Kioxia’s current technologies—as well as future technologies that the company may soon be able to develop—promise to usher us into a new world straight out of the pages of science fiction. We join renowned professionals from Japan and around the world to imagine some of these limitless possibilities and lay out realistic predictions of what life may look like in the near future.
Surely it was destiny that brought together these two quiz enthusiasts: Takushi Izawa, one of Japan’s most successful quiz show contestants, and Kioxia’s Takashi Ichikawa. Twelve years after their first meeting, Izawa and Ichikawa have joined forces in a new venture: the Quiz AI Development Project. Through this initiative, the two men hope to draw on their shared passion for quizzes to transform them from mere entertainment into resources that benefit society.
The Launch of the Quiz AI Project
Takashi Ichikawa of Kioxia is all smiles as he chats with Takushi Izawa, whose impressive record in quiz shows and competitions has earned him a reputation as one of Japan’s top quiz contestants. “Twelve years ago when we first met, we never could have imagined that we would now be working on quizzes together,” he says. “It’s a real thrill.”
As a member of several quiz clubs with a passion for planning and running tournaments, Ichikawa was already a quiz enthusiast when he first met Izawa. At the time, Izawa was a third-year junior high student and a member of his school’s quiz club. They met when Izawa—a prodigy who had won a competitive quiz tournament for high schoolers—attended a meeting of a quiz club where Ichikawa was a member.
Izawa has since founded QuizKnock, a quiz-focused media firm that hosts several YouTube channels, while Ichikawa became an engineer who works in AI development. How did the two come up with the concept for their Quiz AI Development Project, and how will the project contribute to the fields of caregiving, education, and rural revitalization?
Izawa: It all started with a phone call. You called me to say, “Let’s make a quiz AI!” [laughs].
Ichikawa: That’s right! My initial goal for the project was to improve employee engagement within the company—to use quizzes as a way to encourage people to take more initiative at work. In the beginning, I was only thinking about starting a club that would bring together people from different parts of the company.
Izawa: So the idea wasn’t fully formed yet.
Ichikawa: The idea of a quiz AI wasn’t even on my radar back then. I just wanted to find quiz enthusiasts within the company and hold competitions—like the Quiz Kioxia Cup, an unofficial online tournament. In fact, the person who won that first tournament is now the one creating the core of our quiz AI.
Izawa: Wow! So in a way, that’s where it all began.
Ichikawa: To be honest, my initial plan was just to use quizzes to promote communication between the different departments in the company, maybe start a Kioxia quiz team to compete in corporate tournaments. But it somehow turned into an AI project [laughs].
The thing is, I’ve been working in AI for some time. Kioxia makes semiconductor flash memory units at a huge factory in Yokkaichi [in Mie Prefecture]. One important consideration for the company is our yield—the number of finished products in sellable condition for every 100 units produced. We’re always thinking about how to improve our process and increase our yield. My job is to bolster the company’s semiconductor production methods and processes by running simulations—virtual experiments—before production begins.
Izawa: I see. So you’re working to improve the percentage of fully-functional products?
Ichikawa: Exactly. I rely on AI and machine learning to run those simulations, but it struck me one day that nobody outside of the company knows that Kioxia develops AI technologies. As a result, we weren’t getting job applications from people who wanted to work in AI. So I asked myself, “Would making a quiz AI help us reach those applicants?”
Izawa: So that’s where you got the idea to combine the recreational aspect of quizzes with AI development.
Ichikawa: I wanted to create a quiz AI, but I knew we would need outside help. Since you’re a quiz superstar, I thought of you and wondered if QuizKnock would be open to collaboration. And so I called you up to ask for your advice.
Izawa: Quiz superstar, huh? [Laughs.] I was under the impression your work had to do with semiconductors, so I was surprised when you mentioned AI. But you already had a pretty good framework in mind when you called.
Izawa: Others had already created AIs for answering quiz questions, but you were thinking of something else. I was pleasantly surprised when you mentioned that you wanted to design an AI that creates the questions.
Ichikawa: If I were to make a question-answering AI, I think I would design it for quiz competitions in which you can buzz in even before the question is finished. Such an AI could analyze the likelihood of getting the correct answer if you pressed the buzzer at any given moment during the question. But what I really wanted to do was create questions.
Izawa: To be able to answer questions, you first need to be able to create them. You really thought it through.
Ichikawa: You actually surprised me, Takushi. Immediately after I called, you told me, “If that’s what you want to do, how about setting up a Twitter account that automatically posts questions about current events?” I was impressed at how quickly you started coming up with ideas.
