Written by: Cornelia Marie Dybwad
Photo by: Guwashi/ Wikimedia Commons
Breakthroughs in technology has resulted in massive changes in the financial sector, health sector – and everything in between. Mostly as a result of globalization, the world as we know it has become a deepened interconnected cosmos and people on all levels of the economy, as a matter of fact the whole society, are being affected by these inevitable changes brought upon us. With changes one may face challenges, but also stumble upon great opportunities. One of the states that is currently trying to implement a lot of changes in its society is Japan. With a slightly futuristic model, Japan has in sight to improve the well-being of the population, as well as fostering innovation to a larger degree to change the nation – even if it is one step at a time. But will the realization of Japans hi-tech Society 5.0 leave us for better or for worse? Have the disruptive technologies gone too far?
Because of the breakthroughs in so to say all sectors, we are at the moment facing a fundamental shift in how we structure our societies. With a larger degree of automation, integration of new innovations as well as even further implementation of technology in our daily lives – the current order as we know it, is on the edge of a huge transition.
Japan is pioneering this way of thinking, by actively implementing Society 5.0s ideas to change its society for the better. The reason for this transformation is the current challenges Japan is facing, both on a social and economic level. Among these are its ageing population, weak growth in economy as well as labor shortages. Japans solutions to their prevailing problems will probably be applicable to other countries in the future. Thereforeit is in everyone’s interest that these new plans of Japan, especially in the sectors of mobility as well as healthcare, are shared across the world. A human-centered society which aims to use new innovations and technology to achieve it, is at the heart of the Society 5.0 model.
So, what exactly will this societal transformation bring upon us? Currently, the future as we see it, or at least the perception we have of it, is a lot more automatic and dependent on technology. Despite our daily lives already being full of technologies which supposedly are bringing ease over our days – we are standing above a human-oriented revolution that will be realized through further technological innovations.
Artificial intelligence: information, healthcare and more autonomy
One of the innovations and focus areas of the societal transformation is artificial intelligence. Where humans earlier have been met with an overflow of information, where the work of finding and analyzing the massive amount often have been burdensome and difficult – artificial intelligence is considered to be the answer. Artificial intelligence provides a huge opportunity to address complex issues at an unprecedented scale. Also, within the fields of healthcare and mobility AI is sought to be a promising answer. Japan is presently facing problems as a result of their aging society – which per now seems to be a preeminent issue compared fellow countries of this increasingly interconnected world. By putting remote medical care into practice and using artificial intelligence at medical facilities, one would create a digital society for an aging population. Another challenge which the Japanese society faces due to its large percentage of elderly population, is within the department of mobility. Not only has the long-term population decline in Japan been noticeable in the cities, certainly also the more rural areas have been affected. The lack of public transportation to a larger extent in these rural areas can have contributed to establish a deepened center - periphery conflict. Autonomous vehicles and delivery drones are presented to be a solution for this instance – but one question I have in this regard is whether or not the citizens in these peripheral areas will utilize these advanced unmanned vehicles or if the technology would have an almost frightening effect.
Relocation of power – new responsibilities
Society 5.0 is marked by emerging technological breakthroughs in a number of fields, whereas artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are two of them. As the fourth industrial revolution may be accounted to be the driving force of this futuristic society it is important, almost crucial, to mention that these two are deeply correlated. The fourth industrial revolution is impacting multiple sectors and stakeholders, and reallocating responsibilities. Presented short; new technologies create new powers, and as a result we can see a shift in who to hold accountable. This tendency seems to be constant for the societal shifts we have faced earlier, and nothing suggests that Society 5.0 will be a deviation. These new responsibilities should include a change in policy framework - but how can this policy framework be adapted to a society which is not yet fully developed? One does yet not know the consequences of the realization of Society 5.0, but still rules need to be established. This should be regarded upon as one of the bigger challenges the transformation is standing above as it certainly will change society as we know it. What will it for example mean for global trade and GDP numbers when producers will start to 3D print parts for robots instead of getting them shipped from a supplier?
A possible consequence - outsourcing of jobs
One of the more prominent aspects of the futuristic society which I think can turn out to be a challenge is the outsourcing of jobs – to technological actors. Automation of the society started decades ago and robots are more present among us than ever. Even though they ensure increased efficiency, which comes in handy in the consumption-society we live in, they can also threaten jobs. Society 5.0 promotes, as mentioned earlier, a super-smart society where technology will be so implemented in our lives that we can focus on our well-being. On the other hand, it seems as this robotization in productive sectors can replace humans. Educating humans to become proficient is a lot more time-consuming than building a robot and updating their software every now and then. According to United Nations conference on trade and development, up to two thirds of developing country jobs can be eroded as robots are entering the playing field to a bigger extent. It should also be mentioned that the innovators themselves claim that the robotization will not be stealing jobs – but then again, they are making money on these innovations.
Who will be affected?
An essential question is why exactly it is two thirds of the jobs in developing countries which possibly are threatened. The main reason is probably because these countries are not modern enough. The societal transformation emphasizes the use of technology to enhance the human life, but in developing countries other priorities are in focus. For non-industrialized countries, it is difficult to embrace the industrialization and globalization that comes with one transformation before if it is too late and another one is introduced – despite being decades between the predeceasing societies and Society 5.0. At this point I think I should point out that “former” technological revolutions are still ongoing. As reported by World Economic Forum, over a billion people across the globe still do not have access to electricity and many institutions are still struggling with the changes that came with Society 3.0 and the industrial revolution, as they yet are trying to become digital organizations. While media, finance and telecommunications already have been disrupted, other industries have not yet been disrupted by digitalization. The use of disrupt in this context refers to Clayton Christensen’s idea of disruptive innovation. The term is used to describe a process where new products or services act as disruptors in their industries – something that changes the entire game.
Our societal commitments to accessibility, inclusivity and fairness are also at stake during this societal transformation. Despite aiming to be human oriented, as it can aggregate wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Reinforcing cycles of higher and higher educational requirements will be created, and externalized costs to stakeholders who are not included in development will emerge. Already now one can see tendencies that lean towards creating a society which benefit the ones that are already rich. Clustering of market capitalization will have a profound negative effect on further innovation, which already is accounted to be a problem in the world today.
A high-tech society that’s worth jumping in with both feet?
As stated, we are now witnessing the emergence of new transformation with its own dynamics. Society 5.0 that comes with the fourth industrial revolution, builds on a digital revolution that represents new ways in which technologies becomes embedded within societies. This transformation is expected to be of significance for entire systems of production, distribution and consumption. For generations to come todays choices will impact values, identities and possibilities. As the focus lies on systems, the individual technologies are set aside and the way technology is used as a binding factor between different fields is emphasized. This is exactly what one can see by the focus on the creation of a super smart society in Japan. The challenge is how we design a future and future systems that are above our current level of understanding. After all, positive values must come to the front as a feature of these new technologies and how they are integrated. It all lies in the design of the frameworks that can drive the society to the desired outcome – if not we can end up with an even more unpredictable future. The challenge is if we fail to pay attention to critical governance issues, then we are likely to allow undemocratic, random and potentially malicious forces to shape the futuristic society. For this to happen it must be created a positive narrative which will unify and shape the society as an entity. It seems as both challenges and opportunities will occur as this new societal transformation is taking place. Where it on one hand will utterly bring ease over the problems regarding the aging population, it will on the other hand seem to make it more difficult for the productive-age population as further automation can possibly threaten jobs. There are both good arguments and counter-arguments for making the Society 5.0 a reality – but two things are clear. One -rules change drastically during revolutions of technological character. Two - if you don’t learn and keep up with the new rules, you will get left behind.
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