世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
著書には『ハーバード式 脱暗記型思考術』（新潮文庫）、『才能の見つけ方 天才の育て方』（文藝春秋）、『いまこそ知りたいAIビジネス』（ディスカヴァー・トゥエンティワン）などがあり、様々なAIビジネスシーンをひっぱる女性リーダーです。プライベートでは2児の母でもあります。
石角さんは今年の春に開催されたSAPIX YOZEMI GROUP特別協賛の朝日チャレンジフォーラムに、講演者としても出演されています。
- Could you first explain to us in simple terms, what is your current profession?
I am the co-founder/CEO of Palo Alto Insight (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A.). Specifically, we provide comprehensive AI services and support businesses from instituting proposals and conceptions, implementations through to executions with a focus on corporations in Japan. Undeniably, innovation is not generated from uniform concepts or ideas. We believe our strength lies in cultivating ideas through research and rigorous investigation into many fields, and not limiting ourselves to markets in Japan. This is also possible due to our symbiotic business model which maintains a specialist network consisting of many data scientists and engineers both in Silicon Valley and Tokyo, enabling a direct and substantial connections to our clients who operate and manage their own businesses.
- What is the fondest memory of attending boarding school in the United States?
I decided to leave the high school I was attending in Japan to firstly study at Annie Wright Schools, an American boarding school in Tacoma, Washington. Annie Wright is a coeducational institution, but it was essentially a single-gender school from 9th to 12 grade (Upper School) in that academic classes were divided into all-male and all-female classes. While it was a great school, I wanted to take on more challenges and study at a bigger, fully coeducational school. So after one year, I transferred to another boarding school on the East Coast near Boston called, Williston Northampton School. There were more students at Williston (around 100 students per grade, which is the average size for a boarding school) and the sports and arts facilities were monumental in scale. But as an international student, the drawback for me was that the school did not have an ESL program. This caused me additional stress on top of already being in an extremely competitive environment.
I especially struggled with U.S. History course, which was instructed by one of the renowned teachers in the field from Harvard. I struggled substantially, performing poorly in my mid-term examination. I remember being on the verge of tears the minute I saw my result. I finally broke down in tears in the hallway after I left the classroom, but my classmates were thoughtful and concerned with me. That is when I realized that perhaps there is a distinctly strong bond among peers at boarding schools – or perhaps it was simply a trait of American culture. Eventually, I came to my senses and started to put my act together – with the help of others, of course. If I continued to underperform academically, I knew I would be expelled from boarding school. So I got intensive help from my U.S. History teacher, who was also our dorm parent, by dropping by his dorm residence for one-on-one tutoring every day after classes (one of the perks of being in a boarding school!). As a result, I actually did really well in U.S. History and ended up achieving a good grade for that course. This experience and many other ordeals at Williston Northampton School were so profound that they helped shaped who I am today in many ways, including how to get by living and working in the United States. It is almost like part of my DNA now.
- Would you please share with us your career path after graduating from Occidental College and Harvard Business School?
During my undergraduate years, I studied psychology and statistics before I matriculated to Harvard Business School (HBS) to earn my MBA. During my time at Harvard, I actually got married and even gave birth to my first child. I remember pumping and breastfeeding my daughter during my finals for the program and had to admonish my professors about this unconventional situation. Nevertheless, I was able to graduate from HBS and was even offered a job back home in Tokyo. But I could not give up my dream of having a career in the Silicon Valley so easily. My exhausting, relentless job hunting began with many rejections and barriers to a point of losing my dignity along the way. This all paid off when I finally received an offer from Google Headquarters. At first, I was assigned to Google Shopping Classification Team. Thereupon, my AI career began and was fortunate to be involved in a couple of IT start-ups before I co-founded Palo Alto Insight.
- You have experienced education in both Japan and the U.S. How do you think the U.S. educational landscape is different from Japan’s? Further, what are your thoughts on the Japanese education system?