Izawa: I thought it might help us refine the AI while it was still more or less incomplete. There’s no one way to design quiz questions, so finding a way to get consistent feedback is helpful. With current events, there is a clear resource to draw from—the news, which is updated daily with new material that has never been featured in a quiz question. I thought an AI would have an advantage because it would be able to prepare questions faster than anyone else on things that have only just happened.
Ichikawa: We fleshed out 80 to 90% of the concept during that first phone call. After that, I consulted with [Ryohei] Orihara, who is leading a project under Kioxia’s Future Memories initiative to recreate Osamu Tezuka’s drawings using AI. He told me that our idea would be difficult, but that it could be done. Orihara is currently working on an AI for improving semiconductor production, but before that, he specialized in natural language processing. So I asked him for help with the word processing part of our quiz making.
Izawa: Using word2vec?
Ichikawa: Exactly—you know your stuff! Once I got approval from the higher-ups, I knew we could do it. We had the people, and we had the OK, so we were finally able to launch the Quiz AI Development Project.
Izawa: I felt comfortable joining the project because I knew you were the one spearheading it. That’s why I was so quick to hop on board.
Ichikawa: Once we got the ball rolling, lots of people wanted to get involved. For example, there was someone who saw potential applications in education. They said, “QuizKnock is in the education business, so it would be interesting if we could somehow use this AI in educational settings.” There were also hardcore quiz enthusiasts who told me they always watch QuizKnock’s videos [laughs]. My colleague [Masato] Naka—he’s the fourth Japanese person to achieve the title of Kaggle Notebooks Grandmaster—agreed to help us develop the AI. Soon we had everyone we needed to run the project, which brings us to where we are now.
Brain Stimulation and Healthcare
Having covered the background leading up to the Quiz AI Development Project, Izawa and Ichikawa turned their attention to possible applications of the project that would transcend preconceived notions of quizzes. For the two, it all came down to one thing: the inherent ability of quizzes to excite people and bring them joy.
Izawa: The great thing about the quiz AI is that it will make it possible to create quizzes catering to a certain occasion or quizzes with a specific style, just by changing the AI’s evaluation criteria.
Ichikawa: And that allowed us to explore new possibilities for quizzes that go beyond mere entertainment. We narrowed down to three areas where we could see the quiz AI having practical applications: caregiving, education, and rural revitalization.
Izawa: It’s really expanded beyond our initial idea.
Ichikawa: The first thing we thought of is caregiving. There’s a doctor we admire a great deal, Dr. Takanori Mori, who is the director of a psychiatric hospital.
Izawa: Dr. Mori is attempting to incorporate quizzes into the treatment of patients with conditions such as schizophrenia.
Ichikawa: He hopes to publish an article about his research. When the two of us attended one of his lectures, what struck me was his finding that patients responded extremely well when they had to press a buzzer quickly to answer a question that interested them.
Izawa: They would get excited at knowing the answer.
Ichikawa: Right. Their interest is piqued, and then, since they need to answer quickly, their body instinctively moves to press the buzzer.
Izawa: Dr. Mori sees quizzes as a way to get the mind and the body moving in tandem.
Ichikawa: One patient’s family told him they had never seen their relative look so alive since being hospitalized for schizophrenia. Dr. Mori thinks that quizzes are likely to have a positive effect in the treatment of dementia and schizophrenia.
Izawa: As a quiz player, I know that feeling well. When I hear a question about something I know or something I like to talk about, it makes me want to raise my hand and say, “Pick me!” And the presence of the buzzer only heightens my excitement.
Ichikawa: Right—quizzes have the power to excite people’s minds. A recent study from the University of Toronto* found that listening to personally meaningful music can relieve symptoms of dementia. The researchers found that the act of recalling something you once knew by heart stimulates the brain in a positive way.
Izawa: Quizzes also make people feel competitive, which I think must be stimulating as well. At nursing homes, it’s common for residents to sing nostalgic songs together from when they were young. It’s the same concept, isn’t it? A quiz is a particularly good way to remind us of the past, stimulate our memories, and activate our brains. It can make people happily reminisce about old memories, and it has the potential to bring people joy in many situations, not least in caregiving.
Ichikawa: If researchers begin to publish academic papers presenting solid evidence of these effects, I think we’ll see a breakthrough in quizzes. I imagine that one way to get academic evidence would be to give quizzes to people with mild cognitive impairment for one year and then test how much their symptoms have improved, using fMRI testing to get concrete data.
Izawa: But this research would require a lot of effort and money.
Ichikawa: Which is why we need to make university hospital researchers aware of the potential of quiz AIs and give them an incentive to create a cooperative framework with us.
Izawa: I agree. It would be great if our project sparks new research and development.
