TOKYO, July 19 (Reuters) – Japan needs to rapidly expand computing power as it vies to become a global leader in artificial intelligence, said Hideki Murai, a special AI adviser to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
“The government’s key priority is computing power. We feel a real sense of crisis about that,” Murai, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who heads the government’s AI strategy team, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. “We want to create the foundations for an AI era,” he added.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has been slow to invest in the field, and lags the United States in AI computer infrastructure. Some 3,000 companies in Japan have access to a supercomputer at the government’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) offering 0.8 exaflops of computing power.
That is less than a tenth of what Microsoft-backed OpenAI had access to when it created the popular chatbot ChatGPT, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry.
One exaflop is equivalent to 1 quintillion – or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations per second.
To begin addressing that deficit, Japan plans to increase the computing power at AIST to 2.8 exaflops by the end of 2024, Murai said, and is providing subsidies to companies such as Sakura Internet (3778.T) and SoftBank Corp (9434.T) to build supercomputers.
The Japanese government can also provide data to train AIs, but will leave it to businesses to create the AI models that Kishida’s government hopes will drive innovation, said Murai, who likened the strategy to how Japan nurtured Major League baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani.
“Ten years ago, people would have scoffed about the idea of a player such as Ohtani in the Major League and that’s why we are working hard to create an environment that will allow someone like him to emerge in the AI field,” he said.
As Japan considers how best to take advantage of AI, it and other members of the Group of Seven industrial democracies are wrestling with how to mitigate the potential social and economic disruption it may also cause.
“There may be differences in thinking and policy around AI between G7 countries, but we are working together to reduce the distance between those as much as possible,” he said.
Japan is leaning towards softer AI rules than the European Union, which has launched an effort to convince Asian countries to follow its requirement that tech firms disclose copyrighted material used to generate AI content, Reuters has reported.
Reporting by Tim Kelly, Sam Nussey and Miho Uranaka; Editing by Sam Holmes
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