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Technology / AI and automation


Tucked away in a quiet suburban corner of northern Tokyo are the offices of IF Computer Japan (formerly Interface Computer Japan), a company specializing in the sale of IF/Prolog and the development of knowledge engineering applications. Headed by Dr Oskar Bartenstein, a German native who came to Japan initially to do robotics research at the University of Tokyo, IF Computer has a small staff of five and a worldwide perspective via its association with the IF Computer group which has similar small- scale offices in Munich, San Francisco and Hong Kong. The predecessor of IF Computer, Interface Computer, started operation in Japan in 1987 as a subsidiary of the German company, but the international companies are now separate entities. IF/Prolog is owned by Siemens Nixdorf Informationssyteme AG and IF Computer is in fact the international marketing and support representative of SNI for the product. As a process engineering language, the number of Prolog implementations is still increasing but there are few commercially available products such as IF/Prolog. In Japan the language sells for $2,66 for a Windows95 version, $9,600 to $14,280 for Unix versions. Run-time prices can be as low as $10 per program. In Japan both sides of the business are important: the IF/Prolog language is sold both to universities for training and research and to industry for software development, while the application development side of the business is focused on understanding user problems and applying IF Computer techniques to applications such as real-time process monitoring (a project for Toda Construction for use in the Tokyo Bay tunnel construction), robotics (for another construction company Takenaka Komuten), stock evaluation and sales support. One application of which Dr Bartenstein is proudest is a concurrent engineering system for Paris Miki, a manufacturer of eyeglasses with retail shops around Japan. In the shops, terminals running the MikiCIM system are used to offer the customers individually-styled glasses, by evaluating the shape of a customer’s face with other factors such as lens thickness and manufacturing needs, in other words integrating medical, fashion and manufacturing requirements. Paris Miki is using the system as the basis of corporate image advertising in major Japanese business newspapers. Development of the system commenced over five years ago and was first completed two years ago. The MikiCIM system is 98% IF/Prolog-based; only the interfaces with graphics and other system components are developed in other languages.

Research is healthy

Prolog is particularly good for processing and manipulating the language of specialists such as medical doctors, says Bartenstein, and successful projects such as the Paris Miki one are always close to the core business of the client, he adds. While the days when anything with the title Artificial Intelligence attracted attention in Japan are long past, IF Computer believes that artificial intelligence research is healthy and that the topics addressed are worthwhile. In their own research, Dr Bartenstein and his colleagues are following up with research into machines which generate trust and the manipulation of emotions, an area which he says is only just beginning to be recognized as a valid research area.

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CBR Staff Writer

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