Written by Matthias Frey, Science & Technology Office Tokyo, Embassy of Switzerland in Japan
When it comes to new technologies, Japan is often at the forefront. Already in the 1960’s the Japanese Government used computers to automate a large amount of paperwork and form-filling: large main frame computers for business were installed. This article describes the development and future trends of big data in Japan and it also touches upon the related topic of “open science”.
“Technology gurus preach that Big Data is becoming the oil of the 21st century, a new commodity that can be tapped for profit. As the virtual currency BitCoin temporarily became more valuable than gold, it can be even literally said that data can be mined into money in a way which would previously have been considered a fairy tale.”
(Prof. Dirk Helbing, ETH Zurich, “Societal, Ethical and Legal Challenges of the Digital Revolution: From Big Data to Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Manipulative Technologies”)
1. Open Government Data Projects in Japan:
1.1. From the Stone Age to the Great East-Japan Earthquake
Already in the 1960s Japanese Government used computers to automate a large amount of paperwork and form-filling: large main frame computers for business were installed. Internet, as well as personal computers (“one pc per person”) was then introduced in the 90s.
The government portal site e-Gov opened up in 2001 with an e-Application System that allowed multiple administrative procedures (applications, reports etc.) to go through a single gateway through the internet.
The government funded agency IPA (Information-technology Promotion Agency) was established based on the law on the Promotion of Information Processing (enacted May 22, 1970, Law No.90). The agency was reorganized to become an lncorporated Administrative Agency dated January 5, 2004 and is now working with the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and other ministries to ensure a secure and reliable IT environment in Japan.
The Portal Site of Official Statistics of Japan “e-Stat” was launched on 1st April 2008; it delivers the one-stop service for official statistics of the Japanese government. Under the Optimization Plan, which is promoted by the Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in collaboration with other Ministries and Agencies, “e-Stat” aims to gather information from statistical departments of Ministries and Agencies, and provides the general public with statistical data, schedule of releases and more.
Also in 2008 a public CIO forum started discussions on open government data; the first open government project was initiated in 2009; open-data statistics (“databox”) and a bulletin board for discussions (“ideabox”) were subsequently introduced by the government in 2010.
1.2. The Real Importance of Open Data – the Great East-Japan Earthquake
The real importance of open data had already been recognized before the adoption of the government’s strategy from July 2012: The Great East Japan earthquake in March 2011 reminded people of the importance of being able to merge re-useable data. GPS data of cars was used to identify routes that were still accessible and several websites visualized real time electricity shortages to encourage people to save energy. Many bottom-up initiatives were launched immediately after the triple disaster, supporting the use of crowd-sourced data:
- GIS based disaster information & disaster supporting information were made available on the website “sinsai.info”, which was voluntarily launched only 4 hours after the major earthquake.
- Hack for Japan, a developer community emerging right after the earthquake used their technical skills to support the response to the disaster, and the subsequent recovery.
- METI made a public call through social media (twitter) for an application that transmits current energy usage data from TEPCO, and over 50 applications appeared for websites, iOS and Android
These experiences made the advantages of using open data more compelling, not only for IT experts but also for policy makers and the wide public.
1.3. Into the future
Recently, open data has become one of the keywords of IT policy; both local and national governments have moved forward rapidly in that domain. After the adoption of the e-Government Open Data Strategy from July 2012, the government launched the open data portal www.data.go.jp in December 2013, providing over 13’000 datasets from all ministries.
Further ideas to extend the services and usage of open data for governments are being discussed, as can be seen in below graphic.
The Japanese government is also collaborating with private industry to utilize the power of big data: Honda for example, in collaboration with Saitama prefecture, devised a way to use their cars’ GPS data to detect spots where hard braking frequently occurs. Historically, road safety measures have been directed only at places with a high incidence of collisions, while disregarding locations with a lower incidence of collision that are however potentially dangerous. Recently gathered car data not only helps locate potentially dangerous spots, but also provides a comparison basis to quantify the effect of each measure.
Such efforts have been further extended to other private car companies, and their collected data help create an intelligent transportation system that warns of accidents & traffic jams, reduces accidents and allows speedy rescues.
1.4. Data Security/ Data Privacy
In line with the Abe administration’s position to facilitate businesses’ greater use of “big data” for development, sale and advertising of new products and services, the Japanese government is moving forward to increase the use of big (personal) data for commercial purposes on condition that the data is processed to ensure anonymity of the information: In February 2015, the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Strategy Office of Information and Communications Technology reported its draft revision of a law allowing companies to use personal information for purposes other than those originally stated without obtaining the consent of the people involved, even allowing companies to release personal (but anonymized) information to third parties. Huge economic benefits from the use of personal data are anticipated.
The government’s outline states that the collection and analysis of big data on individuals will contribute greatly to the creation of new industries and services. While rules such as those on the specific methods for processing data to ensure its anonymity are to be set by the private sector, the outline called for the establishment of a third-party body to ensure effective implementation of the rules. The government plans to have the outline reflected in a proposed amendment to the privacy protection law to be submitted to the Diet next year.
According to the latest edition of the government’s information and communications white paper the growing use of big data by Japanese firms increased the combined sales of domestic industries in 2012 by ¥60.9 trillion (+4.6 percent of total sales)!
In scientific research, too, big data analysis is expected to play an important role, e.g., for finding cures for difficult or impossible to cure diseases.
2. Open Science
“Open science refers to a new approach to promoting innovation through knowledge creation in science and technology. This will be realized by facilitating access to and use of publicly funded research results such as scientific papers and their underlying data by the scientific community, industry and the general public.”
– Executive Summary, Report by the Expert Panel on Open Science, based on Global Perspectives, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, March 30, 2015
For Japan, as for all innovation-driven nations, it is of great importance to participate in the international dialog on open science. In Japan, the “Expert Panel on Open Science based on Global Perspectives” has discussed various relevant issues of immediate importance for Japan. Based on these discussions, the Panel presented the guiding principles for promotion of open science in Japan.
Even though the importance of Open Science was recognized, so far the Japanese Government has only held limited discussions, and has not openly stated its stance. The Expert Panel encourages the use of Open Science as more information can be extracted from the initial data by more researchers, and as the acceleration of data-driven activities should lead to new collaborations among researchers.
Parties responsible for the implementation of Open Science should be all stakeholders, such as relevant ministries, funding agencies, universities and research institutions. The promotion will be coordinated by the Cabinet Office, namely the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (CSTI). Each respective institution is encouraged to publicize its open science plans by posting them on their website.
Kyoto University for example published its Kyoto University Open Access Policy on their website (http://www.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/modules/content0/index.php?content_id=92&ml_lang=en) on April 28, 2015: “This policy mandates faculty members to publicize in principle their academic articles on the Internet by depositing them in “Kyoto University Research Information Repository KURENAI”.”
[Message from Director of Kyoto University Library Network]
“Assuring open access to published products of faculty research is expected to facilitate collaboration between researchers, thus empowering academic society to open up a new vista for innovation beyond the borders of disciplines. It also clarifies the responsibility of all of us, who are engaged in research and education, to be accountable to the society for what we are doing. The concept of open access has been spreading rapidly in the world. Specifically in Japan, the idea has been promoted mainly by part of researchers who are interested in the concept. Kyoto University, however, has now taken a new step forward to adopt our open access policy, confirming our determination to promote open access throughout the university.”
Overall, the number of open-access journals in Japan has – in accord with the “Budapest Open Access Initiative 2002” which was also supported by Japan – been growing steadily (cf. http://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/press-releases/corporateg/drei-neue-open-access-zeitschriften-aus-japan-fuer-springeropen/369890).