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Never go against nature, just try to fool it.
――Where do you find inspiration?
I get ideas when I’m brushing my teeth in the bathroom every morning. The super-resolution technology I mentioned earlier came to me when I was in the bath. The initial inspiration came when I was bathing my daughter. Since I keep thinking about the issue until inspiration comes, it is more like a direction that emerges while I’m thinking rather than a flash of inspiration. I check the inspiration against various types of literature and theories, but in most cases it requires tricking nature. I learned this approach of “fooling nature” while I was studying in England. The professor I was studying with specialized in metallurgical engineering and was researching metal fatigue in jet engines and airplane bodies. He used to say, “What technology needs to do is fool nature. If you make something that tries to conquer nature, nature will get even with you. Therefore, do not try to surpass or conquer nature. But if you can fool it, nature will be accepting.”
This concept also applies to the entropy issue in my superlattice memory. Maxwell’s demon lives there, and you must pay a heat energy tax to the demon whenever you use heat energy. That is nature’s law. In other words, you cannot create a heat engine that has zero entropy (the law will not permit a perpetual motion machine). Therefore, we just have to cleverly fool Maxwell’s demon.
Enchanted by the sound of jet engines
――What are your hobbies?
My hobby is flying radio-controlled airplanes. On weekends, I’m out doing that. I like airplanes’ aerodynamic shapes, which conform to fluid dynamic principles. At the university in England, I belonged to a group that was developing and researching turbine blades for Rolls- Royce jet engines. The ANA 787 uses a Rolls-Royce jet engine. When I travel on business, I try to fly ANA. The seats are equipped with noise-canceling earphones, but I never use them because I’m interested in jet engine sounds.
One time, a flight attendant came to my seat and said, “If you wear these, they will eliminate the noise and you’ll be more comfortable.” I said, “I was once involved in researching turbine blades. So I’m very interested in engine sounds, and I’m enjoying them because I can tell the engine is running normally.” The attendant must have relayed this to the cockpit. When I was getting off the plane, I was handed an appreciative message from the captain. It said, “With a customer like you riding our plane, we can operate it with peace of mind.” The best time to enjoy airplane engine sounds from Narita Airport is when a south wind is blowing, and the best spot is Sakuranoyama Park in Narita. Since many flights come in between 2:30 and 3:00 PM, that time slot is really good. My favorite spot is the embankment located near Osaka International (Itami) Airport. Planes fly a mere 50 meters above your head. But riding in an airplane is the best. Rather than hearing it as noise, try to listen to it as art. (Laughter)
Japanese companies should forge ahead by merging phase-change and magnetic technologies
――Can phase-change memory and other types of memory coexist?
What we need to do from now on is combine phase-change memory with MRAM. Using a topological insulator, we can operate memory without using an ordinary magnetic material. We will also be able to freely control spin without using a magnetic material. What we need to do in phase change is separate the part of phase-change memory in which a topological insulator is used to control spin from the part of the memory that uses spin, and embed both of them inside a single device. That is the future I’m thinking about. There is no need to eliminate either of these technologies.
We just need to proceed on the same path together. I think that will help Japanese companies grow. We need to avoid battles like the one that occurred in the past over optical discs!!