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Mario Tokoro

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Mario Tokoro

Mario Tokoro

A computer scientist specialized in distributed systems, Tokoro has been teaching at Keio University in Tokyo until 1997 and has been Senior Vice President of Sony Corp. until 2008. He founded Sony CSL in 1988 and turned it into a top class research institution which puts into action his vision of scientific development, with a branch in Paris created in 1996. His latest book Open Systems Science - From Understanding Principles to Solving Problems (2010) translates the evolution of his centre of interests.  He received the Contribution Award from the Japan Society for Software Science and Technology in 2004, and the insignia of Officer in the National Order of Merit from the French ambassador to Tokyo in 2005.

Your past research has resulted in major contributions to Object-Oriented Concurrent Programming and Agent-Based Programming/Simulations, computer networks and the internet. What are your current research priorities?

The research topic to which I am devoting most of my passion and time is the new scientific methodology that I call Open Systems Science.  Science has advanced by the methodology called reductionism that first defines the domain of a problem, then reduces the problem in a way that exposes its true nature, and finally discovers the underlying principles of the domain. When the domain of a problem is too unwieldy to reduce the problem simply, it is divided into subproblems of subdomains that are subjected to the same process of reduction to discover their basic principles. The original problem is solved by combining the results of subproblems. This methodology contributed enormously to scientific advances and technological developments up until the end of the 20th Century.

However, there are still many problems waiting to be solved.  These problems are characterized as huge, complex and ever-changing, so that it is not easy to decompose a problem into simple subproblems.  A typical example is the earth sustainability problem that involves energy, climate, population, food, biodiversity, differentials, safety assurance, etc.  We have learned that independent solutions for subdomains cannot give the solution for the whole problem.  Another example is life and health problem.  Diseases that we had expected to have settled by now, such as cancer, metabolic disorder, and immunodeficiency are very closely interrelated to the system of life, which cannot be easily decomposed and recomposed.  Yet another example is the safety and dependability of gigantic networked information infrastructures. These infrastructures are expected to provide services continuously and, if an incident occurs, must be restored promptly before having any vital effects on peoples’ everyday lives. 

It is not easy to define the domain of these problems and the so-called closed system assumption cannot hold. Therefore, the reductionist approach cannot be applied.  Hence, these problems are open systems problems.  Though we may not be able to solve these problems using the reductionist method, their resolution is vital. I believe that to approach open systems problems we need a whole new methodology.

One of the difficulties in approaching open systems problems is that we cannot take an external observer’s viewpoint. That is, we cannot stop a system to observe its behaviors.  In addition, we only have a partial view of the problems of the whole system, so we don’t know which target to optimize and control.  As we reveal the system further, we can better understand what to optimize and control. Therefore, we need to envisage a system with its time axis and make a continuous effort to manage the system so that the situation improves. 


As President of the Sony Computer Science Laboratories, do you think there is sufficient collaboration between private and public research establishments? Should exchanges be strengthened between the two and, if so, how could this be done?

There are different stages of research: fundamental research at search phase, targeted fundamental research, applied research, development, and productization/manufacturing.  Academia is stronger in the earlier stages, and industry is stronger in the later stages.  I have observed that there is much successful collaboration in the earlier stages of research, but fewer in the later stages.  This trend is caused by the uniform scheme of collaboration, regardless of the stage of research. Collaboration schemes should be differentiated according to the different stages of research.  Understanding the strength of collaborators is most important in public-private collaborations.


How did your collaboration with Jean-Pierre Briot and the LIP6 (Laboratoire d’informatique de Paris 6) arise? What are your common research interests and goals?

In conjunction with my research on Concurrent Object Oriented Programming and Multi-Agent Systems, my activities and achievements were highly recognized by the related communities in Europe and I began to communicate with them more closely.  For example, I have participated contiguously in ECOOP (European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming) since 1987 and was involved in founding the International Association for Objets Technologies in 1992, which became the funding organization of ECOOP.  I also contributed to the establishment of the International Foundation on Multi-Agent Systems (IFMAS).  The French community was one of the strongest, and I have collaborated in various ways with French researchers, especially those of Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI) lead by Jean-Pierre Briot and Jean-Francois Perrot. Upon their invitation, I was Visiting Professor at the Université Pierre et Marrie Curie from August to September 1992 and gave a series of lectures on Object Technologies. Then I established a branch laboratory of Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Paris in 1996, through which I promoted collaboration between UPMC, Sony Computer Science Laboratories and Japanese research communities.  In 2005, I was named Officier de L’Ordre National du Merite by the French Republic for my contribution to research in Computer Science and to the promotion of collaboration between France and Japan.


As a highly distinguished Japanese research scientist, how do you view UPMC’s position in the higher education landscape, both at the European and international levels?

I acknowledge that UPMC is truly one of the premier research universities in the EU and worldwide.  Therefore, I strongly hope that more Japanese students enter UPMC, more academic exchanges between UPMC and Japanese universities arise, and more R&D collaborations between UPMC and Japanese industry develop.  I am pleased and willing to support such activities, and I am much honored to receive a doctorate honoris causa from UPMC.