I can’t exactly speak for how the education system in Japan has changed since my junior high school years, but I can say how important it is to truly “know oneself.” I believe that the power to know oneself involves knowing what you like or dislike, what your advantages and limitations are, and what your values and virtues are that really connects to the power of one’s perseverance and sense of accomplishment. Accordingly, we make mistakes and through trial and error, we produce results which I think really is the effective way of learning in all areas. If there is one thing that I learned during high school and throughout my graduate years in the United States, I would have to say it is this resolute power to knowing oneself. Educators in the United States are primarily interested in not extracting the correct answers from the students, but are rather keen to understand what they think about the issue in question and what their opinions are. This naturally nurtures the mentality that enables them to question themselves at all times.
This principle was exquisitely exemplified during a lecture given by a professor I truly respected during my Harvard years: Dr. Clayton Christensen, who was battling with cancer at the time. Dr. Christensen earned his doctorate degree in his 40s after working at consulting firms and serving as CEO of various corporations, finally achieving his dream profession of teaching. His current profession has made himself realize how fortunate he is to be able to wake up every morning and come to HBS every day to teach what he passionately believes in, and thus urged us all to find our passion in life. This perhaps suggests that we all must discover paths on our own, pursuing our goals and making decisions independently. Again, this comes back to “knowing oneself.” Without this ability, it is impossible to make any choice with conviction. This is what the higher education in the United States has taught me.
In contrast, the education in Japan is somewhat divergent. I truly enjoyed my time at Ochanomizu University Junior High/High School. However, I began to disdain the learning method of merely memorizing and regurgitating information without the delving into the “Why.” The current trend is that parents wish for their child’s success through finding a purpose in life on their own, rather than providing everything to them. I felt that everything about the Japanese education system was going against this flow. Further, we are seeing diverse learning methods and styles in the United States. For example, some students perform well through tests and exams whereas others may thrive from researching certain topics and providing a report on their findings. Should these types of learning be introduced to the interface of the Japanese education system, imagine just how many students would flourish in many different fields and be able to accomplish and succeed in this world!
- As a professional in the realm of AI technology, what are your thoughts on the ever developing field of Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
My ideal relationship between AI technology and humans is for both to coexist and collaborate not only on a corporate level, but also within our homes, communities, and our daily lives. There was once a time when using electricity or the internet was a big deal, but now it is second nature. The role of AI should and will follow the same evolution. Up until now, we have seen many capable and outstanding professionals just wasting their time on routine and monotonous work. But with the support of AI technology, they could now devote themselves to honing their creativity, utilizing time efficiently and wisely, and truly discovering oneself to lead their own lives as they wish. Moreover, to attain the work-life integration that I recommend, it is essential to fully exploit AI technology to a point where it is a comprehensive supportive tool for realizing one’s life design, surpassing the paradigm of ‘work-style reform’ currently advocated by the Japanese government.
- During the “Asahi Shimbun Challenge Forum” held on March 3rd of this year, you stated in your presentation that we are now in an era in which children must become “AI Bilinguals.” How can we enhance our knowledge of AI?
The answer really is simple – let our children go wild (but not too much!) with the technological devices. My eight-year-old daughter and I actually made a tic-tac-toe app together. My daughter created the symbols and picture in the app while we both structured the game using Reinforcement Learning framework. Interestingly, we could see how smart and skilled AI becomes after a while, beating us all the time. The important thing is that I can treasure and share my precious time with my children while educating them about my profession! Our app is not actually on the app store yet, but through the Testflight app, you can experiment or validate the app you have created before releasing it. Or as I do, you can choose to share with only family and friends.
Another way to familiarize our children with AI is connecting Amazon’s Alexa device. My children are zealous users of Alexa and I frankly can’t live without it now – it’s embedded in our daily lives. I also recommend using Google’s AIY Projects Kits – those things are very hands-on. When it comes to becoming an “AI Bilingual,” I am all for the facts speaking for themselves while, let’s face it, having a little fun too. My theory for one of the reasons why there are so many students in Japan who dislike mathematics is that we make them single-mindedly solve math problems without knowing the root cause or purpose. I believe we should be more focused on educating our children in identifying the context of the problem and where it actually has relevancy in the real world, while encouraging the casual usage of AI to enable their future success.
