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MINISTRY OF LAND, INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, AND TOURISM

Diet1EXPRESSWAYS TO GET NUMBERING SYSTEM TO ASSIST NON-JAPANESE DRIVERS

In early April, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism organized the first conference to discuss the adoption of a new numbering system for the nation’s expressways. The main intention is to simplify the marking system to make it more easily understood by non-Japanese drivers. A report containing the panel’s recommendations is expected by summer, and any changes will be progressively introduced into highway signs, maps, and vehicle navigation software.

At the first meeting, the ministry was said to be considering a comprehensive system that would extend beyond major expressways to roads that link airports and seaports to the highway network. At future meetings, the panel will consider standards for highway number designation and the design of signage.

The relative speed with which the panel has moved, taking only several months, is said to reflect the exponential rise in inbound tourists. Many repeat visitors are said to prefer driving to destinations on their own. According to ministry data, the number of visitors utilizing car rental agencies roughly doubled between 2011 (179,000 rentals) and 2013 (345,000 rentals). It can be assumed the figures have continued to climb.

The setting of guidelines is seen as a complicated task. In the US, for example, highways going from east to west and north to south have adopted even and odd numbers, respectively. But the more one seeks a system that is easy for visitors, the more it is likely to clash with names and practices familiar to domestic drivers.

Hearings are also planned to question various individuals, but time is running out. We anticipate that the rush to meet the deadline may result in complications.

MINISTRY OF GENERAL AFFAIRS AND COMMUNICATIONS

PROMOTION OF COLLABORATIVE AI RESEARCH

The recent victory by Google’s AlphaGo program over a Go master and the growing adoption of IBM’s Watson cognitive system by financial organizations have focused interest in the practical utility of artificial intelligence (AI).

Up to now, various agencies as well as three ministries—the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)—have engaged separately in AI research and development under their respective budgets.

AI in Japan is regarded as being considerably behind that of Europe and the US—and the growing gap has begun setting off alarm bells.

Under a new plan, the three aforementioned ministries will collaborate at all stages, from application research to the establishment of businesses, and a joint research body employing foreign staff will be set up in Silicon Valley. The overall objective is to bring together business, academia, and government on AI-related matters.

At the fifth meeting of the Public-Private Dialogue held on April 12, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked that, within the current fiscal year, “we will establish research and development goals, and a roadmap for the industrialization of artificial intelligence. To that end, we will gather the wisdom of industry, academia, and government, and create the Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy Council.”

Within fiscal 2016, the annual budgets of the three ministries will be increased to ¥10 billion, with measures taken to avoid overlapping research and ensure optimum efficacy. The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, which opened a center for AI research in May 2015, will share its research results and related data, hopefully expediting joint research activities. Emphasis will be placed on the nurturing of data scientists and creation of a framework for the recruitment of top-notch researchers and engineers from abroad.

A senior official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was heard to remark, “Without concerted outlays and more human resources, it will be impossible to catch up with Europe and the US.”

Keizaikai magazine
The main intention is to simplify the marking system to make it more easily understood by non-Japanese drivers.