The Fifth Generation Fallacy: Why Japan is Betting Its Future on Artificial Intelligence

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Oxford University Press, 1987 - Artificial intelligence. - 230 pages
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For several years a great deal of attention has been focused on Japan's highly publicized Fifth Generation Project, a research program aimed at the development of "intelligent" computers that can think like human beings. It has been claimed that such machines are the technology of the future, and that whoever gets them first will emerge as the new leader of the world economy.
In this fascinating new book, J. Marshall Unger reveals that the West has completely misunderstood Japan's interest in Artificial Intelligence. Contrary to the common view of Japan's unassailable superiority in technology and business, perpetuated recently by popular books like Japan as Number One, Unger shows that Japanese researchers are less concerned with economic coups than with solving a fundamental problem concerning their notoriously difficult written language and the challenges it poses for computer technology. The complex mixture of Chinese and phonetic characters that make up the script can only laboriously be typewritten and so are resistant to one of the most basic of computer functions -- entering data into the machine's memory banks.
Outlining the bewildering complexity of the Japanese script, which tested the limits of human intelligence even in bygone eras, Unger describes how in the modern age it has been the cause of disturbingly low levels of white-collar productivity and a surprisingly high degree of incomplete literacy in Japan. He goes on to demonstrate convincingly not only the ultimate incompatability of the script with existing computer technology but also the futility of the hope that AI, the goal of the hugely expensive Fifth Generation Project, will rescue the Japanese from this problem. He also explores the emotionally laden cultural mythology underlying Japanese resistance to script reform, which he points out is the obvious engineering solution to the drive to integrate computers into Japanese society. He concludes that the Japanese push towards AI and their refusal to acknowledge these fundamental facts about their writing system are intimately related and largely explain why Japan has been the first nation to spend vast amounts of money on AI research.

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About the author (1987)

About the author:
J. Marshall Unger is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu. He has published extensively on Japanese culture, linguistics and computer-based education.

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