令和3年度 東京大学秋季入学式

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Address by the President of the University of Tokyo
at the 2021 Autumn Semester Matriculation Ceremony

Hello everyone. Congratulations on your admission and welcome to the University of Tokyo. On behalf of us all at the university, I sincerely applaud all of you for your effort.

This autumn, I am very happy to welcome 889 of you as new undergraduate and graduate students of UTokyo. Unfortunately, many students still cannot come to Japan because of this unrelenting pandemic. I would like to celebrate your admission together as one, both those of you here today and everyone watching this ceremony online from far away.

During its 140-year history, the University of Tokyo has accumulated many high-level discoveries in a broad range of fields and a rich reservoir of resources relating to research. We have been working to develop an environment that allows you to access these resources both online and offline. If you ever have any concerns about your student life while taking online classes or anything at all, please talk to us. We are here to fully support you so that you can concentrate on your studies and research. Together, we would like to make the university into a place where you can enjoy a wonderful campus life.

The world we live in is changing greatly each passing day and humanity faces many urgent challenges. The relentless expansion of globalized economic activity has brought our natural environment to the brink of destruction and climate change is already affecting us, causing extreme heatwaves and torrential rains in many parts of the world.

Moreover, unfair inequalities and divisions are growing around the world today. I don’t just mean the gap between rich and poor countries, but we still haven’t overcome discrimination based on gender, nationality, skin color and other attributes. The arrogance of majorities everywhere still brings suffering to minorities in many situations.

Yet, in the meantime, we are also seeing an unprecedented and growing wave of calls to resist and overcome inequality, division, and discrimination in all its forms.

To name someone with ties to Japan in this regard, tennis player Ms. Naomi Osaka comes to my mind. Ms. Osaka has won praise from people around the world not just for her excellent tennis but for continuing to raise her voice against the deep-rooted discrimination that deeply affects and sometimes even costs the lives of minorities in America. When she won the U.S. Open Tennis Championships last year, Ms. Osaka said in interviews and on Twitter that she wanted to share her concern about discrimination with people around the world, saying, “I am done being shy.”

Of course, discrimination against minorities is not confined to one country, and we have much to do in Japan as well. Further, focusing only on contemporary high-profile individuals like Ms. Osaka runs the risk of overemphasizing the successes of a few high achievers. But knowing that many of you gathered here today must have overcome various barriers is a source of great hope for UTokyo, for Japan, and for the entire world working to overcome our divisions.

The University of Tokyo is a place where some of the greatest minds gather, but we must remain aware that this intellectual excellence comes with the risk of arrogance. In his recent book The Tyranny of Merit, Harvard University Professor Michael Sandel harshly criticizes meritocratic elites for being prone to hubris.

While people with an elite academic background often go on to achieve high positions in their careers, Professor Sandel stresses that is all the more reason why they should not be self-righteous or look down on the achievements of others. Although we are fortunate to be here in this place today, that good fortune is not a product of your individual efforts or your abilities alone. It first became a possibility through relationships with many people, near and far, who have supported you. Moreover, how you behave from now on comes with the responsibility to consider what kind of world you want to leave for the countless generations to come.

And this is the question posed to all of us. I wonder how you will respond to this question in your life ahead.

It is often said that we are living in an age of uncertainty. You may be familiar with the acronym VUCA. It is made up of the first four letters of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It describes our current rapidly changing and uncertain situation that prevents us from seeing exactly what lies ahead. We don’t even know if conventional problem-solving methodologies will be viable in a situation like this. This is why at UTokyo we are now looking to art and design in a bid to stimulate out-of-the-box thinking.

“Art thinking” is the imagination to break through common preconceptions and discover new challenges from your own thoughts and emotions. Similarly, “design thinking” is the creativity to come up with novel ways of being from essential needs that people didn’t even realize they had.

We are also making use of art and design thinking in research at UTokyo. For instance, the Institute of Industrial Science has launched the Design-Led X Platform, an initiative integrating perspectives from engineering and design to promote design-led innovation in fields from manufacturing to education.

Initiatives like these are not limited to research. In your student life ahead, you will have classes where you can experience and practice art and design thinking. In fact, art and design exist in your everyday lives already, and you can experience and practice them whatever your specialty might be. For example, one of our students uses the power of art and technology in a project called “Rebooting Memories,” to colorize black and white photos from the era around the Second World War. She uses a combination of AI technology, dialogue with the wartime generation and studying documents and materials. In fact she started this project as a high school student and has carried it on at UTokyo after her admission. Powered by collaboration between AI and humans, this project helps “melt” or bring back life to “Rebooting Memories,” passing on the feelings and memories of those who experienced the war to following generations. This is a perfect example of art and design thinking in practice.

Now, let me turn to the potential of art thinking for cultivating our ability to imagine other people’s situations and expanding our communities through dialogue.

