INTERVIEW WITH TAKESHI UTSUMI
By Parker Rossman
(September 17, 2004)
Can one man with
limited resources accomplish remarkable things in global education? Takeshi Utsumi, Ph.D., P.E., is a passionately dedicated former Fulbright Scholar who has
for some decades devoted himself to experimenting with and demonstrating the
technology that can bring needed learning, health care and perhaps peace to everyone on our planet. He is a founder and ‘Vice-president for
Technology and Coordination’ of the ‘Global University System’ and is co-editor
of a new book about that project, Global Peace Through The Global University
System that has been published at
the University of Tampere, in Finland.
It includes essays by a former president of Finland; by the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs; by a member of the European Union Commission responsible for education; by the former heads of UNESCO and ITU; by the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union; by the Director-General of the International Labor Organization; by the vice-chancellor of the British Open University which serves a couple of hundred thousand students all over the world; by Marco Antonio Dias of Brazil, former Director of UNESCO’s Division of Higher Education and who now is ’Vice-president for Administration’ of the Global University System; by Joseph Pelton, former spokesman of INTELSAT and a leading expert on the use of satellites; and by many other such experts on several continents.
Because of his conviction that the spread of education was essential for ultimate global peace, Takeshi Utsumi, beginning as an individual, began building an e-mail network from the ’bottom-up’ of people who shared the dream and that began to join him in experiments and demonstrations of possibilities for using information technologies to bring affordable essential learning to those parts of the developing world that have been difficult to reach. So I interviewed him to ask how the project is progressing.
Rossman: I understand that your wife, Hisae, has been a supportive partner who has traveled with you in recent years as you were invited to speak at conferences around the world that have gradually led to the beginnings of a ‘Global University System.’ In my opinion it may be one of the most important things happening at the turn of the 21st century.
Utsumi: Marco Antonio Dias of UNESCO has encouraged me to ‘think big’ about global-scale education ‘with a human face.’
Rossman: Think how big?
Utsumi: I see several models as precedents: The Russian and American outer space projects and the vast Human Genome Project in Biology, for example, have shown the effectiveness of projects where large numbers of people and organizations have collaborated. Why, we asked, should there not be a similarly large project for global electronic distance education and global healthcare via the Internet? The possibilities of telemedicine have already been demonstrated successfully. The encouragement and support of Dias made possible the August 1999 conference at the University of Tampere in Finland that officially established the Global University System (GUS) project. That meeting was made possible by the supports from the World Bank, National Science Foundation, UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union and other influential organizations, such as Soros Foundation, British Council, etc., to name but a few. The report of that meeting can be read online at <http://www.uta.fi/%7etitava/EGEDL/>.
Rossman: I understand that GUS affiliated projects now exist on all five continents, but that money is your main problem if essential learning is provided for everyone on the planet.
Utsumi: Well, the main obstacles are political and cultural. But yes, adequate funding would make possible the creating and distributing of essential technology to every poor developing world rural and urban slum community. The technology exists and will improve and become more affordable with mass production. At the organizational meeting we proposed a ‘Global Service Trust Fund,’ hoping that governments, corporations and foundations might support the project. However, corporations are first concerned about their stockholders and government budgets are tight. So I have been exploring and pushing possibilities with Japan.
Rossman: Because you are Japanese and have influential connections there?”
Utsumi: No, because at that time Japan’s Official Development Assistance fund (ODA) had the most to give, more than the USA’s. However, that development money, around ten billion dollars a year, generally went to countries that Japanese politicians had visited and made promises. Poor use of these funds was uncovered that resulted in a major cut in ODA funds. However then, at the July 2000 Okinawa Summit, Japan pledged fifteen billion dollars to close the digital divide in developing countries. That pledge was not matched, as hoped, by other potential contributors, but there were some good results, including the United Nations Digital Opportunity Task Force (called DOT Force) and contributions to specific projects to many developing countries.
Rossman: You played a significant role in getting such funds?
