Chapter 1. Autumn: Autumn in Hot Spring
In the Land of Trees 2
"Yes, that is a remarkable characteristic of RUICA. Since the reason for developing RUICA was to assist the community in resolving problems such as garbage disposal and bus routes, the system was discussed by the town as it was developed. I set things up so that residents could discuss RUICA's functions and its usability both online and off-line. These opinions were incorporated into the design, improving it."
"I see, so the residents feel involved in improving RUICA, and that is why it is so popular and largely used here," said Tsubasa's mother.
Kanalu responded, "Yes, you are right, this equipment is for the people of the town. I believe that a community system should be uniquely suitable for the local climate, nature and culture. The purpose of the community system is to share ideas and create a sense of affection for the town." Tsubasa's mother was very impressed by Kanalu's explanation.
Ryoko added, " I understand that RUICA has been introduced to several other local governments."
"That's right. We are planning to sell the main system to local governments, together with training kits for key personnel who will act as facilitators in the communities. I believe our system will make a great contribution to governments' finances and will enhance their image." Kanalu laughed like a boy.
"Has personal information stored in RUICA been misused for criminal purposes?" Tsubasa's mother asked. She looked at the RUICA as if it was hers. "What would happen if my RUICA was stolen or I misplaced it?"
"RUICA has three authentication methods: fingerprint, voice recognition and iris recognition. Without at least two of the three, it will not work. Even if RUICA gets lost and is found by someone, that person cannot do anything with it except take it to the police. However, the control center has a verification system, and the data in each RUICA has also been stored in the network. So if your RUICA is stolen, the center can provide you a new one with the same data."
"I have learned that personal data such as the password for a cash card could be transmitted via RUICA. Is there any problem with that?" Tsubasa's grandfather asked. Kanalu replied, "In some cases, RUICA could be used as a virtual remote control to handle the data in ATMs and ticket vending machines. The transactional data is recorded in ATMs only. For example, if you converse over an old fixed-line phone, its receiver does not store any data. RUICA works like the receiver. The user's identity can be verified with RUICA's identification methods; however, senior citizen can also use an old-fashioned password-input method. It is desirable to have a variety of ways to securely access the system."
Lately, Kanalu had been busy developing new RUICA applications based on residents' requests. One of his projects was to create a system that could take visitors' physical data, as measured by hot spring therapists like Ryoko, and communicate it directly to furniture craftspeople so that they could build custom-made furniture as needed.
Tsubasa and his family had many questions for Kanalu. Before they knew it, two hours had passed.
Kanalu still had some things to discuss separately with Ryoko. While the two of them talked, Tsubasa and his family issued ten thanks-tickets to Kanalu-two from each family member.
The family still had many things they wanted to talk about with Kanalu, but Tsubasa felt guilty for having taken up so much of Kanalu's valuable time and urged his family to leave. As they prepared to go, Tsubasa asked Kanalu, "I have heard that RUICA means bridge in the Ainu language. I think it is beautiful-it sounds like a person's name." For a moment, Kanalu had a sad, faraway look. He smiled gently and said, "It was my wife's name. She passed away one year after we married." His voice was full of affection for her. Ryoko looked away.
She did not talk much on their ride back to the town. She said she knew only that Kanalu's wife was a foreigner and she died of a sudden sickness. Tsubasa did not know if Ryoko did not want to be reminded of Kanalu's sorrow, or his love for his dead wife, or perhaps both. Tsubasa regretted bringing up the topic; he would not have asked the question had he known the sad answer. At that moment, he recalled the mixture of happiness and sorrow he had seen in Kanalu's eyes when he answered the question. Tsubasa thought it might be the pain and sorrow Kanalu had gone through that motivated him to develop such a beautiful and friendly system. It reminded Tsubasa, who had been living much of his life in a virtual society of the simple principle that people make things for people to use.
Tsubasa remembered what Kanalu had said: "Do not forget that systems are used by people. No system can replace human intuition and judgement. You were worried about RUICA-related crimes; you have to judge for yourself whether the person is trustworthy. People have successfully done so for centuries. Train your five senses and trust them. You can decide for yourself whether food or water is safe for consumption. If we always destroy food because it is past the expiration date on the RFID tag, we might not survive. I hold workshops for children. I teach them how to survive in the forest and also how to make full use of IT."
It was 5 p.m. The sky was quickly turning dark as the autumn sun sank. Tsubasa went alone to an outdoor bath. A thick mineral deposit encrusted its edge. He kicked at it, and powder rose up like white mist. He remembered Ryoko's beautiful smile that morning, her caring attitude at the noodle shop in the afternoon, and riding in her car to town that evening. "I think she cares for Kanalu a lot," he thought.
Kanalu's personality overwhelmed Tsubasa. He plunged into the water. He did not want to feel rivalry between himself and Kanalu over Ryoko. The acidic water made his eyes sting, but he enjoyed its supple texture. Tsubasa began to like the hot spring.