- Japan is notorious for having some of the longest working hours in the world.
- Miku Hirano is CEO and cofounder of Cinnamon AI, a Tokyo-based company that uses technology to organize certain work tasks that take up too much time.
- In celebration of the launch of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, a device that’s reshaping the technology landscape, we’re recognizing innovative professionals, like Hirano, who are reshaping their industries.
- Find out more about the ThinkPad X1 Fold here.
Being overworked is a problem that is by no means unique to Japan, but the country is infamous for its punishingly long days put in at the office. In 2015, the suicide of a young executive at a company in Japan made headlines when it came to light that the reason was work-related stress. Miku Hirano, the cofounder and CEO of Cinnamon AI, was pregnant at the time and the story shook her deeply and brought a new sense of meaning to her work. She had founded her company four years earlier but resolved to shift the focus to using AI technology to “extend human potential.”
“I started to think that this kind of working style is not what we should have, and it’s up to our generation to change things for the next generation,” she says. “The reason I’m in this business today is for my kids. When they start working, I don’t want them to work like that.”
Hirano notes that for many people, repetitive, boring tasks consume a large part of the working day. She believes AI has the potential to absorb those tasks to the extent where people will need to only put in a fraction of the time that they currently spend at work. And that’s where Cinnamon AI comes in.
“A three- or four-hour working day is the ideal,” she says, although she admits that her own is still much longer given the complexity of the task she has set herself. She typically works from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., spends the evening with her family, and then sometimes puts in another hour or two until 11 p.m.
Lenovo created its new ThinkPad X1 Fold with busy, productive people like Hirano in mind. She says its size and foldability make it ideal for working while out and about, and also mean that she is able to revert to using a favorite bag which proved too small for a regular laptop. “The X1 Fold is perfect for taking out and also great for working at home,” she says.
The detachable keyboard is especially practical, Hirano adds. During customer calls, she typically types notes, but worries that the sound is intrusive. Removing the keyboard and typing at a distance, she says, negates the issue so “I don’t have to stress about my typing noise.” She adds that she enjoys using the X1 Fold half-folded on the sofa. “I love it!” she says.
The path to greater productivity
Achieving the goal of a radically shorter day at work means implementing effective knowledge management as well as removing mindless tasks. “People have been trying to do this for the last 20 years and it hasn’t worked well,” Hirano says.
Rather than humans having to adjust for AI — which never really happens because it’s too inconvenient — Hirano says that AI needs to become intelligent enough to adjust for humans. With this in mind, Cinnamon’s focus is on making sense of unstructured data such as emails, voice messages, videos, and written documents. Hirano estimates that 80% of data in a typical company falls in this category. Making better use of it is a three-step process that encompasses digitization, recognition, and understanding. “If you want to accelerate digital transformation, that is key,” she says.
One challenge has been the shortage of AI researchers in Japan — Hirano says there are about 400 in total, and half of those are in academia. She has compensated for this by setting up AI labs in Vietnam and Taiwan, both of which offer access to a greater volume of highly skilled, sometimes “genius” individuals, with math or computer science backgrounds.
A computer science graduate herself, Hirano first became interested in AI about 15 years ago when she saw its potential to help her find information online. She accepts that it’s unlikely to ever be perfect and that there will always be the need for someone to direct it. But it’s already revolutionizing the lives of individuals with major cost-saving implications for companies.
In one example, Cinnamon’s technology has freed human animators from having to color thousands of images, boosting productivity tenfold. For a bank, it has compressed the time it takes lawyers to screen and extract discussion points from investment contracts — typically a week or more — into 30 minutes. While those lawyers still oversee the process, they are able to step away from the drudgery to “focus on more important tasks,” Hirano says.
Upgrading the way traditional industries such as finance and insurance work is a priority, and Hirano says it has become easier to gain an audience with these companies, even if the decision-making process around transformation is slow. Hirano’s vision for the future of her sector centers on the idea of democracy. Ultimately, she pictures a world where AI reshapes a profession such as law to the extent where legal advice becomes readily available — and affordable — to everyone.
On a personal level, she has recently begun setting aside time to interact with people far removed from her field after a four-year blur of childcare and work. She sees this as key to developing personally and professionally. “With almost no input for several years, I felt dry and unable to come up with enough new ideas,” she says. “Now I block off my calendar and meet people who are not at all related to my business. I realize that this is something I need in life.”
The four-hour workday might not be here yet, but with the right input and direction, Hirano’s continuing efforts are helping to put it within reach.
This post was created by Insider Studios with Lenovo.