Oral-History:Miwako Doi

About Miwako Doi

Miwako Doi is an electrical engineer who received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from the University of Tokyo. Her research has involved user interfaces, robotics, and document processing. She has held leadership positions at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology and Tohoku University; and been a professor at Osaka University. Much of her early career she worked with increasing responsibilities at Toshiba. She is an IEEE Fellow.

In this interview, Dr. Doi describes her upbringing and formal education. She discusses the changing work situation for women electrical engineers and being one of the first generation of women hired into industry as engineers. She discusses her 35 years of work at Toshiba Corporation, including her research and development work, the separation between development engineers and end users, the challenges for women engineers, and several of the projects and products she worked on. She closes the interview discussing some of the senior positions she holds today.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE Computer Society. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the IEEE Computer Society.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Miwako Doi, an oral history conducted in 2020 by Chigusa Kita, IEEE Computer Society

Interview

Oral History with Miwako Doi

Interviewed by Chigusa Kita

Date: October 2, 2020

Kita:

Today is October 2nd, 2020. This is an interview by IEEE history committee with, Dr. Miwako Doi. As a general rule, you can quit an interview if the content is not satisfied to you or you feel uneasy about the content. And there will be a chance to correct the factual errors when we give you the transcript. Let's start the interview in English. Could you please state where, and when you were born?

Doi:

I was born in 1954, 60 years ago. And my birth place was in Tokyo. I went kindergarten in Tokyo and after that my family moved to Kawasaki near Tokyo. I went to elementary school, junior high school, and high school there. Then I went to the University of Tokyo, both undergraduate and the graduate school.

Kita:

Were there any specific advisor?

Doi:

I went to the University of Tokyo, where all freshmen and sophomores were in general culture course then. And after that, we selected a special course, for example, engineering, science and medical. Because of this reason, I selected to the University of Tokyo, and I belonged to engineering and electronics. And my advisor was Professor Yoichi Kaya, son of Dr. Seiji Kaya. Professor Kaya was famous as a member of the Club of Rome. Frankly speaking, I wanted to be a student in semiconductor engineering or other category of LED, but there were many applicants, so I could not take the course. So I selected economical model course. But I didn't like programming, so after the graduate school, I want to get a position at, for example, the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry. So, Professor Kaya had a big connection with the Institute, but they didn't like female students, well, after that, other professor commanded me another company, but it didn't like female students either. The only one company [which welcomed female students] was Toshiba. So I went to Toshiba and I, uh, I have been engaged in Toshiba over 35 years. There is no choice.

Kita:

So nowadays the companies cannot say that they don't hire female students, but in those days, they said that.

Doi:

Toshiba decided to get the female students in technical categories. It was from 1979.

Kita:

So you were the one of the first generation of those females students. Okay. Could you please describe your main technical area, human interface, and what made you choose that particular area of interest?

Doi:

I explain this topic using the materials attached to the email. Did you receive my material?

Kita:

Yes.

Doi:

I sent you my profile and the presentation materials for the WIE2014 presentation, which explains my 35 years in Toshiba. In 1979, I joined Toshiba and in 1978 Toshiba commercialized, the global first Japanese word processor. I didn't like programming and I realized Japanese word processor is a future device for novice users because it was without programming. So, I thought it was my favorite category, how to make these computerized devices for novice users. So, this was my inspiration, but my colleagues and my boss didn't understand my future image. There was no word for “human interface.” There were only human factors. But the main theme of the human factor is how to accelerates the safety and so on. But human interface was how to make a use [of the technology], so human interface was a new concept. So many people couldn't understand this concept, but I believed that human interface technologies might be one of the most important technologies in the social life. So, I stuck to these technologies. In my research and development life in Toshiba, I first engaged to make the programming process performance be upgraded. But after that, I focused on the human interface technologies and many devices and computer graphics and so on.

Kita:

Okay. What has been your greatest challenge, and your greatest reward in your professional career?

Doi:

There are many, many challenges for me. I was one of the first female graduate students, getting jobs in industries from the Masters from electronics department of the university of Tokyo. And I was the first female graduate student in Toshiba and the first senior fellow, and the first chief fellow. Chief fellow [in Toshiba] is the same as a director. I got the first president award for female, so there were many, many “firsts” experiences. My first challenge was to choose human interface technologies. Maybe it was a big challenge for me, but the human interface research and development made me notice there were multi stake holders in a society. I was an engineer in Toshiba, and there were salespersons for many devices, many technologies, but almost all engineers could not directly meet and discuss with the end users. But it was not good, because engineers must know the true needs, true pains of end users. So, my research and development life in Toshiba was to explore the real needs and real pains of end-users of Toshiba, but between the engineers and the users, there are many stakeholders, for example development members and, industrial manufacturing members and sales managers. And before the end users, there are many sponsor users, such as hospital facilities and Toshiba's, service managers discuss with a director of hospital and doctors. So there was no end users. It was a big problem. My challenge is how to break out these barriers of the multi stakeholders, and to reach real pains and real needs of the users. It was a big challenge for me.

