The Potential of Investment in Semiconductors for AI in Japan

Masataka Osaki
Japan Country Manager
VP Worldwide Field Operations

March 2024

Established in 1993, NVIDIA is a leading US-based semiconductor company that accounts for approximately 80% of the global market for Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). The company has grown rapidly over the last few years as demand for GPUs has skyrocketed with the recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), which relies on the ultra-fast processing capabilities of GPUs. We interviewed Masataka Osaki, Country Manager of NVIDIA Japan and Vice President of Worldwide Field Operations for NVIDIA's U.S. parent, to learn about the potential of the AI semiconductor field in Japan and globally.

Global Semiconductor Market Set to Hit USD 1 Trillion by 2030

From autonomous driving to smart cities, robotics and healthcare, the seemingly limitless potential of AI has been the focus of attention in recent years. The increasing processing power required by AI has spurred global demand for GPUs. According to a press release from SEMI Japan, an industry association of semiconductor manufacturers, the semiconductor market is set to grow by more than 10% in both 2024 and 2025 and will reach an estimated USD 1 trillion by 2030.

"Demand for AI is growing rapidly in the area of cloud computing, especially in the U.S. and China," says Osaki, describing the global AI boom, "and this is driving the market for AI-specific semiconductors for dedicated data centers known as 'AI Factories'."

How Japan Can Excel in AI Deployment

While it could be argued that Japan has been slow in adopting AI in comparison to the U.S., China and Europe, the Japanese government heavily promoted AI use in both the public and private sectors throughout 2023, offering financial support for both the development and utilization of AI. Thanks to these efforts, Japan is now rapidly catching up to the rest of the world.

Yet, according to Osaki, there are some key differences in how AI is viewed in Japan compared to Europe and the U.S.: "Western culture is more oriented toward software and computing, while Japanese culture is more oriented toward hardware and mechanics," observes Osaki, noting that Japanese companies also tend to think differently about product development, verification and deployment.

These differences, however, can complement each other to create value. Take the example of factory robots: no matter how intelligent the robot's "brain" becomes thanks to AI, it counts for nothing without the precision actuators that allow the robot to physically move and interact with its environment. Many of these robotic actuators, which themselves employ cutting-edge technology, are manufactured by Japanese companies, making Japan a key player in the field of AI.

Working with Toyota and Other Leading Japanese Automakers

Japan retains a culture of craftsmanship, which values both ingenuity and skill to create better products. According to Osaki, this can be a strength when it comes to using AI: "Japan's edge lies in its abundance of excellent manufacturers known for their innovation. "He further discussed the potential for collaboration between Japanese manufacturers and AI companies, noting that AI technology is already beginning to be used in Japan's automotive industry.

"NVIDIA is collaborating with leading Japanese automakers such as Toyota in fields such as simulation technology using big data," explains Osaki, "We use computer graphics to create road environments in which we operate vehicles in a virtual space to test safety in various weather and road conditions. This is linked to a physical vehicle to verify safety. We're working in these kinds of projects in collaboration with Japanese automakers, which have extensive experience and advanced technologies at the engineering level."

NVIDIA DRIVE: one example of AI Cabin solutions

AI Set to Become a Game Changer in Healthcare and Medicine

NVIDIA also collaborates with Japanese companies operating in the healthcare and medical arenas, including Canon and Fujifilm.

In the field of high-resolution medical imaging, including Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and mammography, NVIDIA GPUs are used to sharpen images. This, together with diagnostic support using big data derived from a set of millions of medical images makes it possible to analyze images from a particular patient to help detect diseases early and optimize treatment plans.

According to Osaki, the close connection between AI and the medical field, including Japan's pharmaceutical manufacturers and university hospitals, will provide an additional advantage for Japan compared to other countries: "Drug development has typically taken years, but AI is transforming the development process and has drastically shortened the time taken. Many Japanese pharmaceutical companies are engaged in drug discovery, and AI could be a game changer in this market as well."

Osaki answering questions in the interview

The Potential of AI Utilization in the Japanese Market

AI technology, increasingly adopted globally across a wide range of sectors, is still nascent in Japan. Nonetheless, as demand surges in various business fields, there's an evident uptick in the anticipation for partnerships. NVIDIA perceives this trend as indicative of expanding opportunities for AI-related companies in Japan.

"If it can catch up with the rest of the world in the AI domain, Japan has huge potential, not only in terms of business scale but also in terms of human resources," says Osaki, "There is much to learn from Japanese companies and research institutions in terms of problem-solving and commitment to quality."

It is not only big cities like Tokyo that are taking on new challenges: "Interest in AI extends to Japan's rural areas. For example, some local governments are looking into setting up AI data centers on tracts of land in Hokkaido to take advantage of renewable energy, and some local universities are aiming to revitalize their regions by including more advanced AI-related education," says Osaki. Clearly, we can expect to see greater momentum for AI innovation in the future.

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