Feb. 19, 2021
The global Covid-19 pandemic has transformed our lifestyles and thrown many social challenges into relief. What is required of us going forward is to think, at this global turning point, about how to realize a sustainable and prosperous society beyond “after Covid” by revisiting pre-Covid values, thinking, and rules.
Promoting “Build Back Better” by utilizing digital technology
Japan currently faces many prolonged challenges, from those peculiar to developed countries like extreme population concentration in Tokyo, population decline, declining birthrate and aging population, and energy problems, all the way to geopolitical challenges and natural disasters. Even amid such circumstances in Japan, teleworking has progressed rapidly as a result of people refraining from movement due to the coronavirus crisis. The important thing is that it has become apparent that the digital infrastructure and digital technology that enabled the spread of telework has the potential not only to solve social issues such as extreme population concentration in Tokyo and labor shortages, but also to solve problems at the corporate and individual levels like ensuring business continuity and achieving work-life balance.
With Japanese adaptability, illustrated by the several years’ worth of progress in digitalization seen during a months-long state of emergency and the new behaviors based on self-responsibility seen in the stay-at-home and mask wearing rates, I think we can aim to “Build Back Better” in a way that not only restores the economy to its pre-Covid state, but also actively solves social issues and realizes a sustainable society.
Society 5.0, which was approved by the Cabinet in 2016 to realize the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), is a more concrete example of the society we should be aiming for. With the vision of achieving both economic development and solutions to social issues, it aims to realize a “data-driven society” and a “human-centered society”.
A data-driven society is one with cycles where events that occur in real space are converted into data by IoT devices and sensors and brought over into virtual space, and the results are returned to real space in the form of information and knowledge through analysis by artificial intelligence (AI). We can expect that systems that highly integrate real space and virtual space will be able to solve social issues that humans have thus far been unable to solve on their own.
For example, it will become possible to solve traffic congestion and CO2 emission problems through the combination of autonomous driving technology and converting road conditions into data with IoT, and to solve labor shortages and reduce medical costs at medical facilities through telemedicine with doctors and elder care with robots. A human-centered society treats digital technology as strictly a means to an end, and aims to use digital technology as a tool to create a society where everyone can lead a comfortable, vibrant, and quality life. The important thing is that this human-centered society is also being promoted.
Challenges to the realization of Society 5.0 and two changes for overcoming them
Movements to utilize digital technology toward the realization of Society 5.0 are beginning in various fields, but there are a number of challenges that must be overcome in order to make Society 5.0 a reality. These challenges include the delay, in comparison with other countries, in education and R&D to create the digital technology that will be the key to realizing Society 5.0, the enclosure of data by platformers that are far ahead in data-driven business models like GAFA, and, turning our gaze inwards, things like personal information, privacy, AI and ethics, cyber security, and employment.
I think that two major changes are needed to overcome these various challenges. One is that we adopt more flexible thinking that allows us to accept a wide variety of human resources and problem-solving approaches in order to bring about a better paradigm shift. Not only in industrial fields, but also in medical care, education, and government administration, innovative and ingenious steps have already been taken toward a digital shift while breaking away from previous methods, and it can be expected that these will be ongoing efforts, rather than one-offs.
The second is democratizing the use of data accounting for data utilization and privacy protection. Unlike in societies where data is monitored by strong governments, having succeeded in voluntarily staying at home and promoting telework, Japan may have the ability to use data democratically. In a data-driven society, our actions and thoughts are the starting point for everything, which can be accumulated as data, and the analysis results can be used to solve social issues and lead to prosperous lives. How to promote the democratic use of data in this future society will be decided by us, who are at the heart of that society.
Now that we are facing an unprecedented crisis due to Covid-19, maybe we can reaffirm the significance of the SDGs and Society 5.0 and “Build Back Better” toward the realization of a prosperous society beyond “after Covid”. And I sincerely hope that Japan, which is a country with advanced issues, will contribute richly to the world through the technologies and services created there.