Kita:

Okay. And you are known as a project member in the Japanese word processor developing team, so could you please explain your role and the achievement in the project?

Doi:

I engaged in the development of many devices in Toshiba. JW1 was one of them. This was not the first Japanese word processor was Tosword in 1978. After that, I joined Toshiba, and I engaged in the commercial version of it. And JW1 was the first portable Japanese word processor. And after that, I engaged in the workstation and the machine translation. In those developmental process I was the designer of the human interface. So, I explored the real needs of the end users and I proposed functions and the designs based on these explored real needs and pains.

Kita:

How about Eki-tan, the transfer information application software? Well, what was your role in the project?

Doi:

I was a leader of research and development part of Eki-tan. It was the service on PC first, but I wanted its mobile version. In these eras, cell phones did not display graphics but only texts. So we must translate from map to text. It was my big challenge. So, my team was made of researchers on graphics recognition. We could translate maps to text. Eki-tan was global first mobile navigation, man-navi, for i-mode. The [developmental] process was only six months. It was the first global mobile navigation.

Kita:

Yes. So you were the leader of that team at that time. Okay. You've already mentioned that you were the first woman in many areas. So how have you felt being recognized as such, so you might have done things not because you are women but you have been always told that you were the first “woman” in something. So how did you feel about that?

Doi:

For the engineers and the scientists, to be the first person is a big pride. So, I convert the “first woman” into first technologies area. My position was the first woman in the area, so I felt I must challenge first area and first categories in the engineering area. So, I think it's my field.

Kita:

So, you felt comfortable being told that you were the first woman in such an area.

Doi:

Mm, comfortable? Not so comfortable but I think it was my challenge, and challenge is my life.

Kita:

Okay. You said that some companies did not want the female graduate students when you started your career after the graduation. So, at that kind of barrier, it could be converted to the merit for you to be the first woman at some point during your career. When did you feel that that being the first became the merit for you?

Doi:

Many persons remember me, but I cannot remember almost all of them. So, in the case of [selecting] a female member to a committee, they recalled me, and they recommended me. So, it was a big merit, I think. And in those case, I accepted these recommendations because it's my first case, and also the first case for the woman. So, I broke a barrier, and after that many women followed me.

Kita:

Okay. Why you started joining professional societies, including IEEE during your career in Toshiba?

Doi:

In 1995 I became the deputy senior manager. And I had expertized human interface research, only in Toshiba. So, I hesitated the big challenge in Toshiba, because if I failed. It might make me depressive so hesitated, but it was not good. I thought I must expand my experience, outside of Toshiba. So, I started to engage the professional societies, for example IPSJ and other societies.

Kita:

When did you get your PhD, through which contribution to the academia?

Doi:

I got the PhD from University of Tokyo in 2001. I wanted to get the PhD, maybe in 1990. I thought I was already prepared to get the PhD and I went to Professor Yoichi Kaya. He said, your paper is not sort of PhD in University of Tokyo. So, I must publish more papers. So, it took more than 10 years. In 2000 professor Kaya had already retired from University of Tokyo. And I went to Professor Hiroshi Harashima. Harashima-sensei said that you were already prepared for the PhD. So that you must write your PhD thesis. And I wrote it and submitted the PhD thesis, I got a PhD in next to year 2001.

Kita:

You had served as editors in professional journals, including the editor in chief of the information processing in Joanna. Could you please describe what is the most important experience for your career through the roles?

Doi:

In IPSJ, I engaged as the vice president for the conversion to a corporation first, then I engaged as several presidents in image society and the humane society and so on. IEEE was a big society, but image society and the humane society and other societies are small. So there were problems for the monetize. It was a big problem.

Kita:

Did you deal with that kind of problem?

Doi:

Tasks to improve monetization, yes. But after my retirement, the problem has not been solved.

Kita:

You became the third female IEEE Fellow in Japan and the second female fellow from Toshiba, I think. Did you have any connections with her in Toshiba?

Doi:

She worked in the industrial sections, so I did not have strong connection. I met her in WIE in Japan and the council one or two times.

Kita:

May I go back to the word processor, because the technology was recognized as engineering heritage in IEEE. What did you do for the recommendation?

Doi:

I engaged in IEEE Milestone process. The Japanese word processor was the first production from Toshiba and Kana to Kanji conversion was the great function, and then based on these technologies, the two-byte codes language dealt in computerized life. And after that, the work station and other computers and the can with two-byte codes. Now, many persons on the globe, they can use and enjoy the internet to life, using their own language. So it was a big success, but the nomination process, was a big problem how to explain this big success to the history committee members.

Kita:

How the process went? Did you submit an explanation first and then exchange the ideas with committee members?

