TED Translators at TED2018: Tomoyuki Suzuki

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Our third installment of TED Translators at TED2018 features Japanese TED Translator Tomoyuki Suzuki. Among other things, he discusses with us the satisfaction that translation brings him, a Japanese professor who’s navigating new frontiers in mathematics and the frightening possibility of “the singularity.”


How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?

It’s been over four years since the thrill of discovering TED Talks inspired me to join TED Translators so I could help other folks access the novel ideas I encountered (and continue to encounter) in the talks.

One of my biggest motivations for my work with TED Translators is the “eureka” moment that occurs when I find the optimal word, phrase, sentence, etc. for a translation: Not only am I doing justice to the talk, but I’m also improving my translating skills. In addition, meeting and staying in touch with other TED Translators always energizes me.

Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?

Renowned physicist Martin Rees’s talk “Is this our final century?” In it, Rees explains the fabric of the universe, from its most granular subatomic components to its larger structures, before he examines our ever-accelerating technological development and how it could possibly doom the human (and other) species in the future.

What do you do when you’re not busy translating?

I love books; I read one or two a week. I also enjoy wandering around and exploring new places.

The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?

I would like more people in the world to know about Professor Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician who teaches at the University of Kyoto. In 2014, he introduced and developed the p-adic Teichmüller theory, which, as you can see, is extremely complicated—so much so that it takes several years’ work to validate the theory. (Professor Mochizuki, as a result, runs workshops to help those mathematicians who are interested in doing so to better understand the theory.)

I bring all this up not just because I want to share with you Professor Mochizuki’s brilliance, but also because I believe Professor Mochizuki and his theory demonstrate the limitless potential of the human mind—a potential that I think we must continually remind ourselves of and maximize as artificial intelligence (AI) gains in its capabilities. While AI promises us plenty of beneficial innovation, it behooves us to be vigilant and wary of AI’s hyperspeed progress. Left unimpeded, advances in AI will eventually lead us to a point in our history often called “the singularity,” when AI will exceed human intelligence and continue doing so exponentially as artificial general intelligence (AGI), thereby surpassing (to say the least) even our most ingenious capabilities. It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that the singularity is AI’s existential threat to humankind. But it’s a threat whose realization we can avoid—if we use our own intelligence and reason to responsibly develop AI. And so we should regard brilliant minds like Professor Mochizuki—and all of those who show us the boundless power of our brains—as testaments to the fact that we humans possess the means to both push forward and control AI.

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