“Wa” (Harmony) the Key to Lasting Change: The 22nd World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC World Congress 2023)

Professor Hajime Asama

IFAC World Congress 2023 participants explain why Yokohama was the right choice for this prestigious conference. From left to right: Professor Hyo-Sung Ahn, Professor Hajime Asama, Professor Bozenna Pasik-Duncan, Professor Hyungbo Shim, and Professor Yongsoon Eun.

Professor Hajime Asama

IFAC President 2020–2023

Held every three years, the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) World Congress is the largest event in the interdisciplinary field of automatic control science and technology. The 2023 in-person conference took place at the PACIFICO Yokohama from July 9 to 14 and was presided over by robotics expert Professor Hajime Asama of the University of Tokyo. Although IFAC has a focus on automated technologies and robotics, the 2023 conference offered invaluable opportunities for human interactions, with 3206 participants from 62 countries and regions gathered to share ideas and collaborate in a safe environment. Supporting this cooperative atmosphere was the vision of wa, the Japanese word for “harmony.”

Yokohama: Japan’s first port of call in automatic control

The vision of IFAC World Congress 2023 encompassed the Japanese concept of wa, which has multiple meanings in addition to harmony, including calmness, network, communication, and even feedback, according to Professor Asama. “And all these meanings are very much related to the topics that we are challenging and our vision, which is to solve the societal problems and also to create societal values.”

Automatic control is, in essence, the use of sensors to control a system, typically a mechanical one like an elevator, but lately more applications that benefit society are being found. “We have various societal problems like energy, or decarbonization, sustainability, and the pandemic,” Professor Asama says. “Perhaps we can use sensor networks to detect and intervene in these problems or develop robots to reduce contact among people where necessary. Automatic control deals with those concepts and provides the necessary technologies.”

Professor Asama notes that many of those technologies have links to Yokohama. “We have the Yokohama National University and their department for mechanical engineering and robotics. Then there are companies here in Kanagawa Prefecture like Hitachi or Toshiba,” some of which are sponsors of the congress.

Yokohama: Japan’s first port of call in automatic control

For Professor Hajime Asama, the Japanese concept of wa will help build a society in harmony with automation.

The Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau adds value to IFAC World Congress 2023

From left to right: Professor Yongsoon Eun, Professor Hyungbo Shim, and Professor Hyo-Sung Ahn.

The Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau adds value to IFAC World Congress 2023

Yokohama was chosen as the venue for the IFAC World Congress 2023 not just for its background in technology but also for its many amenities and services, which encouraged experts to make the journey to Japan. “Yokohama is the best place for the conference, because it has very nice scenery and great food,” says Professor Hyo-Sung Ahn of the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. “But in my view, one of the best points of Yokohama is that PACIFICO Yokohama connects to the local hotels. So even if the outside is cold or hot, you can stay inside very comfortably.”

Professor Yongsoon Eun from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology added, “My image of automation began from Japanese animated robots like Mazinger Z,” and as it happens, Yokohama is currently home to the Gundam Factory, which celebrates one of Japan’s most famous fictional robots. Professor Hyungbo Shim of Seoul National University, on the other hand, said that he really enjoyed the historic Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. The Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau helped organize outings for conference attendees to such sites around the city and beyond, including Kamakura, Hakone, and Mount Fuji, all thanks to Yokohama being a convenient transportation hub providing easy access to and from Tokyo and the rest of Japan.

Girls in Control

Professor Bozenna Pasik-Duncan from the University of Kansas, and winner of the IFAC Foundation Diversity and Inclusion Award for “inspiring and supporting women and young people,” said she enjoyed seeing families with children attending the congress. She believes it is important to get the next generation, particularly girls, interested in automatic control, because its interdisciplinary nature can open doors to a career in STEM. She said: “It's very important to attract women and girls to science. And control can be viewed as a fascinating field that spans all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] while offering opportunities for the future.”

That’s why a big part of IFAC World Congress 2023 was the “Girls in Control” programming workshop, meant to expose young women to the world of mechanical engineering, computer science, AI research, and more. “This kind of outreach activity is very important in IFAC,” said Professor Asama.

Girls in Control

The “Girls in Control” programming workshop organized and funded jointly with the City of Yokohama, brought young students from schools in Yokohama together with mentors enrolled in graduate schools.

Falling in love with Yokohama

At the Yokohama Companies Joint Exhibition, the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau (YCVB) was joined by booths from companies based in the city.

Falling in love with Yokohama

“Yokohama is a very attractive place,” said Professor Pasik-Duncan. “Beautiful setting, so convenient for walking, so convenient for getting from Tokyo airports here. From my point of view, it's just ideal.” Many other foreign participants of the World Congress agreed with her. Professor Eun commented, “Yokohama looks industrial and recreational, so it was a beautiful place to participate in the conference,” while he also noted many unique things that the port city brought to the conference. “What stood out to me were the marine-robot companies. I have attended many conferences over the past decade, but I’ve never seen so many booths and events devoted to marine-robots, so that will become part of the significant memory of this conference and Yokohama.”

About IFAC World Congress 2023:

  • Congress Name The 22nd World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC World Congress 2023)
  • Organizer The International Federation of Automatic Control(IFAC)
  • Date July 9–14, 2023
  • Venue PACIFICO Yokohama