KNOWLEDGE-BASED SYSTEMS IN JAPAN
Edward Feigenbaum, Stanford University (Panel Chair)
Robert S. Engelmore, Stanford University (Report Editor)
Peter E. Friedland, NASA Ames Research Center
Bruce B. Johnson, Andersen Consulting
H. Penny Nii, Stanford University
Herbert Schorr, University of Southern California
Howard Shrobe, MIT
This report summarizes a study of the state-of-the-art in
knowledge-based systems technology in Japan, organized by the Japanese
Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC) under the sponsorship of the
National Science Foundation and the Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The panel visited 19 Japanese sites in March 1992. Based on these site
visits plus other interactions with Japanese organizations, both before
and after the site visits, the panel prepared a draft final report.
JTEC sent the draft to the host organizations for their review. The
final report was published in May 1993, and is available from the
National Technical Information Service as NTIS Report PB93-170124 (see
inside back cover for ordering information). A more extensive summary
of the panel's findings is being prepared for publication in AI
RATIONALE, OBJECTIVES AND DESIGN OF THE STUDY
Expert Systems (ES), also called Knowledge-Based Systems (KBS) or
simply Knowledge Systems, are computer programs that use expertise to
assist people in performing a wide variety of functions, including
diagnosis, planning, scheduling and design. These systems have become
the most successful commercial applications of Artificial Intelligence
(AI) research, first in the United States, and then in Europe and Asia.
Thousands of systems are now in routine use world-wide, and span the
full spectrum of activities in business, industry and government.
Economic gain has been realized along many dimensions: speed-up of
professional (and semi-professional) work; cost savings on operations;
return on investment; improved quality and consistency of decision
making; new products and services; captured organizational know-how;
improvements in the way a company does its business; crisis management;
and stimulation of innovation.
Because of the potentially large impact that knowledge systems
technology can have on the economy, and because Japan has had active
and well-funded research and commercialization activities in KBS since
1982, the National Science Foundation and the Advanced Research
Projects Agency requested that a study be conducted of the
state-of-the-art of knowledge-based systems in Japan.
The primary objectives of this JTEC panel were to investigate
Japanese expert systems development from both technological and
business perspectives and to compare progress and trends with similar
developments in the United States More specifically, there were five
dimensions to the study:
- Business sector applications of expert systems
- Infrastructure and tools for expert system development
- Advanced knowledge-based systems in industry
- Advanced knowledge-based systems research in universities
- National projects, including:
- ICOT - the laboratory of the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer
- EDR - the electronic dictionary research knowledge-base building
- LIFE - the Laboratory for International Fuzzy Engineering.
The panel conferred with Japanese computer scientists and business
executives both before and after the official visits of March 1992. The
19 sites visited included four major computer manufacturers, eight
companies that are applying expert systems to their operations, three
universities, three national projects, and the editors of Nikkei
AI, a publication that conducts an annual survey of expert
systems applications in Japan.
The panel reached the following conclusions about the
state-of-the-art in knowledge-based systems in Japan.
Business Sector Applications, Infrastructure and Tools
On the basis of our site visits, plus additional data gathered by
Nikkei AI, we can draw a number of conclusions about the
state of the art of expert system applications within the business
sector in Japan.
- The technology of expert systems has now been mastered by the
Japanese. Since the early 1980s, when they first entered this field,
they have completely caught up with the United States. Their best
applications are equal to the best elsewhere in the world. Their use of
the technology is widely spread across many business categories.
- Computer manufacturers play a dominant role in the technology and
business of expert systems. The Japanese have mastered and absorbed
expert system technology as a core competence. They tend to use systems
engineers rather than knowledge engineers to build systems.
Consequently, integration with conventional information technology
poses no special problem for them, and is handled routinely and
smoothly, without friction. These large computer companies also build
many application systems for their customers; small firms play only a
minor role in applications building, in contrast with the situation in
the United States.
- Within the computer manufacturing companies, there is a close
coupling between activities in the research laboratories, the system
development groups, and the sales departments. The development and
sales groups work closely together to develop custom systems for
clients, the results of which are fed back to the research lab to
provide the requirements on the next generation of ES tools.
- Viewed as a technology (rather than as a business), the field of
expert systems is doing well in Japan, as it is in the United States.
As in the United States, the experimentation phase is over, and the
phase of mature applications is in progress. Following a normal
learning curve, the number of successful deployments of expert systems
has risen sharply, from about 5% in the early years to about 75% in
recent years. Japanese appliers of the technology make eclectic use of
AI techniques (their attitude seems to be, "Try it, it might work.").