Doi:

Online process.

Kita:

How long did it take?

Doi:

Maybe one year, maybe so.

Kita:

You said you were the human interface designer, or the first commercialized or the processor from Toshiba portable one JW-1. Could you describe, what kind of process did you do for the human interface design for the JW-1?

Doi:

Tosword was the first Japanese word processor. It was a commercialized for office users, but JW-1 was the first portable Japanese word processor for home users. For office users we trained them, but for the home users, we could not train then. So without training, JW-1 must be used by the novice users. There is a no knowledge for the computers, no knowledge for the Japanese word processor. So, it's a big problem. We examined the home use, for example, happy new year card and so on. We made many templates for happy new year cards and so on. And also, and, novice users make the errors. So, they must go get back the former mistake. In Tosword, the interface was designed based on the office computers, so that the keys had many functions. One key had several functions. So, it was orthodox style in the office computers. It was not understandable for the novice users. So, in the JW-1 we designed “one button for one function.” It is the third point. We sold these points and home users could use JW -1 without training. With one page manual. Many users don't read many pages in manual. So for the easiest start, we made the manual only one page.

Kita:

Okay. So, did you do some user tests?

Doi:

Yeah. Many tests.

Kita:

How did you collect the participants in those days?

Doi:

I collected the participants from college students. So, in that time I was pregnant that many participants were surprised at my big belly. During the maternity leave, I wrote reports of the Japanese word processor experiments. So many persons in the R&D center did not know I was on leave.

Kita:

Oh, really? So, you got back to the work after the short period of time?

Doi:

I got back after three or four months to the office.

Kita:

You raised kids doing your career. So, is there any, um, barriers to come over?

Doi:

As a young mom I had no time, but, and I enjoyed it the time on weekends. And, we went to the museums or to the Disney's movies, because I engaged in the computer graphics and for the humane interface design. I was interested in the computer graphics movies. So, on weekends, my children watched the Disney's CG movies. It was my job. So, then my policy is enjoying the work. I always think how to make this work or this task enjoyable. More enjoyable for me.

Kita:

So the way you spend your time with your family might be helpful to think about the user interface design, because it was from the ordinary people's point of view to the technology.

Doi:

Yes, the human interface needs multiple stakeholders’ view.

Kita:

You've already retired from Toshiba, right? Yes. So, after the retirement of Toshiba, you have been served as an auditor of a National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. Could you please describe the position and your role at NICT and other institutions?

Doi:

I'm now the auditor of NICT and the executive director of NAIST, Nara Institute of Science and Technology, and the director of the Tohoku university. And the auditor of NICT is monitoring the president of NICT and the other directors of NICT. In monitoring them I can visit researchers in the institute, and visiting the researchers is interesting for me. They enthusiastically explained their own research themes. And as Vice President for Datara Strategy and Co-Creation, Tohoku university, managing the university. It is also important job. Then I have other positions, such as a member of the board of SUBARU Corporation, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, and NGK Spark Plug co. ltd. So, these job are interesting because they are of different categories of industries, that there are different features. So, I must study and examine their problems and their futures or in their stories.

Kita:

You are enjoying those roles. Yeah. I have read some interviews with you in that you were encouraging new female researchers in engineering or in science. What do you think your role in that area?

Doi:

I engage the discussion with women in the universities and companies. And then, I gave the lectures, uh, for the junior high school and high school to enhance the diversity and to enhance their interests for the science and the technologies and informatics technologies. It is enjoyable and, gave me energy from young persons and young people present themselves frankly. And speaking with them is enjoyable.

Kita:

And you have been publishing articles related to the future of human interface in robotics. Could you please share us some of the most important arguments of yours?

Doi:

I wrote a book in Japanese. It explains the many stakeholders in the future technologies for the automatic vehicles, robots and others. So, it's important for the ICT future.

Kita:

In what way, those areas are important?

Doi:

An automatic vehicle, robotics and virtual reality. And many technologies are in ICT. I'm also engaged in the Moonshot Projects and our target is a cybernetic avatar, which is robot and agent of the cyberspace and in the future, we use these multiple cybernetic avatars and it will be enjoyable.

Kita:

You are the member of moonshot projects, or you are supervising the project?

Doi:

I am supervising several projects.

Kita:

From your point of view as an interface designer, current robotics have some issues to improve?

Doi:

Including robots, the cybernetic avatar will be the useful devices, but we are now under the COVID-19, engaging in teleworking like this. So, we are now sitting all day, so it's not good. We must walk around and enjoys exercise, and also we enjoy the work using that cybernetic avatar. It will be a big goal for enjoyable and comfortable life.

Kita:

At the very end of this interview, if you have some words for the young engineers please tell us.

Doi:

Young engineers, when you face a barrier, if you break the barrier, you get the new round, I think.

Kita:

Okay. Thank you so much.