Japan Joins Challenge to Google Supremacy

10 October 2006

TOKYO: Backed by the Japanese government, Nippon's business and media giants have formed a consortium to develop a new-generation internet search engine intended to rival the seemingly unstoppable monster unleashed on the world by two well meaning Young Frankensteins from Stanford University.

While few doubt that that Sergei and Brin's hearts are still in the right place, there are widespread fears that the ticker within the monster is now that of Wall Street.

Which explains why both in Europe and the Far East, moves are afoot to create a state-aided search engine capable of becoming a serious contender for Google's title.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is spearheading an industry-academia consortium to develop a new search engine that uses non-text data, for example photographs and videos.

Among the fifty-six business titans and universities supporting the venture are Fujitsu, NTT Resonant, Waseda University and the University of Tokyo.

The result of their endeavors to date is showcased this week at the Ceatec Japan 2006 electronics show, where Fujitsu impressed many visitors with its demonstration of technology that searches the web for graphics and photographs rather than words.

The new system speedily gathered online pictures of various bags, then sorted and displayed them according to color or shape. But how might this be put to practical use?

Fujitsu offered an example: TV viewers could select a product appearing on a TV program and search online shopping sites carrying the same product, all via a TV remote control.

The Ministry intends to commercialize the technology within three years and will unveil full details by the year end. The government and consortium intend to invest ¥30 billion ($252.3m; €200.3m; £134.9m) in the project over the next three years.

Meantime, a similar initiative is already under way in Europe [WARC News: 31-Jul-06], supported by the French government and industrial giants such as Siemens and Bertelsmann which is working on a search engine project branded Quaero (Latin for "I seek").

Data sourced from Asahi Shimbun Online; additional content by WARC staff