Utsumi: I think and hope so. Seeing the success of ‘Internet2’ in the US that was extended to universities in Russia, America and Japan, I then approached Dr. Hiroshi Inose, then the Director-General of Japan’s ‘National Center for Science Information system.’ He had been given the Marconi award for achievements in the telecom field and was the leading authority in Japan on the Internet. He already knew of my previous efforts that were crucial in three areas; getting government regulations helped make possible the extension of packet-switching datacom networking extended from the USA to Japan; the deregulation of Japanese telecom policies that were limiting the use of e-mail; and the de-monopolization of Japanese telecom industries that we accomplished in cooperating with the USA Secretary of Commerce at the time, Malcolm Baldridge.”
Rossman: How did Dr. Inose help?
Utsumi: Around the time of the ‘fifth generation computer project,’ the inadequacy of the project to build an ‘artificial intelligence machine’ was pointed out by Dr. Inose in a newspaper article. He said there that since the human brain was superior to any machine, a more important priority should be the development of human minds by providing education to excellent, capable youngsters in developing countries. I showed that article to the Minister of Education in Japan, an acquaintance of mine for many years. The Japanese Prime Minister then pledged another two billion dollars, to aid education and healthcare in developing countries. I was also encouraged by other projects. For example, the University of the South Pacific in Fiji is now able to provide education to other nearby islands because the Japanese government gave $16 million to provide necessary hardware for connecting nearby Pacific islands with INTELSAT satellite free of charge. Adding to that, Australia and New Zealand governments gave one million dollars each for course content development. That’s the type of cooperative funding that I hope can make possible more and more GUS projects in developing countries. Meanwhile the Japanese Social Development Fund of the World Bank has provided ‘seed money’ for new projects, such as $750,000 for education system reform in Ukraine, and Japan Special Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank $750,000 to Uruguay for deploying broadband Internet to schools. So I still have hope for major Japanese funding that will encourage other nations to provide money also.
Rossman: However, isn’t it usually true that government grants do not last long? Projects are started and then funds from elsewhere are needed after a time to fund new equipment and provide the continuing costs of satellite connections?
Utsumi: Certainly we also need the continuing help of for-profit corporations, especially those in the technology business. It is in their long-range interest to provide equipment now, for it will build more business in the long run as education helps economies of developing countries improve. This is not a wild idea. For-profit organizations have, for example, provided free of charge access to broadband wireless Internet to schools on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. Such projects begin to create a more affordable so-called “Global e-Rate.” A foundation for future developments was being laid by our continuing “Global Lecture Hall’ demonstrations which also initiated the movement of global e-learning. Many satellite corporations supported them to span the world since 1980s.
Rossman: And those efforts were probably responsible for your receiving the ‘Lord Perry Award for Excellence in Distance Education,’ an award that the previous year had been given to Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of satellite communications. I also remember with appreciation your invitation for me to witness one of your global lecture hall demonstrations at which Wassily Leontief (a Nobel Laureate in economics) of New York University lectured the relationships between "Environment and Development," via inexpensive two-way slow-scan TV, to students at the conference site of the World Future Studies Federation in Nagoya. Those students could see the economist and he could see them when they asked questions. The large numbers of such demonstrations and of your other such projects have gradually developed the interest of educators all over the world.
Utsumi: Reports of some of that can be seen in part three, the ‘Global e-learning and health care’ section of our book that Tapio Varis of the University of Tampere, Finland and W. R. Klemm of Texas A & M University have co-edited with me; for example, “Alternatives in ‘E-Learning’ for Health Professionals in Latin America and the Caribbean,” by Pablo Pulido, former Minister of Health of Venezuela and Executive Director of the Pan American Federation of Associations of Medical Schools.
Rossman: I am impressed also by the report on Africa by Professor Nabudere, Executive Director of the “Afrika Study Center’ in Uganda.