The late British economist Adam Smith argued in his book The Wealth of Nations that while individuals pursue their own interests, it is as if an “invisible hand” guided them to contribute unintentionally to the public good. Although he is sometimes seen as a libertarian because of this powerful metaphor of the invisible hand, Smith emphasized interpersonal relationships and the importance placed on sympathy in his work The Theory of Moral Sentiments is very thought-provoking.

What he meant by sympathy was the ability to relate to other people’s circumstances, imagine what it must be like for those who are suffering and what they must be feeling. By what Smith called “changing places in fancy,” he said that as humans we are able to imagine what it must be like to stand in someone else’s shoes. In this book, Smith also discussed a man sympathizing with a woman giving birth or the living sympathizing with the dead. We feel this sort of “cognitive sympathy” in our everyday life through works of literature or art showing us and giving us a chance to experience vicariously the lives of people with different backgrounds. The project “Rebooting Memories” is also designed to convey the world of the wartime generation to those of us without a first-hand experience of that war. Sympathy for other’s lived experiences is a key connecting factor in this project, too.

Smith also argued that interest in and imagination of others’ circumstances should not be limited to art in a narrow sense but was equally important in our economic and social activities. Today I suppose we are more likely to use the word empathy in this context. Whether we call it sympathy or empathy, we need to be aware of the spotlight effect. What I mean by this is that often we only pay attention to whatever is in the spotlight. I’m sure that many people agree with Smith’s emphasis on the importance of sympathy for others. But too often, the subjects of our empathy are extremely limited. What’s more, we tend to feel empathy towards those with whom we have a lot in common or towards those that interest us at that moment.

It is, therefore, important to be aware that many people and issues fall outside of the narrow circle illuminated by the spotlight, and also that we do not limit our empathy to a given place and time. Intellectually we need to delve deeper into issues and develop knowledge that is interconnected and diverse. Another way to put it is that we must broaden the scope of our empathy. It is essential to engage in dialogue with people of diverse backgrounds, either through your academic studies or in your daily lives. UTokyo has faculty members and students who specialize in a wide variety of fields. I would like to challenge you all to step into this vast network of dialogue and start various cycles of empathy yourselves. This experience should help you establish a toehold as you develop your own answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this speech: what kind of a world will you leave to those who come after you.

Finally, let’s think about the danger inherent in looking at things only in terms of their utility.

Joseph John Thomson, who discovered the electron and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906, said in the 1930s that any number of new industries had prospered but none of the discoveries from which they grew had been made with practical application in mind. I’m sure that Thompson’s discovery of the electron itself sprang simply from his pursuit of knowledge based on his personal curiosity.

The physicist Steven Weinberg, who passed away in July this year, was well-known for his work on the standard model of particle physics. In a 2015 speech, Weinberg affirmed that the knowledge gained from Thompson’s discovery of the electron allowed the creation in the field of electronics of a myriad of practical applications essential for society and cited it as an example of a scientific discovery in basic research that changed the world. However, he noted that this did not come about immediately after the initial discovery. In other words, we cannot necessarily say right away whether a particular research outcome will be useful or not.

In February this year, UTokyo held the inaugural symposium of the Institute for AI and Beyond. In her speech at the event, Taiwan Digital Minister Audrey Tang advocated for the concept of “Assistive Collective Intelligence” — a collective and mutually complementary AI to assist people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has made good use of Collective Intelligence to effectively convey information on mask availability to the public. By integrating bottom-up information provided by individuals with real-time open data, Taiwan could respond dynamically to constantly changing demand for masks and resolved this issue in a decentralized manner. No matter how efficient and systematic, a top-down system design could not deal with the challenges of this unpredictable VUCA era. As in the case of Collective Intelligence, it is important that a diverse body of information that at first glance seems useless is connected in an open and bottom-up manner. This is because individual elements when connected become useful by complementing each other.

If we think about it again, the expressions "useful" and "useless" that we throw about unconsciously now seem one-dimensional and short-term, based on thinking that looks for immediate economic benefit and productivity improvements. These expressions make it difficult to take a more multifaceted and long-term perspective. This is because we tend to overlook the fact that our livelihoods are supported by an interconnected network of seemingly useless elements.

Moreover, we should never use these words, useful or useless, to describe people. Human dignity is inherent to each individual and cannot be measured by whether they are useful to someone else. I hope that those of you who will be in leadership positions in society in the future will not dismiss others who are far removed from your life experiences, but rather will nurture your understanding and empathy for those from a variety of diverse backgrounds. After all, we all exist in a sequence of countless people passing on from the past through the present to the future.

Unfortunately, for now, it is still difficult to meet face-to-face. But if you can’t meet in person, please listen online to the voices of other students or people all around the world. And please speak up yourselves. Each small dialogue will eventually grow, connecting you with many other students and colleagues.