- Do you hope that more students from Japan will proactively aim to go abroad?
I often wonder why young people are hesitant to go abroad. I can understand how comfortable it is for Japanese people to remain in our country. But what risks are they afraid to take? The risk of not being able to go to a Japanese university? The risk of not being able to work in a Japanese company? As far as I can see, this is the full extent of the risks. I would like to challenge Japanese children and young adults: What do you want to accomplish in life? What do you want to become an expert at? What excites you the most? I think it is difficult to answer these fundamental questions and achieve self-actualization in Japan today. To expand our knowledge and improve our country, I believe it is crucial to see Japan from the outside at least once.
On a separate note, it seems that the Japanese appear to think that there is no point in studying abroad if they cannot be accepted to highly selective schools such as the Ivies. But there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Although they are not all necessarily famous they offer degrees that can certainly facilitate the attainment of your professional goals and aspirations. Does the university of your choice facilitate the acquisition of the necessary skills and knowledge for success in your chosen field? Does it offer degrees directly tied to a career you want to pursue? Would graduating from the school benefit your future? These are actual questions regularly posited by high school guidance counselors in the U.S. I tend not to dwell much on who graduated from which school when hiring people, as is the trend in Silicon Valley. What really matters is whether the candidate can contribute to the organization and whether he or she will harmonize with our team.
- How can we ameliorate Japan’s poor English education compared to other nations?
It seems that rather than the level of English in Japan regressing, it has simply stagnated for decades. The level of English in other non-English speaking nations has risen noticeably, leaving Japan behind. I think the main obstacle to concrete improvement is that we are still fixated on trying to attain high scores on English tests administered and accepted only in Japan. Why not study for the TOEFL which actually adheres to a globally recognized standard? Universities in Japan should swiftly and officially designate tests such as the TOEFL as requirements for their entrance exams. If they do so, we will see how rapidly the landscape of English learning in Japan evolves. Let’s start with learning practical English – English that is commonly accepted and understood in this world. With this simple shift, we could single-handedly provide the requisite incentive to transform English education in this country.
We are already enmeshed in an emerging era of borderless interactions, emerging 5G technology, and the start of full utilization of AI. In today’s fast-changing world, it is almost impossible to survive without the universal language of English.
With this in mind, I strive to continually ask myself as I raise my two children, “What is the global standard?”
- What do you value most in your professional life?
First and foremost, I establish what I prefer what to do and what not to do. As CEO of an organization, I would say this would have to by my underlying principle in managing business. After all, I am taking risks to delineate a path of life I wish to pursue through my business. In view of this, I am having a ball with my life and feel that I am living the life I have always envisioned. Of course, it has not always been a bed of roses and believe me, I have had my share of afflictions, betrayals and other upheavals in life. But they all add to who I am today because of those challenges. I now try to view and assess my professional life through objective lens, like a movie director or a producer.
Now, when it comes to what we value most within our organization, we “hire people who aren’t proven.” Whether they are our clients or our members of our organization, we like to unearth hidden talents and potentials from various angles in all possible fields. This has become quite the norm in Silicon Valley and while we think impressive academic and career backgrounds on paper are important (and we see many of them working at GAFA), we also believe that there are so many people with hidden talents just waiting to be given opportunities to work in their desired realms. Take for example a data scientist we hired recently: He was in logistics industry for many years while taking big data analysis and programming courses in his spare time. We believed he had the potential and knowledge, but clearly just needed the experience. So we hired him immediately and guess what happened next? Recruiting firms would approach him with various job opportunities the minute they find out that he is an actual data scientist. Recruiting was once a big industry, but the way we are headed, these types of agencies who work on a superficial level will deteriorate in no time. Today, people in any field have – dare I say – the luxury to relearn just about anything through online courses such as MOOC or other platforms, and turn their careers around in any way they aspire, so long as there have passion and drive. Without a doubt, such people who “aren’t proven” also exist in Japan and are bound to increase in the coming years. Ancillary to this, we are certainly seeing a movement towards matching organizational structures to the demands of people who have the desire to relearn and master new skills.
