Research at AIIT

Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 47th Installment"Earthquakes and Information Literacy"

by Yoshihide Chubachi,
Assistant Professor in the Master Program for Information Systems Architecture

Earthquakes and Information Literacy

First of all, I would like to express my deepest condolences to those affected by the disastrous earthquakes and the massive tidal wave of March 11, 2011.

As for myself, my parents who live in Sendai experienced the earthquakes; fortunately, they are gradually getting back on their feet after the restoration of vital lifelines, except for gas at present, although their house is littered with furniture. However, looking at the Tohoku area as a whole, recovery from the disaster will take a long time. I believe that the people of Tohoku have enormous perseverance and patience, but it will require great mental energy and physical strength.

There are some interesting matters in the wake of the natural disasters, and I would like to comment as an expert on information technology, although I am afraid it is not well organized. First, Twitter received a fair amount of attention as a communication tool in the immediate wake of the earthquakes. While people had trouble reaching others on cell phones, many people used Twitter as the only source of information, and I assume that some of them realized usefulness of this communication tool. However, the problem is the quality of information traveling across the tool. Immediately after the earthquakes, for example, there were some tweets from an evacuation center located in a certain village calling for help and asking for supplies, saying that people were dying of hunger. Those types of tweets were frequent on Twitter.

If you were truly aware of the situation, you would have known they were obviously false rumors. A newspaper article, "Rumors put people through emotional turmoil," in the Sankei Shimbun on March 30 clearly stated that the village no longer existed after being incorporated into another village. However, it is also true that the affected area lost power, and people were unable to use their cell phones, not even Twitter. Unfortunately, as far as what I saw on the timeline, I doubt that there was an authoritative voice from the affected people on Twitter. Apart from whether eleemosynary or not, unsourced information spread from Twitter as retweets, including the speculation of others. Second, people are keenly aware of the necessity for a certain degree of common knowledge in order to determine the value of information. When the nuclear power station in Fukushima had been damaged from the earthquakes, for example, you knew immediately that there was the possibility of a major power outage in Tokyo if you knew that the nuclear power station was part of TEPCO, which provides electricity to the Tokyo metropolitan area. Additionally, if you knew that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata had not fully recovered from the Ch?etsu offshore earthquake, you could easily have determined that the earthquakes would create power shortages in Metropolitan areas after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had been shut down. As for rolling blackouts (scheduled outages), although they may seem unexpected, there had been cases previously in Japan, and there has been a debate every summer when the demand for power increased (however, according to TEPCO, this plan has not been specified and detailed).

In addition, another significant factor is to assess information if you have knowledge about the difference in radioactivity, radioactive materials, and radiation, as well as the difference between the magnitudes of millisieverts and microsieverts. Although the nuclear power stopped normally, it is better to know about the scientific phenomenon of criticality and what triggers it, if you are worried. It is a good opportunity to learn about what the phrase "possible but extremely low possibility" means. I assume that it is the responsibility of the media to interpret the data from engineers.

I mainly talked about information literacy thus far. Another thing I feel about the information system is that cloud computing will start in full swing in the near future. After the Great Hanshin earthquake, the handling of cargo shifted to the port of Busan while the port of Kobe was down. Similarly, many systems with physical servers in Japan are starting to move overseas via cloud computing. I am keeping my eyes on what will happen to the communication industry where servers and networks are managed in Japan.

As I said earlier, I would like to give my opinion on the earthquakes, although I was unable to provide well-organized information. I mentioned the false rumors on Twitter in this article. Despite this, as a person whose parents' house was affected by the disaster, I was relieved to receive heart-warming, funny, extraordinary information through Twitter. I would like to lay down my pen here by expressing my appreciation to those who sent me the information.

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  • The 48th Installment

    "Overcoming the disaster"

    by Noboru Koyama,
    Professor in the Master Program for Innovation for Design and Engineering
  • The 47th Installment

    "Earthquakes and Information Literacy"

    by Yoshihide Chubachi,
    Assistant Professor in the Master Program for Information Systems Architecture
  • The 46th Installment

    "Emotional Inertia"

    by Shigeomi Koshimizu,
    Associate Professor, Master Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering