Fujitsu CTO: ‘The quantum revolution is years away, not decades’

11 Mar 2022

Vivek Mahajan. Image: Fujitsu

Fujitsu’s Vivek Mahajan believes that while AI will play a major role in the future of tech, it is quantum computers that are the real ‘game changer’.

Vivek Mahajan is the global chief technology officer at Japanese IT equipment and services company Fujitsu, with extensive experience working in leading multinationals such as General Electric, Oracle and IBM.

Mahajan joined Fujitsu in July 2021 and aims to lead a strategy focused on new breakthroughs in technology and business growth centred on five key technology areas: computing, networks, AI, data security and ‘converging technologies’, which focuses on the intersection of technology and human behaviour and the social sciences.

‘AI offers many benefits, but it can also be potentially “tricked”’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

From my vantage as CTO, I see the disparity and delay in the introduction of digital technologies in many countries as one of the major challenges facing IT today. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the problems presented by this digital divide into sharp relief.

One way to help close the gap and accelerate the introduction of digital technology more equally throughout the world will be to align the efforts of players in the private and public sector.

In Japan, where I am based, the recently established [government] Digital Agency has a powerful ‘control tower’ function, playing a central role in policies to realise a society in which the benefits of digital technologies can be felt in people’s everyday lives.

Examples include the integration of national and local government systems, the introduction of the individual number card for the use of online banking and public services, and the digitalisation of administrative procedures and education.

Fujitsu, along with other technology companies, will need to contribute technological expertise and talent to support the Digital Agency’s policies to drive Japan’s digital transformation, which will prove vital to its ability to compete on the global stage.

The stakes are clear. In its 2025 Digital Cliff report, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry warned that the country may face economic losses exceeding $100bn per year after 2025 if shortages in critical IT talent and investment persist.

Countries around the world face similar challenges, but I like to think that this moment also offers us an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine society for the better.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

One of the most important ways to accelerate digital transformation on an industry-wide basis is to continue shifting from on-prem to cloud computing to help customers upgrade and enhance their systems to promote digital transformation (DX).

By accelerating the deployment of cloud-based services as the default, I’m confident that we can make up for the delay in the adoption of digital technology in many sectors relatively quickly.

As for how we address this, I like to think that Fujitsu leads through its own example. Since October 2020, we have been embarking on a company-wide DX project, Fujitra, which aims to strengthen our competitiveness in the digital age.

The Fujitra project represents part of a roughly $1bn investment in our own transformation and centres on discarding old, inefficient processes and embracing agile business processes, organisations and corporate culture, as well as products, services and business models that promote digital transformation and incorporate feedback from customers and employees alike.

I think this not only benefits our own company but also demonstrates to potential customers the kind of value we can offer them by guiding them through their own DX journey.

What are your thoughts on how sustainability can be addressed from an IT perspective?

Sustainability is a not just a corporate objective, but it’s quickly becoming one of the most urgent global issues facing us all. We need to always remain aware of the very real limits of our planet in our business activities and work together to build a resilient society where no one is left behind.

To deliver genuine sustainability, it’s becoming apparent that innovation will need to play a more important role than ever before.

As CTO, I want Fujitsu to leverage its know-how and resources to combine these technologies to create solutions to sustainability challenges, such as mitigating the impacts of climate change by predicting severe weather with AI, reducing carbon emissions in the global supply chain with quantum algorithms, or leveraging data from the social sciences to develop technology that makes cities safer and more liveable.

We also need to encourage and expand collaboration with other technology leaders whenever possible, be it with universities, research institutions, governments or other companies. This will allow us to unlock new possibilities to stimulate and accelerate innovation in the real world.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Personally, I think that quantum computers, which will dramatically accelerate the process of discovery in many fields, represent one of the most exciting technological frontiers in terms of their transformative potential. Barriers remain, but I believe the quantum revolution is years away, not decades.

In general, new discoveries come from a cyclical process of observing problems, examining existing knowledge, hypothesising, testing in the lab or in the field, and verifying the results.

This process is still very time consuming and involves a great deal of trial and error. I believe that in the near future the discovery process will proceed much faster in the digital space where we can combine human power with intelligent technologies.

While I think that rapid advances in the fields of computing and AI will continue to play an important role in this trend, quantum computers represent a game changer and Fujitsu is promoting R&D in this field actively.

As quantum computers can handle extremely large data sets, they can exceed the limitations of conventional computers to solve even the most complex problems, such as quantum mechanics simulations.

What are your thoughts on how we can address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

Some of the most significant security and ethical challenges we are facing today relate to AI. At present, the use of algorithms and machine learning is widespread and touches our lives in many ways.

This will likely accelerate in the future and will require transparency, a sense of responsibility and vigilance against potential abuses. Current use cases of AI include the improvement of public safety through analysis of video data, product quality control through the detection of abnormalities, product recommendations, or even autonomous driving.

AI offers many benefits, but it can also be potentially ‘tricked’ or compromised. Adding special noises to video data, for example, can cause AI to misidentify people or falsely detect certain actions, and confidential information in training data for algorithms is still vulnerable to bad actors in many cases. Attacks are becoming more sophisticated, and there is clearly an urgent need for countermeasures.

As one of our moves to combat this threat, Fujitsu is strengthening cooperation with universities worldwide to accelerate research into AI security.

Last year, Fujitsu set up a research centre at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and has begun joint research. I’m excited by the work we’re doing with this team, and we’re currently conducting verification tests to simulate and research threats posed to AI and machine learning models, which will help us to develop technologies to counter these vulnerabilities.

In this way, we will continue to enhance and strengthen the security of AI systems and software to address current and future security issues related to AI technologies.

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