QuizKnock’s Pioneering Use of Quizzes
Another field in which Izawa and Ichikawa anticipate using their quiz AI is education. But what would that look like in practice? Their spirited conversation moves on to Izawa’s QuizKnock as they discuss how their project will contribute to the company’s efforts to use quizzes in educational programs.
Ichikawa: In addition to caregiving, we are also looking into education, which is already QuizKnock’s main area of expertise, isn’t it?
Izawa: Yes [laughs]. Lately, individual optimization—the idea of tailoring each student’s education to their personal needs—has become a buzzword in the field of education. The Japanese government’s GIGA School program has led to the widespread use of laptops and tablets in classrooms, as well as AI teaching platforms such as Qubena. These platforms are able to automatically track a child’s learning: if the student gets these answers correct, then they need to be taught at around this level, which means they should be given these questions next. In contrast to previous systems in which everyone had the same curriculum, this novel teaching method allows each student to progress in their learning at their own pace. I think this method is compatible with our quiz AI.
Ichikawa: Absolutely. Using enjoyable educational materials like quizzes can make studying fun. The great thing about QuizKnock is that even when you and your team create content covering educational themes that are difficult to grasp at first, you are able to make the subject matter as interesting as possible while still teaching something new. We hope we can convert that quality into words, or rather into an AI, and create a catalyst that sparks a positive chemical reaction.
Izawa: Social studies and history textbooks are a good example. The AI generates quiz questions based on the content in the textbook. So for example, if an elementary school student is already well-versed in the material designed for his grade, the AI can draw on the middle school textbook to create the next questions. This is the kind of thing that the quiz AI will make possible: presenting a student with increasingly advanced material—almost like allowing them to skip grades. If we can tailor questions so that children who want to learn more are able to continue learning, I see tremendous potential for quiz AIs in this age of individual optimization.
Rural Revitalization Through On-demand Quizzes
The final goal of the Quiz AI Development Project is rural revitalization. In recent years, many Japanese people have found themselves drawn to less populated regions rather than Tokyo, where everything from politics to culture is concentrated. One application that Ichikawa and Izawa have in mind for their quiz AI is offering quizzes based around local tidbits and information, with the aim of encouraging not only the people living in a given rural area but also those from elsewhere, to explore and fall in love with all that these areas have to offer.
Ichikawa: You told me that your company wanted to work in rural revitalization as well.
Izawa: The members of QuizKnock have been touring schools in all 47 prefectures, giving talks and holding quiz tournaments. That’s what inspired me to make sure that the quiz AI would benefit all corners of Japan. Besides, TV is no longer the sole place to find quiz contests. There has been a new movement all over the country in which people are getting together with groups of their friends to organize quiz events. I want to encourage this trend and help it grow, and for that we need a system that provides support to people who want to host quiz events but have no practical knowledge or experience. Our quiz AI should be a great help because it allows anyone anywhere to create high-quality questions.
Ichikawa: Right. For example, you need good local material to get the best participant response at regional competitions because almost everyone in the area will know the content. But it would be very difficult for a non-local to make questions that go down well.
Izawa: Normally, someone has to carefully craft each and every question, doing the research and making an assessment about whether the topics will be well received. If the AI can determine how well-known a piece of trivia is, based not on human input but on a specific set of criteria, that would make it easy for even municipalities without much experience or manpower to hold a quiz event. I think such events would highlight the region’s attractions, even to people living in other parts of the country.
Ichikawa: And from these revitalization efforts, we would create the ultimate form of quiz localization: on-demand quizzes. On-demand quizzes will be the future.
Izawa: Is that a new term?
Ichikawa: Yes. Until now, quizzes were generally consumed through the mass media, so they covered a wide range of genres to make the competition fair and appeal to as many people as possible. In contrast, the quiz AI will be able to create quizzes that are exciting for a single person or a single community.
Izawa: In other words, people will get to enjoy answering questions that are tailored to them.
Ichikawa: Yes. And that can only happen once the quiz AI has been launched.
Izawa: It will be able to make quizzes that are individually optimized.
Ichikawa: In both caregiving and education, it’s important to tailor quizzes to a person’s level of learning, right? The same goes for rural revitalization—a localized, on-demand quiz would be a powerful tool. We are only in the beginning stages of development, though.
Izawa: But if we continue on our path, it will become reality.
Ichikawa: We might work for different companies—Kioxia and QuizKnock—but we share a passion for quizzes. So I’m sure we’ll be working together for a long time [laughs]. Our new catchphrase will be “Uplifting the world by quizzing our memories!”
Izawa: If we hone our minds through quizzes, our memories will become even sharper.
Ichikawa: Exactly! Together, we’ll make that future a reality. Thank you for chatting with me today!
Izawa: Thank you very much!
*Source: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 819-933, 2021.
The content and profile are current as of the time of the interview (January 2022).