Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
@hmikitani_e

Discovering more about what the future might hold was what got together global leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators earlier this month at the New Economy Summit Tokyo. I was excited to join the event, also known as NEST, along with 3000 people also keen on doing just that.

Hosted by the Japan Association of New Economy that I helped found in 2010, this year’s annual global meeting sparked lively debate around the future of transportation, ridesharing, tourism, tech education, and the next Silicon Valley. Tech leaders from Japan, India and around the world also touched on the advancement of artificial intelligence, deep learning, and machine learning, the next phase of computing.

 

Here are some of the things I got excited about at NEST:

Andy Rubin discussing robots and AI at NEST 2016

Andy Rubin discussing robots and AI at NEST 2016

The future will embrace AI: Artificial intelligence took center stage when Andy Rubin, Android co-founder, gave a keynote discussing robots and the rise of AI. Rubin spoke convincingly about the way computing platforms evolve every decade or so and that the platform set to succeed mobile will be AI. “AI could be bigger than mobile and Internet,” he said. “If it’s really big, we are talking about the next Industrial Revolution. It’s bigger than computing and it will change the world in really, really significant ways.” Professor Kenzo Nonami, a Japanese pioneer in the application of drone technology, also weighed in with a perspective that inspired me with confidence in the future of Japan-made tech.

 

Lyft CEO Logan Green at NEST 2016

Lyft CEO Logan Green at NEST 2016

We will share rides with robots: The ride-sharing industry has taken off in many markets and both Logan Green, CEO of Lyft, and Juan de Antonio, founder and CEO of Cabify, talked about the future of ride sharing and the potential for autonomous vehicles to eventually provide this service. Naoki Suganuma, an associate professor at Kanazawa University who studies autonomous vehicles, said self-driving public transit vehicles could help fill a gap in Japan’s rural areas. He said, “Automated driving will offset the dwindling population in rural areas, and new industries will arise. By combining autonomous driving with ride-sharing, we will have many new possibilities.”

 

Author, illustrator and programmer Linda Liukas

Author, illustrator and programmer Linda Liukas

Coding can be highly creative: Many people are quick to assume that learning to program is too difficult for most people. However, Finnish programmer, educator, and author Linda Liukas spoke at NEST alongside Japanese educators about how to encourage young people, particularly girls, to get interested in programming by telling stories. She says coding is basically problem solving. Her words were inspiring to any potential programmer, “Every problem in the world will be a computer problem to some extent. Just as a physicist uses a prism and a biologist uses a pipette, a computer scientist uses programming as a tool to solve problems in the world.”

 

AgriBus-NAVI took first prize at the NEST Start Up Competition

AgriBus-NAVI took first prize at the NEST Start Up Competition

Building on the lessons of legacy technology: Another star of the event was AgriBus-NAVI, a GNSS/GPS guidance system for agricultural machinery. The developers looked at legacy auto-driving technologies for agricultural machines, which were very expensive, and replaced it with Android smartphone technology, making it inexpensive by using the power of server-side artificial intelligence, or deep learning technology. AgriBus-NAVI pitched its product at the NEST Start Up Competition and took first prize, impressing a live audience and panel of world-renowned entrepreneurs as judges. I think we will see many more cases of innovation built on legacy technologies in the very near future.

 

Combining corporate and academic brainpower: As I left NEST, I reflected on my own company and what we are doing to be part of this future. We have a great selection of resources at hand. We have Viber and its big user base. We’re hiring the best engineers from around the world. We are in a good position to develop our own technology. At the same time, we are enhancing our partnerships with outside academic institutions – universities and private organizations. We can do a lot internally, but we can do even more if we boost our efforts by combining our intelligence with other centers of research and innovation.

We are living in a truly exciting time, where science fiction and reality are converging, not just in the labs, but in daily life. I am constantly inspired by the innovations and the innovators that are changing our world and can’t wait for NEST 2017. See you there!