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Why Keras Creator François Chollet Should Study His History: The Foolishness of Criticizing Whole Countries and Peoples 15:17

To state upfront: Keras is superb. Its merits rank it up there with gcc and Emacs.

Consider the way Stallman grew jealous of Torvalds and gradually lost his personal respectability, even as his software remained first rate. In the same way, no matter what type of person François Chollet might turn out to be…a slightly uppity young talent, or even a fool…Keras’s luster would not diminish.

But his knowledge of history seems to be lacking. Let me explain myself using the Japanese language’s singular and rich expressive power.

Chollet criticizes Japanese people for plagiarizing Western ideas. I don’t know what country he hails from, but can we really say that “Western ideas” have no Eastern influence?

Take microprocessors as an example. Today’s young people take the thing called a CPU for granted. Well, this CPU was first installed into a semiconductor by the Japanese. It was made by Japanese to fill a demand in the Japanese market.

If someone using a computer is going to criticize the contributions of the Japanese, it is only reasonably to expect them to know this. And the list of Japanese inventions copied by foreign companies…portable radios, portable music players, car navigation systems, mobile contents, and so on…is not a short one. Not to mention the fact that Japan plays a central role in the business of CDs, Blu-rays, and DVDs.

Let’s take the United States of America, which has produced more important inventions than anywhere else in the world. Americans will forever be known as the people who created and used the atomic bomb and put men on the Moon.

But who thought up the theory of relativity, without which there would be no atomic bomb? Albert Einstein, of course…a German. And what about the rocket technology that allowed NASA to make a manned moon landing? Well, that would be Wernher von Braun, a one-time member of the Nazi Party and SS. And the Nazis, of course, are criticized by Americans as the ultimate evil!

Now then, who invented the computer, around which Silicon Valley’s entire economy revolves? An American would probably say Mauchly and Eckert of ENIAC. But von Neumann, who theorized the calculator, was German, and the inspiration for his idea came from the Czech Gödel. And the Turing machine, credited as the basis for modern computers, was created by the Englishman Alan Turing.

No one would argue that Western science was blossoming during this period. But consider the fact that Japan isolated itself for 400 years. And think of the enormity of culture that this tiny little Asian island nurtured during that time: everything from the Bushido warrior code to a world-class cuisine.

And let us not forget that Japan constructed the world’s biggest warship.

After World War II, if anything Japan became even more driven then before. Transistors, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, may have been invented by an American…but leave it to a tiny little Japanese company called Sony to put high frequency transistors into application, and to Toyota to create the world’s most cost-effective, high-performance automobile.

Wait, but who invented cars? Well, that would be Karl Benz…a German. The American Henry Ford put them in mass production, and Toyota further refined the production process.

The thing that America does best is franchises. Convenience stores were thought up by John Jefferson Green, the Texan who gave us 7-Eleven.

Japan’s Ito-Yokado acquired a license and attempted a Japanese expansion, but the American manual proved unhelpful. Ito-Yokado had no choice but to create its own manual and strengthen the franchise model for the Japanese market. As it happened, around this time the American 7-Eleven was facing bankruptcy. Ito-Yokado stepped in, sponsoring the struggling American company as a subsidiary, and got it back on its feet.

In other words, it was the Japanese who truly perfected the convenience store as a business.

Despite its ruination in the war, Japan became an economic giant with incredible speed. Huge economic growth always means a shortage of something: calculating resources. At the time, this was people.

Unlike most Americans who can’t even remember their multiplication tables, Japanese were always skilled at the abacus. People tend to forget the significant impact of the abacus on the East’s economic growth. Both boys and girls took courses in abacus calculation. The best among them could do five-digit multiplication in their heads and calculate cube roots.

But Japan’s economic growth was such that even this was not enough. An electronic form of calculation became necessary. And so, Japanese were the first to create consumer electronic calculators. In the subsequent “calculator war,” Japan’s premier companies sparred fiercely. Numerous new variants were born: electrical relay, vacuum, semiconductors using transistors. Japan became the world’s foremost electronics market.

