Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Kyoto Laboratory
Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Kyoto Laboratory (Sony CSL Kyoto) is an experimental new branch office of Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc., launched in Apr. 2020. The lab is built on the sober recognition that the wonders of modern technological advances — despite their undeniable allure and benefits — have produced a range of unexpected, detrimental effects on our individual and collective well-being. Our research will focus on exploring alternative paths of technological development, that are truer to human values, cultures, and traditions. The lab is located in the heart of Kyoto, and will initially begin operation with a modest research staff of three scientists: Jun Rekimoto, Lana Sinapayen, and Yuichiro Takeuchi. We plan to gradually expand the team, hiring talented researchers from around the world. This website will periodically be updated with new information, so please stay tuned!


In a society being transformed by information technology, values that seem to clash are actually developing in a complementary manner. The pursuit of convenience beyond space allows for connectivity anywhere in the world, but that will bring about a renewed appreciation for uniqueness. When robots and AIs automate everything, people will seek out a feeling of personal accomplishment. Rather than living in an efficiently designed smart-city, you might prefer somewhere you can enjoy walks and feel the seasons change. Smart cooking? Maybe you just want to eat delicious food, and cherish the places where that’s possible. These factors tend to be extreme technological efficiencies, or the inverse: reactionary politics. But they shouldn’t be inherently incompatible. When Sony Computer Science Laboratories began considering Kyoto as the location of our next laboratory, we had a wild idea: to explore the future of humankind while avoiding such incompatibility. Practically, it seemed like the perfect place. Kyoto is not an ancient city; it’s actually rather future-oriented, in the sense that its values will never get old. That doesn’t just refer to economic and material contentment, but to a sense of higher sufficiency or satisfaction, including emotional contentment, symbiosis with nature, and respect for order and tranquility. From a small lab in Kyoto, we aim to contribute to the fulfillment of human values.




My motto is “Good science ends when you become more attached to your solution than to the problem.” This is the idea I go back to when trying to understand egregious stories about bad science: when people’s incentives diverge from the well being of the community they claim to serve, catastrophes happen. This principle goes beyond the world of science: we can all think of examples in tech, politics, or even smaller social settings. Incentives do not appear out of nowhere. They are steered by institutions and social expectations. Thankfully, this means that we can change the institutions to change the way incentives play out. I believe that research and tech’s incentives can be, and should be, realigned with what we want our societies to be like. This is why I am developing a web platform aiming to change how we do research. The way we go about doing, publishing, and disseminating research still follows constraints that have stopped existing decades ago. The flaws in incentives that existed then have been magnified by the gap between old constraints and the possibilities that our world offers now. The same can be said about laboratories themselves as physical institutions, especially computer science labs. At a time when a lot of us can work remotely, and collaborate in teams that span the entire globe, the value of computer science labs as physical spaces can be rethought and explored. This is why I am excited to build this new lab from the ground up. Starting with a small number of researchers, we will experiment and push the boundaries of what a “lab” means for its members and for the local communities it belongs to. Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo has always been an outlier in the research landscape, granting incredible freedom and support to its researchers, spanning a virtually unlimited array of research topics. The Kyoto branch will carry on this pioneer spirit, in a city that has succeeded in staying relevant by reinventing itself many times over in a tumultuous history.


Yuichiro Takeuchi ON STARTING THE LAB


How will technology change cities in the future? If we are to believe the proponents of “smart cities”, we will soon witness the emergence of a machine-augmented urban utopia, where all aspects of city life are optimized via artificial intelligence and automated infrastructure. However, history shows the danger of putting too much trust in such rosy visions. The advent of social media such as Twitter has led to a wholesale democratization of mass communication, which has spawned not only new forms of self-expression, journalism, and activism, but also a deluge of fake news and clickbait. Airbnb and Uber, despite their obvious utility as services, have been criticized as exacerbating problems at macroscopic, communal scales such as rising rents and increased congestion. Smartphones, besides making us more productive and forever curing our sense of boredom, have turned us into narcissistic, screen-obsessed individuals with diminished interest in the public sphere. Technological progress can produce unanticipated side effects. Smart cities may very well be utopia, but it can just as easily create a boundless system of surveillance and control dominated by a handful of global corporations. What roles do we really want technology to play, in shaping our future cities? Kyoto, a city where the new mixes with the old in at times mysterious ways, is an ideal place for me to explore such questions.