understands and controls the interests of the various players is essential. Sometimes, an intermediator may fail to maintain neutrality. Other times, intermediation is not realized due to inability of the intermediator. Moreover, it has been pointed out that if the understanding of an intermediator is wrong, the system itself may fail to adapt the social change. At the present state of Platform for Management of Highly Complex System, participants specify their research themes while exchanging such opinions.
To summarize, the ideas declared by the Creation of the Science and Technology Knowledge Platform project can be evaluated as having been accepted well in Japan. The fiscal year for Japan ends at the end of March. The project is due to summarize its progress as of March, 2002. By that time, it is estimated that more than 150 platforms will be established, and more than 2000 participants will be actively exchanging their opinions.