A Science Fair for Grown-ups
- April 05, 2023
Innovation, Ideas and Technology
Many technology firms make bold claims about their investments in innovation. They even build out various levels of research and innovation labs to showcase cutting edge technologies. At NTT, one of the largest companies in the world, we’re no different. When I first joined NTT almost nine years ago, I was given a slide that pointed out how our company spends $3.6 billion annually on R&D. This massive number is part of our introductory presentation to perspective clients. Over the years, as I have shared this statistic, and to many, a number this large seems unfathomable. To be honest, I never appreciated the magnitude of what this investment represented until this past week when I was invited to attend an event hosted by NTT Research called Upgrade 2023 at our San Francisco Experience Center (XC).
NTT Research has more than 2300 scientists including 600+ PhDs working at NTT and at some of the world's leading universities including CalTech, Cornell, Michigan, MIT, Stanford, Swinburne, and the University of Tokyo along with the NASA Ames Research Center. NTT DATA’s Silicon Valley team works in four labs, including the Physics and Informatics (PHI) Lab, the Cryptography Lab, and Information Security (CIS) Lab, and the Medical and Health Informatics (MEI) Lab. I experienced firsthand how NTT’s investments are impacting society — today, and well into the future — through a series of hands-on demonstrations setup at the San Francisco XC. The demos were followed by an amazing lineup of presenters.
Here are five demonstrations that captured my attention:
Operating at the speed of light
One of the event highlights was experiencing NTT's Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN). IOWN uses advanced technologies, such as photonics and artificial intelligence, to achieve ultra-high-speed data transmission, ultra-low-latency processing and ultra-low-power consumption. To demo the power of this innovative technology, I stepped up to a robotic arm, and tested my skills maneuvering an obstacle setup using a haptic feedback controller.
Although I maneuvered the challenge with ease, the marvel of IOWN came to light was when I realized that separating this controller from the robotic arm was seventy-five miles of optical cable. The system was operating with sub-second latency! Maneuvering the arm, I began to realize the possibilities. For example, in 2021 it was announced that more than 10 million surgeries had been performed globally using the daVinci Surgical System. Currently, these minimally invasive procedures are performed with a surgeon close by. IOWN gives us a glimpse into the future where such procedures could be performed by world-class surgeons operating from 100s of miles away.
A BioDigital Twin
With advancements in healthcare being a major focus of NTT Research’s MEI lab, I was shown NTT’s Cardiovascular BioDigital Twin. Here, researchers are developing patient-specific digital twins. This will allow future doctors to understand how a specific patient’s heart will react to various conditions. Specific treatment plans are developed with insight into how the patient will respond before the procedure.
Attribute Based Encryption
I'm most excited about NTT’s Attribute Based Encryption (ABE). Whereas traditional role-based encryptions will unlock data for a user who has the proper key, with ABE parts of the data set at a granular level can be locked and unlocked based on the attributes of a user, such as their job title, department or security clearance. During Upgrade 2023, researchers demonstrated a use case with live video of a person walking down the street. Using machine vision, elements of the moving image were masked, such as car license plates and people’s faces. Then, by changing the attributes of the user attempting to view the video, various elements became unmasked.
In a healthcare example use case, a single data set of a patient’s image scans can be published., However, a user conducting anonymized research of a specific condition might only see image files or results with no personal identifiable information. Conversely, the patient’s physician treating the condition might see the full details of the file. Other professionals might see a subset of information depending on set attributes. Extremely sensitive data can further be blocked by user attributes such as location, thus limiting access to specific locations or secure devices.
Private 5G (P5G) and Edge Computing
NTT is currently deploying P5G technology coupled with edge computing. The XC was blanketed by a small, portable P5G in a box that contained not only the cellular network, but an edge computer. Throughout the facility, wirelessly connected devices were operating at a level of speed and latency reliability previously only seen in wired connections. Attendees were given various personal protective equipment, such as hard hats, and asked to move about the area. Using machine vision, the edge device processed, in near-real-time alerts, if someone crossed the area not wearing the appropriate protective gear. Before the availability of 5G, these types of use cases would have required each sensor across the facility to be hardwired. In some use cases, this prevented devices such as autonomous vehicles. By deploying a private network (P5G), these use cases operate extremely securely behind organizational firewalls.
Digital Humans — in the real world and the metaverse
Digital Humans are interactive avatars that look and sound like humans. In our demo, a digital human is placed in front of a traditional chatbot allowing an individual to interact with a bot in a similar manor of traditional person-to-person interaction. NTT is ready to deploy this technology to increase employee engagement by allowing a user to get help setting up a new laptop or troubleshooting their device. NTT’s friendly, engaging digital human can help navigate difficult tasks such as a new mom struggling to find valuable information about social programs for their child. The digital human can even provide guidance on applying for these services.
In addition to attendees getting to interact with a digital human on a touch screen kiosk in the real world, these digital humans were placed inside a demonstration taking place in the metaverse. This experience allowed attendees to get assistance and information, helping guide them through the experience in the virtual world.
At NTT we don't claim technology innovation. We live it, demonstrate it, explore it and perfect it. It's truly inspiring to attend an internal conference and walk away with so many ways to help my clients. Collaboration, creativity, and ideas are what'll drive the future — so glad that NTT is one step ahead.