The Slovenia Times

Society 5.0: the shift from technology first to human first


"A human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space" - Society 5.0 was proposed in the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan as a future society that Japan should aspire too. It follows the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0) and information society (Society 4.0). Dr Yuko Harayama, one of the initiators of Society 5.0, is a former Executive Member of the Council for Science and Technology Policy, Cabinet Office of Japan. She is also the former Deputy Director of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, OECD. Previously, she was a Professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Graduate School of Engineering of Tohoku University. She holds a Ph.D. in Education Sciences and a Ph.D. in Economics, both from the University of Geneva.

In anticipation of global trends, the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan, adopted by the Japanese Cabinet in January 2016, presented Society 5.0 as a core concept. What is the concept in theory and in practice?

In 2015, I was the chair of the committee that was preparing this plan. Traditionally, we had to identify key technological areas and then provide board mapping for the next five years. At that time, we saw that digital transformation was coming, however, it was not just a question of artificial intelligence (AI) but more fundamental - it was about transforming society itself and how we, human beings, interact with each other, make decisions, work and everything. The most fundamental change in this concept is that we do not focused anymore on technology only, but the human being is put at the centre and therefore we call it a 'human centred approach'.

If you look at the Japanese success stories of the past: in 1970, 1980 we were just in the phase of catching up to the US and European countries, and Japanese companies succeeded in developing technologies that made some additional value by bringing more complexity and functionality. This meant better products and low cost in comparison to the European companies. In this way we became really competitive and that generated economic growth in Japan.

Technological progress brought economic growth and it was a success. However, today, at a certain level of quality of life, we ask ourselves: "it is not that I want more technology, but what I want is social value", which is equally or even more important than economic value and thus we are talking about sustainable concepts. So, the way we explore social and economic resources should be compatible with sustainability. Not anymore technology first! By developing new products one has to see the big picture of a future society and then identify what could be the key technological areas that need to be empowered.

In 2016, you set some milestones for this initiative. How is the concept evolving in the real world?

We set the plan for five years, however, the goal is much longer. After this period we will check the status - my colleagues will check as I left the government two years ago - an assessment of the achievements, so that it can be shared once it is done. Nowadays, my colleagues are already preparing the next plan which will cover the 2021 - 2025 period. It has been officially announced that the plan will keep Society 5.0 at the core. Finally, I have to say that the implementation of the concept is not dependent on the government, but more so by its acceptance of the society as a whole. I am happy to look at the business sector, in 2016 they discussed the ideas of the Society 5.0 concept and they, together with our big companies, are moving to that direction. Even the start-up companies, when they are developing new technologies, they feel they are leading this transformation.

Which are the global societal challenges addressed by Japan's science and technology policies?

We used to say Japan is the front-runner of super-aged societies. The proportion of people who are beyond 65 in Japan is rapidly increasing and this is a challenge that needs to be addressed. We are discussing how to keep people in the labour market for a longer period. When you are living longer you have a greater chance of dementia, Alzheimer, and you are also physically weaker. Therefore, we put the social security issues at the heart of the concept. We need to change the mindset in the way we see seniors in society - not just as a burden, they could be active participants. And, if we keep them active, there are less possibilities that they will get dementia or Alzheimer's. The best way to make them active is that they do not isolated at home, but to keep them mobile, allowing them to go where they want to go in a secure and supportive way. The result of this mindset is the autonomous car project which perfectly addresses societal challenges and at the same time develops new technologies and new business. So, the new technological ideas should serve society. New devices should facilitate the life of the elderly.

Are there any pilot projects from Society 5.0 that you can share?

Of course, an example comes from the agriculture sector. Japan has big cities like Tokyo, and in the rural areas where agriculture is dominant activities young people do not like to stay there, they are attracted by the big cities. Therefore, the average age of the population that stays in the agricultural sector is very high, which is no longer sustainable. So, the way Japan is managing the agriculture sector should be changed. Society 5.0 tries to digitalise it and make it more attractive for young people, that they can run it as a business while using new digital tools such as meteorological data, crop-growth data, market conditions, and food trends and needs. In addition, we are trying to use biotechnology. It is about putting together different challenges with the aim to make the farm produce desired by consumers available to them when they desire.

What is the investment that the Japanese government has actually made into this initiative so far?

These are cross-sectoral actions. If we look at the elderly challenge - you need a mixture of knowledge: medical knowledge, technological knowledge (e.g. for autonomous driving), etc. Therefore, the cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP) allocates budgets beyond the framework of ministerial organisations, and science and technology areas, to promote overall efforts from basic study to the exit (practical application, commercialisation).
The Public/Private R&D Investment Strategic Expansion Program was set up in 2018 with the aim of directing R&D measures of ministries and agencies to the "R&D investment target areas" in the expectation of significant effects on the introduction of private R&D investment for expanding public and private R&D investment and streamlining the efficiency of fiscal spending.
YEN 32.5bn was allocated in the supplementary budget in 2017 for expenditure on Science, Technology and Innovation Promotion. YEN 28bn was allocated for 2019.

The Society 5.0 initiative also seeks to create a sustainable society for human security and well-being through a cyber-physical system. Can you tell us more?

To ensure that digital transformation will be beneficial for human society, you need to guarantee digital security as a basis. The difficulty is that once you set up one security system, those who are on the opposite side try to overcome your security system and so it is never-ending story. Although security is at the national level and so the government has to guarantee, every individual also needs to be cautious when using all of the security devices as, of course, does business which needs to implement its security systems. For that reason, digital is beyond our national borders, countries need to collaborate internationally and globally.

Could Slovenia be the right ecosystem to adapt the strategy of Society 5.0 for the European environment?

When we have launched this idea in 2016 and even before then, I visited many large international conferences, including the G7, G20, etc. and I tried to test this idea. I got feedback from my colleagues who felt quite comfortable about it, particularly my colleague from Germany who is promoting Industry 4.0. Germany does not see Japan as a competitor but as a partner because they would also like to address the societal challenges. So, the concept of Society 5.0 is inspiring for many countries. We are happy that we can share this concept also with Slovenia because we believe we can do many things together. Slovenia may do something that Japan has never thought about!


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