Japanese Computer Pioneers

Inose HiroshiInose Hiroshi

Inose was born on January 5, 1927 in Nezu, Tokyo. After his graduation in 1948 at the Electric Engineering School, the University of Tokyo, he continued the study of telephone switching systems at the graduate school. He once joined Toshiba Corporation, but quickly returned to the university as a faculty member and became full professor in 1961. At the university he served as Director of the Computer Center, Dean of the Engineering School and head of a newly founded database research facility. Before his retirement in 1987, he converted the university database research facility to a national research institute, which is the National Center of Science Information Systems, and became its director. After enlarging the Center, he renamed it again as the National Institute of Informatics in 2000. He died from a heart attack on October 11, 2000, just a few days after the foundation ceremony of the new institute.

Inose's first work recognized by the academy was the construction of a telephone traffic simulator done as his Ph.D. research at the graduate school. Because it was a pre-digital computer era, he generated random numbers using resistor thermal noise, and integrally made the simulator with a number of vacuum tubes. The simulator could dramatically shorten the analysis time, to a thousandth of what was required to analyze actual systems. Manager of communication research section at Bell Laboratories, Dr. Deming Lewis got interested and asked Inose to come to the laboratories. Inose crossed the ocean and stayed in the USA from 1956 to 1958 to study telephone switching systems. During his stay he invented a new technology for telephone switching, named Time Slot Interchange (TSI). It eventually became the basis of digital telephone switches adopted by small office telephone switches (PBXs) as well as by large nation-wide telephone systems.

After his return to Japan he started a research on metropolitan automobile traffic control besides telephone systems. He modeled the complex mesh of streets as a mathematical arrowed graph, flows of automobiles as telephone traffic, and finally established a basic algorithm to optimize traffic signal control. In 1967, he started the operation of the municipal traffic signal control system with the cooperation of Tokyo Metropolitan Police; system that is still in use. In this system he connected 7000 traffic signals and tens of thousands automobile detectors in Tokyo to several mini-computers, thus allowing real-time control.

In 1977, as Head of the Computer Centre, University of Tokyo, he built a computer network that linked seven university computer centers in the nation. This network, called N-1 after its protocol name, was Japan's first nationwide digital computer network and supported
communication among Japanese researchers until Internet's widespread availability. On this network Inose also pioneered online database services for Japanese researchers. His anxiety was the emergence of foreign research database companies, especially the American ones, which started to monopolize research resources. He compared the circumstance to the oil crises in the '70s and termed it "information crises." He guided the National Center of Science Information Systems with this idea, and partially succeeded in building Japan's own research database.

Inose's contributions in the later half of his life were mainly in the political arena. He notably chaired the OECD Global Science Forum, suggesting the government to fund universities' advanced research under the name of Center of Excellence (COE) program, and promoted innovative education as well as information literacy education in schools. He contributed to the Information Processing Society of Japan from its foundation and presided it from 1981 to 1983.

Inose was awarded numerous honorific titles including: foreign member of the US Academy of Science, IEEE fellow, member of the American Philosophical Society, member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science, member of the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, and member of the Japan Academy. He also received medals including Marconi Award, the Japan Academy Prize, the Cultural Merit (Japan), the Order of Culture (Japan), the IEEE Graham Bell Medal, IEEE Third Millennium Medal and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japan).

(Hashizume Hiromichi)