Activators Talk
ー Maximizing Individual Potential Towards an Unwired Society


Researchers who belong to the Research Institute of Advanced Technology, known as "Activators," share insights on their research, development, and work in "Activators Talk" series. This edition features Mr. Keiichi Shima, the Senior Director of the institute's strategy office, discussing efforts towards realizing the "unwired society" the institute aims for, the unique aspects of the institute as seen by Shima with his extensive achievements, and his expectations for the Activators moving forward.


Creating a 'Convenient Tomorrow' through a wide range of research from foundational technologies to software.

ーAt the Research Institute of Advanced Technology, we conduct research and development with the goal of societal implementation, under the theme of 'unwired'. Could you tell us about your specific vision?

"Unwired" translates directly to "wireless." However, the unwired society that the Research Institute of Advanced Technology aims for refers to a new world liberated not just from cables, but from all physical and geographical constraints.
For instance, the evolution and widespread adoption of web services and cloud computing have made teleworking feasible in various locations, freeing us from traditional ways of using computers. This can also be considered one realization of an unwired society.
The evolution of technology gradually introduces changes to our lives and the way we use technology. These changes may not transform our lives overnight, so people might not notice them immediately. However, compared to a decade ago, the significant changes in our environment due to digitalization are something everyone can recognize. In the future, not just computers and smartphones, but many devices will connect to the network, and the exchange of digital information will increase exponentially. Seamless information processing through AI technology will usher in an era where various digital information services are commonly used. The Research Institute of Advanced Technology is working on laying the groundwork for the unwired society of the future.

ーWhat specific initiatives are you undertaking towards the realization of an unwired society?

As a mobile communications operator, SoftBank is pushing forward with research and development in communication technology. However, achieving an unwired society requires more than that. It is crucial to focus on creating foundational infrastructure, such as computational virtualization and power infrastructure. For example, applications like AI chats require significant computational resources. We, the Research Institute of Advanced Technology, aim to deploy computational infrastructure regionally, combined with a nationwide high-speed network, to build an ideal foundation. Moreover, the recent evolution of software has been remarkable, making it possible for services that were previously limited by hardware to operate without constraints on location or equipment due to software advancements. We will continue to prioritize software research and development. Covering a broad range of fields from foundational technology to software, we are engaged in initiatives aimed at creating a more innovative and interesting "Convenient Tomorrow" than yesterday.

ーWhat are some distinctive features of the Research Institute of Advanced Technology as a research and development organization?

The Research Institute of Advanced Technology is conducting necessary research and development to realize the corporate philosophy, and is dedicated to research and development aimed at the societal implementation of new technologies, under SoftBank's corporate philosophy, "Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone." Leveraging the advantage of being one of the only four mobile communications operators in the country, we focus on research and development that is difficult to achieve in other industries.
Currently, we are reviewing projects on short spans, like three to five years, for early societal implementation. Research is unpredictable, and a lengthy research period can result in significant setbacks if it fails. Therefore, we operate projects in short cycles, collaborating with various partners, including companies and educational institutions, to quickly realize services and societal implementation.

ーWhat activities is the strategy office, to which Mr. Shima belongs, engaged in?

The Research Institute of Advanced Technology is engaged in a wide range of research and development areas, including next-generation networks beyond 5G/6G, autonomous driving, next-generation high-capacity batteries, and the stratospheric communication platform "HAPS" (High Altitude Platform Station).
From foundational technologies to social services, the common goal across all areas is the realization of the corporate philosophy. The role of the strategy office is to determine what needs to be done now, adjusting priorities and ensuring comprehensiveness. We develop strategies through discussions with department heads and Activators who are well-versed in their respective technologies.

ーWhat challenges or difficulties do you face in the activities of the strategy office?

In research and development, it's often unclear what the right answer is—a sentiment shared by all researchers, including myself. Thus, we constantly question and confirm whether our current approach is correct and if the future we aim for is the right one. Progress is hard to achieve when thinking alone. That's why I engage in discussions with talented Activators, sometimes even considering opposing viewpoints to verify our ideas. The outcome of research might not be known for years, so it's crucial to keep our direction on track without deviating from the correct path. It's challenging but rewarding.

A place where we can aim for the societal implementation of technology with the support of the Business Planning Department.

ーCould you tell us about your career before joining SoftBank in 2022?

After graduating from university, I worked in research and development of what we now call information appliances for about five years at an electronics manufacturer. I then moved to an internet communication company, where I worked on research, development, and implementation of Internet protocols. I also participated in the "IETF," a voluntary organization promoting the standardization of internet technologies, where I was involved in technical specifications discussions and proposals.

ーHave you encountered anything surprising since joining the Research Institute of Advanced Technology?

The first thing that surprised me was the abundance of people with a rich diversity of talents. Not just researchers, but also individuals with extensive experience in service operations and fieldwork. For those only familiar with the confines of a laboratory, the knowledge and experience of these individuals are invaluable. Additionally, there has been an increase in new members who have gained foundational research experience in graduate school. Their rapid start and contribution of knowledge and experience are also energizing the organization.

ーDo you also receive inspiration from those members?

Certainly, I receive a lot of inspiration every day. I'm interested in everything that the Activators are doing and would love to hear more. However, due to my managerial duties, it's difficult to allocate enough time. Still, I try to participate in meetings as much as possible to deepen my understanding.

ーFrom your perspective overseeing the entire organization, what kind of place is the Research Institute of Advanced Technology?

