ICOT Had Nothing to Do with TRON

Steven J. Searle

Web Master, TRON Web

There is a bitter rivalry that exists between the U.S. and Japan in the field of technological development, and on many occasions it has come to life in hysterical tirades against Japan in mainstream U.S. news media. In the years immediately after World War II, Japan was dismissed in the U.S. as a producer of junk, but slowly it began to improve quality, and eventually innovate and produce world class products. Most people who know the story of post-WWII Japanese industrialization know that Japan became powerful in four fields, i.e., steel, automobiles, semiconductors, and consumer appliances. Japan actually set the standards for quality, low-cost production in these industries, and it scared the hell out American industrialists. That's why when Japan started to move into new areas, such as computer system development, it was met with a fire storm of criticism, and, in many cases, false accusations. I personally remember an executive from an American computer company sneering at the thought of using ITRON, the world's first open architecture real-time kernel, although it would later become the world's most used operating system.

Today, even large U.S. computer hardware and software firms, such as IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., see the advantages of the open systems approach to the creation of society's computer infrastructure, and one of these advantages is the creation of the "level playing field" that U.S. government figures were constantly advocating. However, that hasn't stopped criticism of Japanese initiatives such as TRON, even though TRON has moved from open architecture to open source, just like Linux. I think one reason for this criticism is that most Americans participating in system development are monolingual--a direct result of poor teaching curriculums at U.S. engineering colleges--and hence they fear not being able to look at all the documentation. In comparison, most foreign trained engineers are bilingual, and many of them are polyglots, which is yet another reason they are selected over American engineers when it comes time for hiring. However, looking at some of the uninformed on-line comments about TRON, it's obvious that American engineers aren't interested in learning about TRON even when information is available in English.

One uninformed comment that keeps coming up is that since the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology's so-called fifth generation project was not successful, TRON is not worthy of consideration. Lumping ICOT, which was a Japanese government funded project, together with the TRON Project, which began as an academia and industry project, is ridiculous, and one has to wonder if people are really thinking when they do this, especially considering that the goal of the TRON Project is to produce the ultimate version of the von Neumann computer architecture, not push forward the boundaries of computer technology. Interestingly, this standard toward Japanese failure is never applied to Apple Computer Inc., which not only proposed its own version of new generation computer technology, called Knowledge Navigator, but it even produced promotional videos of technologies that have yet to be realized. Likewise, this same standard is never applied to the dot-com boom in which American computer visionaries wasted mountains of other people's money trying to create Internet-based businesses that were ill conceived.

So let's get one thing straight, ICOT and TRON were completely independent of each other, and neither project has ever had anything to do with the other. ICOT's successes and failures belong to ICOT's members, and the TRON Project's successes and failures belong to the TRON Project's members--except, of course, for the failures that were a direct result of the U.S. government's meddling in the TRON Project. Frankly, I think the Japanese government should give ICOT another go, only this time it should use two competing teams employing two different approaches to new generation computer technology. The U.S. government certainly doesn't give up because one spacecraft launch fails. It keeps trying until it gets it right. Believe it or not, this is something Prof. Ken Sakamura praises the U.S. for. He admires Americans who don't give up, who keep trying until they get it right, and he has criticized Japan for having an aversion to failure that assures nothing monumental will come out of Japan. In that respect, it seems that Japan has learned more from America's failures than the America has learned from Japan's.