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NEC president keen to hire more researchers for AI development: interview

NEC Corp. President and CEO Takashi Niino (Mainichi)

The development of information technology (IT) such as artificial intelligence (AI) and products involving the "internet of things" is making significant progress and the international IT market has become increasingly competitive. The Mainichi Shimbun recently interviewed Takashi Niino, who became the president and CEO of electronics giant NEC Corp. this past April, about his company's business strategy for the future. Below is the outline of the interview.

Mainichi: NEC appears to be focusing on the AI market. What are the company's ambitions?

Niino: It is no doubt that the age of AI technology is coming. We want to increase the number of workers engaged in research and development of AI from the current 600 to 1,000 by fiscal 2020.

In terms of image recognition systems using AI, such as face recognition and fingerprint verification censors used for surveillance systems and crowd motion analysis, NEC is the world leader. And there is room for advancement in the use and values of such technology. We are keen to expand our business by utilizing image recognition technology.

Mainichi: How will you strengthen your company's AI business?

Niino: First of all, we need to tackle the labor shortage and secure manpower. In addition to in-house education, we are going to hire experienced researchers. We are also going to carry out merger and acquisitions when necessary, and in the meantime we are working on joint research projects with the University of Tokyo and Osaka University and we hope to make good use of such outside researchers.

In the current mainstream AI development, it is common for AI to learn and process a massive amount of data. Demand for AI technology that can predict potential disasters and illnesses with a small volume of information will grow in the future. This requires a combination of computer simulation and AI technology, and we're cooperating with the government-sponsored National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology on this subject.

Mainichi: Your joint venture partner Renovo Group and Fujitsu are working towards possible consolidation. How do you think this will affect NEC?

Niino: Renovo and NEC have established a win-win relationship. I don't think Renovo would want to break it. I don't see any problem with Renovo working with Fujitsu as long as their projects do not interfere with our relationship. The companies would face issues with the Antimonopoly Act (over their PC consolidation), but I believe they have plans sorted out regarding such issues.

Mainichi: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is requesting businesses to raise wages during labor-management negotiations next year. How do you feel about that?

Niino: We can't say that our business or current economy is growing steadily right now. We are having a tough time with overseas sales due to the effects of exchange rates, and domestic sales remain stagnant. It is difficult to achieve rapid improvement. I understand the prime minister's request, but the situation right now does not look promising.

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