That's a rather difficult question... While not limited to the Research Institute of Advanced Technology, I believe it's a place where "if you follow through with what you want to do, you can make it happen." There are various hurdles to overcome, but many people in senior positions have an engineering background, so it's often possible to gain empathy and understanding for the necessity of our work. Of course, as a company, it's not just about technology development but also about creating new values. In this regard, the Research Institute of Advanced Technology has a strong ally in the Business Planning Department, which acts as a support team for commercializing services and advancing societal implementation. They offer business perspectives and methods for widespread adoption that we, as engineers, might not consider. Being able to conduct research and development with this kind of support is incredibly reassuring.

ーAs the Senior Director, do you have any thoughts or expectations for the Activators?

I find that Activators tend to have strong character (laughs). You could say they are quite distinctive, but this is an important trait for researchers and engineers. They can focus on their specialized fields or themes with exceptional concentration and have the ability to scrutinize matters closely. On the other hand, there are times when peripheral matters may occasionally be overlooked, so it would be beneficial to consciously make an effort to broaden one's perspective on a regular basis.
For instance, when making a proposal, it's common to bring only what one believes is the best solution. However, during the thought process, various options would have been considered. Instead of dismissing all the options that were not selected as zero possibility, including those with potential in the proposal can provide alternatives like Plan B or Plan C if the best option falls through. Enhancing flexibility in this way can lead to better outcomes.

ーAre there any considerations you keep in mind when communicating with the Activators?

In any situation, when I receive an explanation from Activators, I always make sure to leave a comment. It's simply disheartening when there's no response when you make a statement, isn't it? (laughs). Of course, this is also for the purpose of verifying whether there might be a better plan or if other options were considered. I try to choose my words carefully to ensure that my comments don't dishearten them but instead, as much as possible, boost their motivation. It's quite challenging, though.

Engaging in activities as Activators that allow us to proudly say “we created the next future.”

ー“What values do you share at the Research Institute of Advanced Technology in advancing the strategy towards realizing an unwired society?

Research and development involve creating things that have never existed before. Researchers themselves certainly understand the value of their work, but it is often not understood by others.
Especially challenging is getting people to understand the value of technologies that will become necessary in the future, at the present moment. Despite these difficulties, I hope that researchers continue to assert what they believe is correct and valuable while advancing their research and development. Often, research and development cannot be achieved by a single individual, and sometimes, it may be challenging even with the resources of the entire company. In such cases, it's ideal to seek the cooperation of reliable colleagues, other companies, and educational institutions as partners in research and development. While other companies may be competitors, the desire to improve society is the same. I believe it's necessary for the betterment of society to join hands and collaborate as needed.

ーWhat is needed now for the Research Institute of Advanced Technology to leap further?

I am considering increasing the number of Activators and expanding the scale of the Research Institute of Advanced Technology. As the saying goes, "numbers equate to strength"; having more resources allows for more possibilities. There may have been research and development projects that could have retained a higher priority if we had more people in the strategy office. I would like to reduce such missed opportunities.
Moreover, fully aware of the busyness, I want to emphasize to the Activators not to give up on engaging in activities they find enjoyable and to continue them. The Research Institute of Advanced Technology has a system in place to support preliminary research that may not yield immediate results but has the potential to bloom in the future. I encourage making the most of this system, as it not only promises to bring significant value to the company in the long run but also contributes to personal technological advancement. I sincerely hope everyone will take the opportunity to tackle various challenges.

ーWhat benefits will the realization of an unwired society bring?

In an unwired society, all people and objects across the world will be connected through an information network, with necessary information processed in the appropriate form and swiftly delivered to those who need it. Furthermore, it will become commonplace for not only humans but also robots and autonomous vehicles equipped with AI to autonomously utilize information. As a result, I believe an ideal information society will be realized where everyone, regardless of their level of knowledge or technical skills, including the elderly and foreigners, can enjoy quality digital services.
Many researchers and engineers have been fans of science fiction novels since their youth, witnessing the "future technologies" described in those old sci-fi novels become reality one after another. The imagination of sci-fi authors who conceived of "future technologies" without any existing elemental technologies is truly admirable. We aspire to emulate that level of creativity.

ーWhat is an indispensable element for Activators?

It's about always having a sense of problem awareness. I believe it is important to live life constantly questioning, "Is there something that can be improved?" If we start to believe that the world we live in is perfect as it is, technological development will cease. I think many Activators inherently have this problem awareness, but maintaining interest beyond their specialized areas and sharing discovered issues among members can lead to further development.

ーPlease share your enthusiasm as one of the Activators towards the realization of an unwired society.

About 35 years ago, when I was a college student researching the Internet, the Internet Protocol began to spread. I vividly remember being moved when I accessed what we would now call bulletin boards from the university's computer and came into contact with academic information from around the world. Since then, the evolution of communication technology and devices has led to an exponential increase in both the amount and diversity of information. Now, we live in an era where everyone uses smartphones to access information from all over the world. Going forward, we will likely see a world where information is exchanged using devices that surpass smartphones. The Research Institute of Advanced Technology and SoftBank aspire to handle innovative technologies that represent the first step towards the future. With this aspiration in my heart, I want to continue working diligently with the Activators at the Research Institute of Advanced Technology.

Column: The Ideal Activators

ーAs catalysts driving society forward, the Activators are engaged in research and development that propels the world ahead. What does Mr. Shima envision as the ideal embodiment of an Activator?

That will be, “An engineer who can claim that their technology has transformed the world.” Being able to commercialize technology that one has developed is one of the pleasures of working at the Research Institute of Advanced Technology. I hope Activators leverage this environmental advantage to engage in activities that allow them to proudly say, 'I have created the next future.' Given the excellence of the Activators, I have every expectation they will achieve this.

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