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The new “Society 5.0” that will follow on from the Information Society: A conversation with two experts about the future

The world never stops. Technology continues to evolve, peoples’ lives change, and this is accelerating year by year. It is therefore difficult to establish milestones and ask “what should I do next?” Within such a society, how can we draw a picture of the future and take action?

Let us try asking the people who are going to make big waves in the future. Do you know the term “Society 5.0“? This term has featured as a keyword in the government’s science and technology policy, and it refers to the kind of society that will follow on from the “information society.”

Today, I speak with two experts about Society 5.0: Mr. Naoki Ota, who worked as an aide to the former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, is currently promoting Society 5.0 in the provinces; and Shun Yoshida is the head of the CEATEC Promotion Office in the20202018 organization that is hosting the CEATEC Exhibition, which offers a general showcase of Society 5.0. Let us use their knowledge to get a little preview of the future.

INDEX

What is Society 5.0 in the first place?
The keywords for promoting Society 5.0 are “trust,” “data,” and “standardization”
The “place” to which both interviewees are paying attention, where crossing borders will change society
The essential question of “What do you want to do?” and what is required in Society 5.0
Takeaway

Naoki Ota
Representative of NEW STORIES Ltd.
He worked for the Boston Consulting Group for 18 years, and served as the Asia leader for Telecoms, Media, and Technology. He was involved in regional regeneration and ICT/IoT policy planning and implementation as an aide to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications for around three years from 2015. Following his retirement, he established New Stories, planning and managing regional business creation across sectors.

Shun Yoshida
General Manager, CEATEC Promotion Office, Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA).
He has been involved in planning and public relations since he was a student. He joined Keyence upon graduation. After that, he moved to Inoue Public Relations and jumped into the PR field. He has been responsible for PR at CES, the world’s largest innovation trade fair hosted by the National Consumer Technology Association, since 2014. Since 2015, he has also been involved in transforming CEATEC, and he joined JEITA in 2017. Currently managing the CEATEC Promotion Office, he is responsible for promoting Society 5.0.

What is Society 5.0 in the first place?

The first thing I would like to ask is, what kind of concept is Society 5.0 in the first place?

Ota: The core concept is “a society where data are gathered from all places and things, and the analyzed data are returned to the real space in order to optimize the actions of industry and people.”

We define societies 1.0 to 5.0 according to societal development. The first, 1.0, is a hunter-gatherer society, 2.0 is an agricultural society, 3.0 is an industrial society, 4.0 is an information society, while 5.0 is a super-smart society. Changes have occurred, with stage each called “the __ revolution,” and industrial structures and human activities have changed dramatically.

So, speaking of the differences between Society 4.0 and 5.0, Society 4.0 was fundamentally only about the virtual world. “Let’s enjoy the online space through online shopping and web browsers” is Society 4.0. By contrast, in Society 5.0, real things interact with data in cyberspace. Data is accumulated from real-world locations such as in healthcare, education, and agriculture, and feedback created based on that data is used to change the way we live and work.

Its pioneer is often said to be Mark Andreessen, the creator of Netscape, who said “software is eating the world.” Although he is seemingly a visionary of the online world, “a society in which software (data and algorithms) influence various things in the real world,” to borrow his words, can be said to describe Society 5.0.

– It may be limiting, but it might be easier to understand this society by describing it as “a society which has further evolved through the spread of IoT.” While societal change took a tremendous amount of time in Societies 1.0 to 3.0, the pace since 4.0 has been very fast.

Ota: Change is, of course, accelerating. I think the world will change greatly in the next 10 years or so. The look of New York before and after Society 3.0 is symbolic of social change. Before industrialization, horse and carts ran through the financial district, but, within 10 years, those carts disappeared, to be replaced by cars. In Society 4.0, audiences were raising their smartphones to take photos of the Pope as he made speeches.

I think what will be symbolic of a world in which Society 5.0 is achieved are situations in which people disappear from all sorts of places. In fact, they will not have disappeared, but remote-operated robots will work at factories and construction sites, and, at medical sites, patients’ rooms will connect to clinics to receive telemedicine. I expect to see scenes where people disappear from symbolic places that could not previously have been established without people.

