Sasaki receives Engineering’s Sheffield Fellowship

Recognizing his expertise in modern information technology, the Yale Engineering Department honored Hajime Sasaki, chair of the board of the Nippon Electric Company, with the Department of Engineering Sheffield Fellowship Wednesday.

The newly appointed fellow delivered his Sheffield Lecture, “Toward an Era of Symbiotic Lifestyles,” at Davies Auditorium, and attended a reception hosted by Dean of Engineering Paul Fleury at the Beinecke Rare Books Library. Sasaki has led an illustrious career at NEC since 1961. Selected as the chairman of the board in 1999, he has received numerous awards and honors, including most recently the Robert N. Noyce Medal “for contributions to, and leadership in, the technology and business development of semiconductor devices and the harmonization of the global semiconductor industry.”

The Sheffield Fellowship, established in 1996, seeks to facilitate connections between industry and engineering education by bringing to Yale leaders in business, industry and government who are at the forefront of developments in their fields, Fleury said.

In his lecture, Sasaki discussed the integration of computers and communications and the resulting rapid expansion and development of the electronic industry in the past decade. The expansion of the Internet and mobile cellular communications has resulted in highly networked environments that enable people to collect and analyze data in real time, drastically improving their productivity.

Sasaki said the massive expansion of information access makes communication possible anywhere and at any time, facilitating the generation and distribution of immense amounts of information and the creation of new value.

NEC, established in 1899 with the Western Electric Company of the United States (now Lucent Technologies), was the first Japanese joint venture with foreign capital.

“NEC will continue to contribute to advances in society through its innovations, which are taking us to an era of symbiotic lifestyles,” Sasaki said.

In his lecture, Sasaki gave an overview of some of the more recent technologies NEC has contributed. One of these innovations, an Earth Simulator, obtains precise climate predictions based on observations of the earth, assesses and predicts global climate change, and provides highly detailed information about seismic intensity. This Earth Simulator was used to analyze the intensity of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Kobe, Japan, and provided an effective basis for possible disaster prevention methods, he said.

NEC is also currently in the process of developing new speech recognition technology that will convert the responses of operators, as well as the voices of customers, automatically into text. This technology will improve customer support systems, make information available on an “on-demand” basis, and aims to enhance customer satisfaction.

In addition, NEC is concerned with aspects of information exchange related to user privacy, Sasaki said. The company has developed a method of credit card authentication based on encryption that Sasaki describes as “the most efficient approach to authentication.”

Technology developed by NEC not only focuses on information exchange and business efficiency. NEC is currently developing Papero, a personal robot that will seamlessly support young children and the elderly.

“At NEC, we are focusing on human-centered, adaptive system development that leads to symbiotic evolution,” Sasaki said.

The businessman and engineer said his corporation can help to improve data mining technology at Yale to improve the management of information systems.

One of the concerns expressed at the lecture was the impact of the increasing electronic industry on energy consumption. Sasaki said that it is necessary to tackle this difficult task at a variety of levels. Fleury said Yale is a leading campus in trying to use energy responsibly and that Sasaki’s fellowship will provide a unique opportunity to work with NEC in unifying the goals of information management expansion and responsible energy consumption.

“It is very encouraging to see such an influential company place an emphasis on responsible development of information technologies,” he said.

Fleury hopes that the vision and importance of successful networking technology will resonate with Yale Engineering students, especially as interconnectivity increasingly influences the way people interact.

“I think the lecture was good,” second year engineering graduate student Thiago Teixeira GRD ’11. “The viewpoints were relevant. [Sasaki] has obviously had these questions asked to him before and knows lots of good answers.”

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