Most of these techniques originated in the United States or Europe. As
in the United States, expert systems technology is often a component of
a bigger system. The Japanese do not attempt to analyze payoff at the
component level, but at the system level. Thus they do not measure the
return on investment of these embedded expert systems. However, there
are many applications in which the expert system is the main
- Viewed as a business, the expert systems field did not "take off"
in any exceptional way versus the United States or Europe. Although the
overall level of activity is significant and important, there is no
evidence of exponential growth. The components of the business consist
of expert system tools, consulting, and packaged knowledge systems.
Hitachi's expert system business seems the most viable. Other major
players, such as Fujitsu and CSK, have not had business success.
- With respect to tools for building knowledge-based systems, the
Japanese tools are similar in sophistication to those sold and used in
the United States. The techniques and methodology developed in the
United States have been and continue to be made into products
- Japan has more experience than the United States in applications of
KBS technology to heavy industry, particularly the steel and
- Aside from a few exceptions, the Japanese and U.S. ES tool markets
follow similar trends: vertical, problem-specific tools; a move towards
open systems and workstations; and an emphasis on integration of expert
systems with other computational techniques.
- The number of fielded applications in Japan is somewhere between
1000 and 2000, including PC-based applications. The number of U.S.
applications is probably several times that of Japan.
- Fuzzy control systems (not counted in the above tally) have had a
big impact in consumer products (e.g., camcorders, automobile
transmissions and cruise controls, television, air conditioners, and
dozens of others).
- We saw continued strong efforts by Japanese computer companies and
industry-specific companies (e.g., Nippon Steel) to advance their KBS
technology and business. This situation contrasts with that in the
United States, where we see a declining investment in knowledge-based
systems technology: lack of venture capital, downsizing of computer
company efforts, few new product announcements. It is a familiar story,
and one for concern, as this trend may lead to Japanese superiority in
this area relatively soon.
Knowledge-Based Systems Research in Japan
- A survey of three years of working papers of the Special Interest
Group on Knowledge-Based Systems of the Japan Society for AI shows a
wide range of research topics, touching most of the subjects of current
interest in the United States.
- The quality of research at a few top-level universities in Japan is
in the same range as at top-level U.S. universities and research
- In the remainder of the Japanese university system the quality of
research is not at the same level as at first or second tier U.S.
- The quantity of research (in terms of number of projects and/or
number of publications) is considerably smaller (by nearly an order of
magnitude) compared to the United States.
- LIFE is the world leader in applying fuzzy logic concepts to
classic AI core problems.
- The industrial laboratories appear to be doing advanced development
that is tightly coupled to application or product development. The
computer companies and some high-tech companies are carrying out some
knowledge-based systems research, but most non-computer companies do
none. We saw, essentially, a thin layer of excellent work at Hitachi,
Toshiba, NEC, Fujitsu and NTT, and (on previous visits) also at IBM
Japan and Sony. The most basic and deep work is at Hitachi's Advanced
Research Laboratory, which is conducting advanced research in
model-based reasoning and machine learning.
- Using massive parallelism, ICOT appears about to achieve its stated
goal of 100 million logical instructions per second (LIPS) theoretical
- The Fifth Generation Project achieved its goal of training a new
generation of computer technologists.
- ICOT is one of only a few sites in the world that is studying
massively parallel symbolic computing.
- ICOT created the funding and motivation to spur significant
interest worldwide in AI, KBS and advanced computing paradigms.
- ICOT's logic programming research is world class, and probably the
best in the world.
- On the negative side, ICOT made little progress in the applications
dimension, and has had little impact on knowledge-based systems
- The choice of Prolog and logic programming, coupled with high-cost
research machines, isolated ICOT from industry.
- EDR will likely produce a practical scale, machine usable
dictionary for Japanese and English.
- With several hundred thousand entries in their concept dictionary,
the scale of EDR accomplishments is very impressive and should be taken
as a model for similar research programs elsewhere.
- A follow-up project, the Knowledge Archives project, may be funded,
and should be closely tracked.
- EDR has not significantly improved the underlying technology for
maintaining large knowledge bases, nor significantly added to our
theoretical understanding of knowledge base organization.
Comparisons with the United States
A comparison of expert systems activities in Japan and the United
States, drawn from the above conclusions, is presented in the following
Comparison of Applications of Expert Systems
in the United States and Japan
* Japan trend is constant or gaining
Comparison of Knowledge-Based Research
in the United States and Japan
Published: March 1994; WTEC