Yoshida: As Mr. Ota says, achieving Society 5.0 will change the world dramatically. I think all industries will be connected, not only those in fields linked to the “ICT” information revolution, and the concept of “industry” will disappear.

Society 5.0 is said to be a super-smart society, but I think the meaning of “super” is to transcend fields. We will move from a time where each industry is optimized individually to one where industry as a whole is coordinated and optimized. Developments in technologies such as IoT, AI, and the Cloud will enable perfect collaboration across industries. That time is coming.

The keywords for promoting Society 5.0 are “trust,” “data,” and “standardization”

– What do you think are the impact factors in promoting the coming Society 5.0?

Ota: I think the most important thing is data. The real world is already in place, but the infrastructure needed to handle data, beginning with “5G,” will be created. For this reason, we must ask how to arrange the handling of data.

Technology has developed as a result of the progress toward Society 4.0. However, if you ask if this has made people happy, there are many people who do not think so. For example, privacy and the data being collected by service companies are being abused, and an increasing number of cases have caused anxiety to users and citizens both in Japan and overseas. In a survey asking “Are technology companies a good thing for the future?” more than half of the people responded “no.”

Two years ago, I was standing on the government side waving their flag, but there are many people who think “this is really bad.” So what should we do? Might the key term not be “to innovate openly”? By the way, “openly” means that users participate.

Data collection and analysis are necessary to advance Society 5.0. At this time, data usage will advance where users participate and have trust. “Privacy” and the “use of data” are contradictory terms. Lowering the privacy threshold will increase convenience, but then there is the question of “what will you do with it?” while increasing privacy thresholds will make data harder to use. So, a relationship of trust between users and service providers is required.

If you try using services today, you will be presented with an extremely long “privacy policy.” This makes matters explicit because there is no relationship of trust between service providers and users. If users participate in innovation and a relationship of trust is formed with service providers, data usage should develop smoothly.

Yoshida: I have talked about a relationship of trust between service providers and users, but I also think that trust and acceptance are key factors. So I would like to ask Mr. Ota a question. The society that was once founded through acceptance based on kinship and home towns has changed greatly since Society 3.0. Since then, new forms of trust such as the sharing economy have come to be. So, why have these not been adopted to the extent that they have overseas?

Ota:We are probably at a turning point. I think that rule-making in Japan is not keeping up. I think it’s easy to understand for holiday rentals, but the sharing economy and the existing system do not mesh. That’s why I think there is a need. The need for a sharing economy is something millennials feel regardless of country.

Yoshida: I see. So how can we create a relationship of trust between service providers and users? The clue to that might be in the sharing economy. I think that, before legislation, users thought things such as “what about unlicensed taxis?” and ‘I’m afraid to stay at a stranger’s home.” But the sharing economy has changed people’s mindsets, the state has enacted legislation, various companies have begun to enter, and a new form of confidence has spread. As a result, I think it is becoming easier for users to use.

Ota: In addition to legislation, I think it is a place that creates a relationship of trust. But I think there is also talk of “places” as “real places,” “virtual places,” and a combination thereof.

If you can create a method whereby “if there is this kind of place, we can build a trust relationship,” I think it will be possible to collect and use data gathered at a fairly high level. To speak a little more technically, when we hear “data,” we think of Big Data, but that is a dated way of thinking. In the future, we will ask about quality, not quantity. Even where the population is not one of hundreds or tens of millions, good-quality data can be obtained from samples in the tens of thousands.

This is only a single example, but a disaster-prevention project was carried out in Kobe in collaboration with LINE, the government, and citizens. During that time, residents were able to take videos and photographs during disasters and upload them to a platform; these were then used for evacuation planning after analysis. Besides this, residents in Shimane are collecting data to come up with countermeasures for damage caused by birds and animals.

If it is possible to gather a certain amount of high-quality data; it can be applied to populations of hundreds of thousands. Were a country to try to do this top–down, people would say “are we in a surveillance state?” and it would be costly, but, when companies do so, they are asked “where are you sending the data?” On this point, I think the number of issues would be reduced were citizens to work together with the government and companies. This is because the route of countries and companies is fast, but there are also side-effects due to that speed.

