June 28, 2021

AI and Robots to Evolve in the Near Future Enabling People to Live More Human-Like Lives [Part II]

AI and robotics are two crucial fields for building a new society going forward. Although the terms for these fields have become commonplace, many of us may not know what AI actually does for us or how robots relate to our lives. In this two-part series of articles, we will explain AI and robots through an interview with key figures in the field of AI.

For Part II of this third installment, the entrepreneur and futurist Kazuya Ogawa interviewed Yoshitaka Ushiku, Felix von Drigalski and Mai Nishimura, who all engage in AI and robotics research at OMRON SINIC X Corporation*¹. In this interview, we will deepen our understanding of how AI and robots will interact with humans further on in the future, as well as details on the unique vision held by these three researchers.

*¹ A strategic base that creates OMRON's vision of "near-future design."

Series list
1st: AI Is Already Beside Us [Part I][Part II]
2nd: Robots and AI That Will Support Us in the Future
3rd: In the Near Future Where AI and Robots have Evolved, People Can Live More Human-Like Lives [Part I][Part II]


Approach in Research for Realizing the Near-Future

Kazuya Ogawa (Ogawa): Last time, we talked about how the combination of robotics and AI will help robots naturally blend into our society. I imagine that there is a wide range of research being conducted to achieve this. Could you tell me more about this?

Felix von Drigalski (Felix): The current boom in AI and robotics has brought attention to these fields. While research is making progress, I feel that we are still a long way from realizing robots that are safe to use in real-life society or robots that we can leave to accomplish tasks completely on their own. Dr. Ushiku, how are things in your field of image recognition research?

Yoshitaka Ushiku (Ushiku): The field of image recognition is similarly making strong progress at an accelerated pace, so we can expect research to continue at the same rate going forward.

550_2.jpgOMRON SINC X Corporation Yoshitaka Ushiku

Ogawa: How about your field, Dr. Nishimura?

Mai Nishimura (Nishimura): There are still many challenges on site that we have not solved yet in the field of robot navigation as well.
For example, robots will stop if they encounter an unexpected change, and they need to be able to move safely so that they will never cause an accident. I am constantly searching for ways to incorporate the challenges of realizing these goals into the research and realize technologies that can be implemented in the real world.


The Role of Humans where AI and Robots Are Utilized

Ogawa: I want to know more about how AI, robots and other technologies will interact with society in the future, as well as how they will transform society. What do you think will happen to people's lives going forward through AI technologies?

Nishimura: About 20 or 30 years from now, I think that machines will work to eliminate people's disabilities and barriers and will assist people in their daily lives. For example, machines might offer support when humans and robots need to lift heavy objects in coordinated tasks. Robots watch the movement of other people, and seamlessly adjust the force that they apply.

Ogawa: How about the 50 years from now?

Felix: I think there will be robots moving freely in people's homes, and they will perform tasks that people find difficult or unpleasant, thereby bringing more freedom to humans. It is hard to say exactly when this will happen, though.

Ushiku: I think that we will be able to communicate more with robots compared to today, and robots will become an extension to expand our abilities. There might also be robots that serve as assistants for humans in activities related to intellectual production.
As what humans want to be optimized becomes more and more abstract, machines and computer systems can set their own specific optimization goals. When this happens, I think they will be able to behave more intelligently and autonomously.

Ogawa: When robots and AI grow to do everything for us, what role will humans play in the world?

Ushiku: When society reaches this state, I think there will be value in humans creating ideas, sparks of insight and emotion. The things that people relate to emotionally is governed by the minds of humans, and these things change over the ages. As such, I feel that humans will continue to create emotion, and will persist to function as a part of society that provides energy to other people.

Nishimura: Yes, I also agree with that idea. I think that in 50 years from now, we will see the creation of a new interface that allows machines to operate as partners with humans and that allows machines and humans to resonate together. We may see more methods for machines and humans to express things to each other in addition to voice and gestures. When machines blend into our daily lives, understand us better and do tasks that we find difficult or unpleasant instead of us, humans may be able to find a higher level of added value or satisfaction in their work or hobbies.

Ushiku: In addition, I think machines or computers will also be able to find goals on their own. Currently, robots automatically perform tasks like mixing or measuring things based on instructions from humans. Robots will be able to do this in their own heads using AI and bring their conclusions to us without any instructions from us, thereby creating visualizations that lead to researchers discovering new things.

In the field of materials science, humans engage in research on AI and robots that can be utilized for one function in this way; namely to deftly identify materials that will maximize performance in terms of a particular characteristic. Going forward, I want AI and robots to be able to identify what needs to be optimized on their own, simply by giving them instructions without much details. I think this will bring a future where humans can produce sparks of insight and discovery.

Ogawa: In 50 years from now, will we see the creation of robots like the ones we see in anime shows?

Felix: I'm not sure if we can say for certain right now. But I think we may see a breakthrough just like we did when smartphones appeared on the scene. Robots will become extremely commonplace when they become easier to use and their price becomes more affordable. And when we can actually rely on them to take care of the things that we humans don't want to do, we will be a lot more free. I want to continue working in research so that I can achieve this.

550_3.jpgOMRON SINC X Corporation Felix von Drigalski


As AI and robots develop, they will come to interact with human society more as our partners. AI and robots will allow us to live more human-like lives and find value in their lives. OMRON SINIC X Corporation is conducting research to realize this future.


Yoshitaka Ushiku
Principal Investigator
OMRON SINIC X Corporation
Dr. Ushiku completed his doctorate at the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology of the University of Tokyo in 2014 and joined NTT Communication Science Laboratories. After working as a lecturer at his alma mater in 2016, he was appointed as a principal investigator at OMRON SINIC X Corporation in October 2018. He has been the Chief Research Officer of Ridge-i Inc. since 2019. He primarily studies cross-media understanding by machine learning, such as image caption generation.


Felix von Drigalski
Senior Researcher
Robotics Group
OMRON SINIC X Corporation
Dr. Drigalski graduated from both KIT (Germany) and INSA Lyon (France) in 2013 (Dipl.-Ing. and Ingenieur diplômé (mechanical engineering). In 2018, he completed his doctorate at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology Robotics Laboratory (Informatics). After working for AIST, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, he was appointed senior researcher at OMRON SINIC X Corporation in October 2018. He primarily engages in research on robotics, including robotic manipulation, planning and automated assembly.


Mai Nishimura
Research Engineer
OMRON SINIC X Corporation
She received her master's degree from Kyoto University in 2015 and joined NTT Service Innovation Laboratories. After working as a senior software engineer at Fixstars Corporation from 2017 to 2019, she later joined OMRON SINIC X corporation as a research engineer. She has been enrolled in the doctoral program in Kyoto University since 2020, while working at OMRON SINIC X. She primarily engages in research on crowd-aware robot navigation.


Kazuya Ogawa
Entrepreneur / Futurist
CEO, Grand Design Co., Ltd.
Visiting Professor at Hokkaido University
After graduating from the Department of Politics at the Faculty of Law in Keio University (Quantitative Political Science), Mr. Ogawa developed new markets using creative ideas as an entrepreneur, while also offering advice as a futurist about how things will be like going forward based on deep and multifaceted analysis regarding technology. He has written many books including Will Digital Take Humans Away? (Kodansha) and The Human Way of Thinking for the Future (Kirakusha).