Around this time Masatoshi Shima, an engineer at one of these companies, hit upon a revolutionary idea: if you could make calculators with transistors, surely you could also make them with integrated circuits. He took his idea to Intel, which at the time only made memory with semiconductors, and requested the world’s first IC with calculation circuits installed.

Intel had seen similar ideas but they had all proven financially or technically difficult. But a tiny little Japanese company offered up the investment that finally made it possible. Intel’s Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff, and Stanley Mazor joined with Shima and completed the world’s first stored program microprocessor. This was Intel’s 4004 system, which in 8 bits became the 8080.

Federico Faggin had only just joined the company when Shima arrived, but nonetheless attempted to claim the credit for the microprocessor design. But the design came from Shima, and Intel’s CEO Robert Noyce knew it. He designated Shima as the chief designer for the 8080.

After Shima and Faggin reconciled, they went on to found Zilog together and create the 20th century’s best-selling microprocessor, the Z80.

The game industry began with an American, Nolan Bushnell, but his early efforts failed. It was the Japanese companies Nintendo and Sega that perfected the game industry. Sega benefited from American investment, but was primarily a Japanese company. And then Sony got involved.

If you consider it from the perspective of the game industry, Microsoft’s Xbox is a copy of the Japanese game platform model. I can speak to this from personal experience from my days at Microsoft, when I was asked to “study” the Japanese game industry…i.e., steal its best ideas.

And the 20th century’s most advanced mobile platform, i-mode, is a Japanese creation. Just as Ford brought America to the forefront of the automobile industry, so too has Japan reached the cutting edge of mobile content.

In the 21st century Apple borrowed the Walkman concept and created the iPod, and mobile phone companies around the world plagiarized the i-mode business model only to meet with failure. The only one that survived and succeeded was Apple’s iPhone.

Incidentally, the Yagi antenna, used on televisions around the world, was an idea by the Japanese Professor Yagi that the American Army plagiarized. Ferrari and Maserati’s designer Pininfarina had a Japanese man, Ken Okuyama, as its director, and BMW’s designs are Japanese as well.

We can credit VAIO’s Teiyu Goto for transforming computers from dull beige to vibrant grey. Compare the time of VAIO’s release and the Apple PowerBook’s transformation to silver.

Why is the Xbox control a boomerang shape? Well, Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi invented the plus-shaped key, and the first person who thought of putting a grip design on controllers was again Teiyo Goto of Sony.

Now then, if you think that Japan is just stealing other countries’ ideas, here’s something curious to consider.

A while back Apple sued Motorola for exclusive rights to multitouch touchscreen features. Seeking some form of defense, Motorola’s lawyers poured over academic literature worldwide. Enter University of Tokyo Professor and Sony Computer Science Laboratories Deputy Director Jun Rekimoto, who brought to light a multitouch demo from long before the days of Apple or Jeff Han. This was recognized by American courts as an example of prior usage, and as a result, Android users all over the world now enjoy multitouch features.

Consider the irony that François Chollet draws his salary from Google…a company that without the inventiveness and selfless contributions of the Japanese he criticizes would not have Android multitouch features, a key component of its business.

In Japan, we would call this biting the hand that feeds you.

And oh, by the way…the convolutional neural network that serves as a key component of Keras’ deep learning is built upon Fukushima’s neocognitron.

Consider this PDF:


So, are Japanese people merely stealing Western ideas? It seems to me that instead we take the best ideas of both East and West, evolve them into new and unique forms, and then share them with the world.

I am not going to hold up Japanese as models of virtue and go so far as to credit them for the creation of the microprocessor. Most Japanese themselves don’t know who was responsible. We instinctively know the folly of single-minded nationalism.

Perhaps it is in the nature of the Japanese personality to do things like quietly churn out Anime and Manga after receiving inspiration and paying respects to Alphonse Mucha and Walt Disney.

And so it is unbelievably foolish to lump together and criticize an entire race or country.

Neurons and perceptrons are not the same thing. Neurons evolve through mutual exchange of concepts. This is how the human brain works.

And it is also how science works.