Yoshida: Since the information-oriented society continues to develop and is moving away from an age of unconditional trust in companies and government, it is becoming difficult for countries and companies to collect data en masse in a top–down manner. Rather than hoovering up data from the top down, it is easier to obtain understanding if you entwine it with the bottom–up “let’s solve problems” approach. It seems that a style that says “let’s do things naturally,” rather than “all members please do this,” proceeds smoothly.

– There is, however, the concern that, under a bottom–up approach, the data population will inevitably decrease.

Ota: On the contrary, I think there are few concerns if the population is both small and good quality. The IT infrastructure is also reasonable, and AI algorithms can function even without gathering large quantities of data. The obstacle is thought to be that, if there are discrepancies in data definitions during analysis, it cannot be used well. It is also possible that the scales of the data gathered by cities A and B are vague and cannot be aggregated. This too won’t be an issue so long as discussion on how to handle and standardize the data is thorough.

Society 5.0 should be distributed. I think it would be good if distributed things worked together easily, and it would be good for a large enterprise or country to appear when optimizing the whole.

Yoshida: The optimization required here is not equalization or homogenization, but perhaps rather “harmonization.” I wonder whether the Society 5.0 way of thinking is that harmonization can be achieved even where there are differences.

JEITA has many standardization committees, and standardization will continue to be an important point. For this reason, I think it is necessary to make clearer the distinction between “competitive spaces” and “collaboration spaces.” This is because there’s no use in competing over everything. It’s good to use what you can use, and to ride what you can ride, I think.

The “place” both interviewees note whether borders will change society

– To change the discussion, what kinds of human resource will be required in the Society 5.0 we will greet in the future?

Ota: Focusing on companies, it may be necessary to develop cross-border talent. When standardizing, you have to talk with different companies and sectors. Coordination between organizations and industries is not possible without training people who can speak outside of their comfort zone. Such people are characterized by being able to work in open innovation situations.

Yoshida: Speaking of which, the crossing of borders is taking place in my work as well.

CEATEC, where I lead the promotion office, used to be a trade show with a strong emphasis on home electronics, smartphones, and electrical components, but, in recent years, it has undergone a concept shift. For example, booths focused on “future living” using technologies such as unmanned convenience stores and smart cities have now appeared. Accompanying this change, there has been an increase in the need for collaboration and business matching between exhibitors who “want to consider what can be done together.”

As organizers, we also created a new project exhibition called “Society 5.0 TOWN.” Leaping beyond the framework of an exhibition that simply features booths, we have created an environment aiming for exchanges between participating companies and the creation of businesses; companies meet face-to-face from the kick-off and engage in teambuilding and workshops, and people wishing to push beyond boundaries can network.

I think this type of development will become even more interesting if it leaps from the exhibition hall into a city, or if it partners with accelerator projects being carried out in various cities.

Ota: Is that really happening? CEATEC has evolved considerably. In a similar example, the “Living Lab,” which focuses on Europe, is conducting user-participatory social experiments in the fields in which people actually live. Talent and human resources, companies, and money are brought together, and I think this is very attractive in the context of using data. I think it would be interesting to carry out various social experiments in areas like Marunouchi, and then to expand their footprint to entire cities.

– Are there any towns that you are focusing on as “places pushing boundaries,” Mr. Ota?

Ota: The place I’m paying attention to, and which is also related to my work, is Aizuwakamatsu. Hackathons are being held there every week, and it is very lively. What is interesting is not that there are charismatic leaders, but that various people are taking up leadership roles. This is called “civic tech” and is a good example of how citizens can use technology to solve issues with administrative services and societal issues. A place where users can participate and can conduct proof-of-concept experiments using data is attractive to foreign capital, so I think this field will develop.

Yoshida: Unlike Society 4.0, in which cyberspace was the main field, this is a period in which real assets are valuable. How do we create things, and how do people act? There are many fields in Japan that have yet to be made use of, and so I would like to pay attention to these in the future.

The essential question of “what do you want to do?” and what is required in Society 5.0

– In which among the Society 5.0 trends I have just spoken about will Japan win? Western companies were able to gain a lot of ground during Society 4.0, but can Japan make a comeback?

Ota: When I think about this question, I think there are several ways to win and lose.
One of these is “winning and losing companies,” another is “winning and losing countries,” and within this there are “winning and losing communities.”