- Who do you admire as a global leader?
I very much respect Melinda Gates, a remarkable businesswoman and a philanthropist who has tremendous influence not just in the IT industry but the whole world. Since establishing the notable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she would frequent villages and towns of developing nations and directly reach out to people in need of help. We see many successful, affluent people establishing such foundations, but how many of the founders are actually hands-on in dealing with issues of poverty, disease and lack of education? The spouse of the world’s richest man, Melinda would not stop to think twice to go out of her way, especially with regards to dealing with women’s issues and human rights. As a businesswoman, a wife and a mother, I truly admire her endeavors. She has also just recently released her memoir, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World (Flatiron Books), which addresses many of the issues the foundation upholds. The book highlights women’s issues and ultimately empowers women in all societies. I devote much of my time reading lots of books, especially written by women leaders. But I have to say the one book that changed my life is written by a professor I sincerely respect most, Dr. Clayton Christensen: How Will You Measure Your Life? (HarperBusiness). Dr. Christensen provides insight into how we establish our own values and standards when it comes to our own lives. He also heartwarmingly shares with us his precious moments with his own family that I can genuinely say that the book is like my bible and a piece that I have read many times over, especially when I hit a wall in life.
- A message to future potential ‘global leaders’:
I believe there are three fundamental skills necessary to transition and survive in this AI world:
- Ability to Make Mistakes Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Mistakes happen all the time and they really are part of our lives whether you like it or not. Know that behind every success there has been some shares of mistakes.
- Competency for Output – Creativity, Writing and Speaking Skills This is something that Mr. Masamichi Toyama of Smiles Co., Ltd (known for their Soup Stock Tokyo business) foresees, and I agree: Towards the year 2020, Japan will revitalize back to the era of the Edo Restoration. The Edo Era was a time when our country saw mass culture blossoming, where there were many private businesses contributing to a boom in the economy. It was from here that the concept of an organization emerged, incorporating a leader with his or her workers; in which we are accustomed to now. With this prophecy however, we will see many individuals becoming business owners, taking control of their own destinies, and dynamically changing and designing their ideals in life. We will see a power shift from organizations to individuals. We also see this in Taichi Sakaiya’s novel, Dankai No Ato (Mainichi Newspaper), who coined the term, “Dankai No Sedai” (Baby Boomer Generation) and in the history of Japan was a highly acclaimed author. The novel depicts Japanese government officials having side-businesses, which is frowned upon currently, especially for these bureaucrats. But in this day and age of gig economy, the boundary between one’s main occupation and side jobs is becoming hazy. Competency for output – creativity, writing, and speaking skills in particular – would be key to how individuals are able to provide values and contribute to society, to logically and critically communicate your thoughts.
- Strength to Know Oneself What does it mean to live your own terms? Parents these days yearn for their children to be able to discover and lead a life of individuality, rather than having them follow a pre-destined path arranged by their parents. Parents would need to lead by example if they wish to fulfill their expectations in that respect. To adapt to the world in an age of longevity – a lifespan of 100 years, it is never too late to start over, particularly career-wise (even make a 180 degree change). We can now learn things, willfully through online courses such as MOOC and explore our options. Ask yourself, is it realistic to settle with the profession you sought straight out of college for the next 80 years?
I still go online and relearn various topics related and at times unrelated to my profession and field of interest. Parents – why not boldly show your children the way you want to live? Start with just talking to them about yourself, what you do, and what your passions are. Perhaps that’ll make it easier for parents to mentally and physically acknowledge their children’s independence and enthusiastically support their ambitions in life!