Utsumi: It was Dr. Inose who first helped me see that extending learning to the whole world required more than technological demonstrations and development. Political support, he said, is essential. So Inose encouraged me to approach the former Minister of Foreign Affairs to suggest $5 billion for ten years. Meanwhile the USA National Science Foundation provided a billion dollars to fund the development of ‘GRID technology’ that concept I initiated almost three decades ago as very important. Many business corporations have so-called ‘Private Virtual Networks’ so that employees can videoconference around the globe at any time. We envisage similar systems connecting educational institutions globally. This can strengthen scientific research as well as discover and empower gifted young people everywhere.
Rossman: So what is next?
Utsumi: Technology beyond what we can yet imagine, even as we see the emergence of wireless Internet technology such as the new WiMax with “non-line-of-sight” at 70 Mbps with 50 kilometers coverage. A professor at Virginia Tech is planning to use that technology at very rural/remote villages in Bangladesh. Beyond such projects in many developing countries, the GUS proposes that first connections be made to all major universities in various developing countries and from there can be extended to nearby K-12 schools, hospitals, libraries and NGOs, etc. in their local communities. Then it is important that local governments and local citizens help make crucial decisions about what is to be done in local neighborhoods and schools.
Rossman: Perhaps more important
than the ‘digital divide’ would be a cultural divide that must be taken into
account, that even western technology itself often has unfortunate cultural
assumptions written into it.
Utsumi: Professor Tapio Varis, Editor-in-Chief of our book, is the Acting President of our Global University System, a former Rector of the United Nations University of Peace in Costa Rica, and world-renowned scholar of peace education. His paper "Building Higher Humanity with a Global University System" in our book describes extensively the intercultural issues for mutual understanding to foster trust among youngsters around the world. Arthur C. Clarke has pointed out that we are entering an era when human beings are going to be able to do almost anything they can imagine. Also note the cultural variety that is illustrated by the authors of our book. The co-authors and I have made our new book available free of charge on the Internet, although we hope many people will purchase a print copy of Global Peace Through The Global University System (ISBN 951-44-5695-5). We consider it to be a step towards the ‘grand challenge’ proposed by Professor Larry Press at a conference in Bangladesh in May 2004, who asks that the broadband Internet be connected “to every rural village” with $15 billion in ten years time. We see that beginning to happen in Bangladesh, in Latin America, and in such African countries as Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria and so forth, as working closely with our colleagues there.
Rossman: You see this as an essential step towards world peace? Isn’t extending education to all an important step in draining the swamps of ignorance, poverty and injustice that breed terrorists?
Utusmi; I have in mind a vision larger than that. It is suggested by the title of our book. Towards the end there is a paper-- from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Salerno University in Italy and Montpellier University in France-- on the implementation of a vision for infrastructure that will support local communities in cooperative efforts and “new effective pedagogies” along with “access nodes that are adaptable to any users’ personal needs.” These include “their current location, their current interface device, their learning preferences and special physical needs.” They describe the European Union’s Learning GRID infrastructure. That, of course, is just one of many powerful new technologies that we can expect in the next few decades.
Rossman: And you and your co-authors see all this as making a major effort towards accomplishing global peace.
Utsumi: I reported in the last chapter what I hope for and expect from all such developments. Accomplishing the UNESCO objective of a ‘culture of peace,’-- permanent peace and the end of war in coming decades—as requiring “a new paradigm of global-scale research.” The head of UNESCO has insisted that global-scale education is crucial to the accomplishment of a truly peaceful and cooperative world.
Rossman: You once kindly let me preside a demonstration of global-scale peace-gaming at the conference on "Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution" by the World Future Society (WFS) in New York City, in July of 1986. It was one of the largest and perhaps most successful demonstrations of global gaming/simulation organized so far. The event was a global gaming simulation sessions on a crisis scenario involving the U.S.-Japan trade and economy issues. The multimedia teleconferencing sessions used voice, slow-scan TV, computer text and data, graphics, and a simulation model. Nearly 1,500 persons took part, in New York, Tokyo, Honolulu, and at the World's Fair in Vancouver, B.C. An echelon economist of the United Nations wrote a game scenario, and a professor in Tokyo supplied his FUGI model of the world economy.