If you divide into these kinds of units, I don’t think these can be applied uniformly to any big company or country. Personally, I think it would be good for communities to extend beyond national borders and for companies to work together, and it would be good to have this kind of world.

What is important in Society 5.0 is not only cyberspace, but also linkages to the real world, so data collection originating from locations in the real world is required, and there are various methods of developing this.

As I said a little while before, local communities are gathering data about damage from birds and animals and natural disasters, and data is being standardized in order to connect communities. It would be good for sister cities to collaborate and forge strong links, as in city states. I think it would also be good for states and companies to collaborate. Of course, there may also be entirely different relationships, such as those between individuals and communities, or communities and countries.

Yoshida: Society 3.0 and 4.0 were led by states and companies. In that sense, Society 5.0 is an opportunity to make many small attempts in a form that is close to users.

For this reason, methods that begin where users themselves make individual contributions should be successful. I think this is in line with the Japanese philosophy of “making what we would like to have ourselves.” There are many derivative works in Japan, and isn’t hardware and software hacking our forte? A culture has been developed that enables the independent development of things “it would be good to have.”

Society 5.0 brings us close to a society where we can more independently decide “what we should do to live our own lives.” Because technology is supporting this, if we can steadily tackle our own and surrounding issues, there should ultimately be a great blossoming of society.

– Further to that, Society 5.0 is not a tale of industry or the economy, but rather an image of the future bound to our own lives, isn’t it?

Yoshida: That’s exactly it, and it’s often said that “Society 5.0 doesn’t smell like money!” [laughs]. Since it is not uniform, it is not a mechanism that cannot be achieved en masse; technology is integrated into individual lives and forms a foundation for solving individual problems. Society 5.0 does not carry a sense of “being given” but is rather a concept closer to our lives because it is a society where everyone is told that “it’s okay to think for yourself.” If everyone asks “what kind of world do I want to live in?” companies will invest more money accordingly.

I think “how do I want to live?” is a very important question in such a society. For example, there is a tendency to think it’s great that different ways of working are being taken up in turn, but, if you ask ‘do you really want to try living in that way?” I notice that many people reply “ugh.” At the same time, I think there also extremely difficult aspects of thinking about how we want to live. Our day-to-day lives are busy with work, children, and the home, and it is difficult to make time to meaningfully ask the question “how do I want to live?” without having intent and setting aside time to do so.

– What should I begin with in order to clarify “how do I want to live” in preparation for the coming Society 5.0?

Ota: It is understood that you must choose on the basis of the lifestyles we individually seek, but I also think “how do I want to live” becomes visible when we push beyond boundaries. For example, try living in various places, or try going to Aizu, which I introduced earlier. Our sense of values changes when we change where we live and come into contact with communities we wouldn’t normally interact with. As a result, what we wish to do should become clear.

This remains unclear even to me, but I think that people who participate on their own saying “let’s do something” have a high degree of curiosity and the ability to ask questions. I think it will become a world where people can, in a sense, enjoy chaotic situations and act rather than ask “Is this useful?” or “will I benefit?”

Yoshida: In other words, people will be honest about “I wish it would be more like this.” This is something of self-promotion, but I would really like you to come to CEATEC. By coming into contact with new technologies and visions, you should be able to understand the atmosphere of Society 5.0 and also come up with ideas about how to act next.

If you are a company employee, you may be asked “why are you going to this exhibition?” CEATEC is a comprehensive exhibition, so I hope you can come up with a good excuse to attend. You don’t need to be a player at first, and you don’t need to create a community yourself. It’s fine to be a follower. Something should change by coming into contact with people who push beyond boundaries. The gates to Society 5.0 are already open.

Takeaway

・Society 5.0 is a “society where data is gathered from all places and things, and the analyzed is returned to the real space in order to optimize the actions of industry and people.”
・ If Society 5.0 arrives, the world will change dramatically within 10 years.
・ The keywords for promotion are “trust,” “data,” and “standardization.”
・Human resources that push boundaries will play an active role in the future.
・You will be asked “what do you want to do?” more than ever before.

Planning:Yohei Azakami
Editing:BrightLogg,inc.
Writing:Gaku Suzuki
Photography:Nobuhiro Toya