UTokyo is committed to dealing with the changing situation and providing an environment where you can safely focus on your studies and research. We are constantly monitoring the COVID-19 situation and will likely continue to increase in-person activities combined with online teaching for a while. It is necessary for each person to be aware of the need to prevent the spread of infection based on accurate information. I hope you will be supportive of one another and devise ways to remain safe as you go about your activities. We are always here for you so whenever you have problems, however small, please don’t worry on your own but instead come and talk to us.

Learning and research start from the bottom-up through diverse exchanges and dialogue. In the same way, changing the society and world we live in must also start from each of us connecting with those around us. Together, let’s take on the challenge to create a better university, a better society, and a better world for everyone.

I sincerely look forward to seeing what you will achieve at the University of Tokyo. Congratulations on your admission!

The University of Tokyo
October 1, 2021


(和文)令和3年度 東京大学秋季入学式 総長式辞







東京大学は、最高の知性が集まる大学の一つですが、そうした知的な優秀性にも、傲慢さが生じる危険性があることを自覚する必要があるでしょう。ハーヴァード大学教授のマイケル・サンデル氏は、近著の“The Tyranny of Merit”(直訳すれば『功績の専制』となるでしょうか)で、学歴エリートが陥りがちな傲りを痛烈に批判しました。





東京大学においても、こうしたアート・デザインの思考法を活かした研究が進められています。例えば生産技術研究所では、工学とデザイン視点の融合による「価値創造デザイン(Design-Led X = DLX)」を推進し、ものづくりから教育まで、さまざまな分野を対象とした「デザインが先導するイノベーション」に取り組んでいます。



英国の経済学者アダム・スミスは、『国富論』で「見えざる手」の調整において、個人の利益の追求が社会の公益につながると説きました。「見えざる手」という印象的な比喩のせいで、自由放任主義者と見なされることがありますが、スミスが重視していたのは個人と個人の関係であり、彼の著作『道徳感情論』(The Theory of Moral Sentiments)が、「共感」の重要性を説いている点はたいへん示唆的です。

スミスの「共感(sympathy)」とは、他人の境遇と自分を重ね合わせ、苦悩している人がいれば、その人の立場を想像し、その人が感じることを自分で思い浮かべてみる力のことです。人間は「想像力を通して立場を入れ替え」(changing places in fancy)、自分とは異なる他者を想像することができます。スミスはこの書物において、女性の出産を想像する男性、あるいは、死者の立場に身をおく生者を論じています。私たちは、このような「認知的共感(cognitive sympathy)」を、たとえば文学や芸術の作品を通して、日常生活でも感じています。そこでは、自分とは異なるバックグラウンドをもった人物の生が描かれており、私たちは疑似的に他人の生を感じることができます。先ほど触れた「記憶の解凍」もまた、戦争を体験した人の世界を、戦争を体験していない世代に伝えるものであり、他者の生への共感が重要な結び目となっています。




19世紀末に電子を発見し、1906年にノーベル物理学賞を受賞したJ.J.トムソン(Joseph John Thomson)は、1930年代に「これまでにあまたの新しい産業が大きく発展したが、その基礎となる発見は何ら実用を考えて行われたものではない」と述べました。電子の発見もまた、自らの興味をもとに真理を探求しつづけたにすぎなかったからでしょう。

また、今年7月に亡くなった素粒子の標準理論で大きな仕事をした物理学者のワインバーグ(Steven Weinberg)は、2015年のスピーチで、トムソンの電子の知識をもとに、電子工学が「実用的」で社会に欠かせない多くのものを生みだしたのは、基礎科学における発見が世界を大きく変えた一例であるが、それは発見のあと直ちに起こったことではなかった、と述べています。つまり、ある研究の成果が「役に立つ」のか否かは、すぐに判断できるとは限らないのです。

今年2月に開催した本学の「Beyond AI研究推進機構」発足シンポジウムに登壇したオードリー・タン氏は、人々をアシストするための、集合的・相互補完的なAIのコンセプト「Assistive Collective Intelligence」を提唱しています。台湾では、COVID-19のパンデミックのなかで、マスク販売の情報を市民に効果的に伝達するために、このCollective Intelligenceの試みが活かされました。人々から寄せられたボトムアップな情報と、リアルタイムのオープンデータを組み合わせることによって、常に変化するマスクのニーズに動的に対応し、民主的に課題を解決しています。予測不可能なVUCAの時代の課題には、いかに効率的で統一的に思えてもトップダウンのシステムでは対応できません。Collective Intelligenceの事例のように、一見「役に立たない」多様な要素をもつ情報の連携が、ボトムアップの特質をもったことが重要です。個々の要素が支え合うことで、「役立つ」ものになったからです。







藤井 輝夫