Noted U.S. economists (Professor Lester C. Thurow of M.I.T., Provost William Nordhaus of Yale, Mr. Keith Johnson of Townsend and Greenspan Company) were panelists of this event and electronically interconnected with Japanese counterparts for three days of computer-assisted negotiations. Several hypothetical policies were examined. One question raised by the President Emeritus of American Arbitration Association was the effect of raising military expenditures in Japan to the American level while lowering those of the U.S. to the present Japanese level. Simulation ran overnight predicted that the balance of trade would thus be even by the year 2000, with necessity of cooperation, rather than competition, by both countries in the future. This clearly indicated the cost and dilemma of American's nuclear umbrella protecting Japan's economic prosperity, thus threatening American's economic prosperity.
Utsumi: This event with combined use of inexpensive delivery systems afforded an opportunity to see how academic departments might become linked across national boundaries for the purpose of joint study, research and planetary problem-solving without expending high cost for satellite video. After this successful sessions, several former high ranking officers of the U.S./Japanese governmental agencies expressed their strong interest in a similar multi-media teleconferencing on a more regular basis to establish an early warning system of the both countries' ever-closely interwoven economic and trade relationships. Systems analysis for systemic change at the global level is a precondition for any significant resolution to today's global-scale problems, as has been advocated by our GLOSAS/USA (GLObal Systems Analysis and Simulation Association in the U.S.A.) Project since it was originated in 1972.
Yes, it should involve, in the near future, using a computer model of all the world’s politics and economies to examine the implications of an action on each of them. We already see the beginning of such models, such as the Fugi simulation model of the world in Japan. This is one thing I mean when I speak of ‘peace gaming’ on the scale of Pentagon’s ‘war games’ in the last chapter.
This is because I am convinced that whatever is needed to end war as a way of solving crises will require large-scale research at universities in many countries that collaborate in peace gaming experiments and demonstrations. As I say at the end of the book, no one university, group or national government can do it alone. The effort to extend learning, healthcare and cooperative research possibilities to every corner of the planet “will require substantial collaborative contribution of ideas, expertise, technology, money and resources from multiple sources.” Our proposed globally collaborative environmental peace gaming system can become “an educational tool” for students in political science and international affairs. Moreover, such a system can provide motivation for and become a foundation pillar for a Global University System (GUS) that will not only provide better education for the youth of the planet, but that will also promote mutual understanding and peace.
Compared with dominance and exclusivity of analog telecom, Internet with digitized information enables sharing valuable telecom media, thus bringing drastic cost reduction – even a few pennies per minutes telephone calls around the world. In addition to this, now emerging GRID technology enables collaboration of youngsters for their creating new knowledge with the use of virtual reality and virtual laboratories in global scale. Our Global University System intends to fully extend those principles to achieve global peace.
Rossman: You love to quote
Senator Fulbright, who often said that learning together and working
together are the first steps towards world peace.
Utsumi: Since a Fulbright scholarship changed my life, I once promised Senator Fulbright that I would do all I could to spread his vision and spirit to every corner of the world with the use of advanced Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Rossman: Thank you, Dr. Utsumi, for your vision and for showing us how much one person can do. Also I thank you for the true story you tell at the end of your book that says something important about international education. You tell how during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, a chief of Filipino resistance was arrested and taken to a Japanese army camp. His family worried that he would be beheaded. So they were pleasingly surprised when he and the captain of the Japanese military police both arrived back at his house, drunk and joyously singing a Yale University song. They had discovered that they had been classmates at that American university.
Dr. Parker Rossman
3 Lemmon Drive
Columbia MO 65201-5413
Takeshi Utsumi, Ph.D., P.E.
Chairman of GLObal Systems Analysis and Simulation Association in the U.S.A. (GLOSAS/USA)
Founder and V.P. for Technology and Coordination of Global University System (GUS)
Laureate of Lord Perry Award for Excellence in Distance Education
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