Japan, still suffering the consequences of its “Lost Decade” of economic stagnation, is eyeing a transformation more radical than any the industrialized world has ever seen.
Boldly identified as “Society 5.0,” Japan describes its initiative as a purposeful effort to create a new social contract and economic model by fully incorporating the technological innovations of the fourth industrial revolution. It envisions embedding these innovations into every corner of its ageing society. Underpinning this effort is a mandate for sustainability, bound tightly to the new United Nations global goals, the SDGs. Japan wants to create, in its own words, a “super-smart” society, and one that will serve as a road map for the rest of the world.
Japan hosts its first-ever G20 summit in 2019, and this grand initiative will be on the agenda at the official B20 (Business 20) summit headed by the chairman of Hitachi .
Components of Society 5.0 and its implications for the U.S.
Society 5.0 addresses a number of key pillars: infrastructure, finance tech, healthcare, logistics and, of course, AI. The markets being grown in Japan are impressive. In robotics they predict $87 billion in investments, and the IoT market is poised to hit $6 billion in 2019.
This means we are behind. We have not put enough focus on what AI can do not only for industry, but what it can do to move society forward and solve many of our most pervasive problems.
It isn’t just a problem of lack of investment by the United States government. Just this past September the Department of Defense announced a commitment of $2 billion over the next five years toward new programs advancing artificial intelligence. This issue lies in the lack of a complete partnership between the United States government and the private sector. But, why is Japan in the lead?
Full-fledged embrace of AI and cutting-edge technology
Along with $1.44 billion from the government for AI funding, the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan is reorganizing to focus on AI and big data. They are projected to grow to $4 billion and operate to at least 2034. Much like in Britain and France, the government has made it a point to team with the private sector to move all of society forward.
Fresh ideas to address persistent societal problems
Along with the governmental and private partnership, Society 5.0 harnesses AI to address problems that continue to plague society. They are looking at how AI can help with the trappings of an aging population, pollution and, most importantly, how to create such a sweeping initiative that is also agile enough to adjust to constant change of society everyday.
The goal of the work being done at Hitachi now on Society 5.0 is to create a human-centered society. Technologies and innovations need to be leveraged to aid humans and our advancement, not to replace us in any way.
How do American technologists close the gap and partner with Japan?
First, in Silicon Valley and beyond, American technologists and entrepreneurs must create a partnership between themselves and the U.S. government. Only when working together can we reach our full potential.
Take the British government as a model. This past April it announced that it had put together “an AI deal worth more than £1 billion” that includes public and private funding.
France sees the opportunity and is betting on AI as well. This past spring President Emmanuel Macron announced an AI plan that includes $1.6 billion in funding, new research centers and data-sharing initiatives. The road has been clearly mapped for the U.S., just follow the path.
Next, American technologists and entrepreneurs must focus on certain industries and their ability to improve society in its entirety. There are 4 major industries technologists and entrepreneurs can focus on — and disrupt — by modeling Japan’s Society 5.0 ideas and approach.
Japan’s society is more heavily weighted toward people over 60 than the rest of the world. In turn, more healthcare is needed to support people for a longer period of time as people live longer.
American technologists and entrepreneurs can capitalize by investing in and developing cognitive AI technologies that will greatly lessen the time needed to complete administrative tasks to allowing medical professionals to concentrate more on actually providing healthcare.
A U.K. report suggests approximately 10 percent of NHS operational expenses could be saved through AI and automation. If this can be mirrored and then improved in the U.S., the rising cost of healthcare, and declining public health, can be tackled simultaneously.
While the population in urban centers is growing, rural areas are being left with diminished access to everyday needs like, transportation, stores, hospitals and community centers. Continue to invest and develop autonomous vehicles, drones and single-driver cargo truck convoys. Access to basic everyday needs will not be a given for those residing far from urban centers. Here lies another dual opportunity for technologists and entrepreneurs; service those in need while simultaneously moving tech and society forward.
Twenty-eight percent of major U.S. roads are rated “poor” or in need of a complete rebuild. AI and other technologies such as robots, drones, sensors and IoT will help solve these problems. How? If only 10 percent of cars in the U.S. became self-driving, those 26 million vehicles would generate 38.4 zettabytes of data annually. In one year that would create more than eight times the volume of the world’s current data.
Not only must we increase investment in autonomous vehicles, but we must make a concerted effort to leverage the data they will produce. Technologists and entrepreneurs will have an unprecedented advantage to leverage this data to predict everything from needs of infrastructure improvements to all bridges and roads being used by the autonomous vehicles. Companies like Hitachi are the ones you should look to work with. They’re doing amazing things in infrastructure today. How can this be translated to the U.S.? That is a question for you to ask and ultimately solve.
Mass transit is far ahead in Japan as well. Japan’s maglev train set a world record speed of 375 mph. With vast expanses of the United States landscape, and the ever-growing challenges of flying, the rail transport industry is ripe for the picking. Plans for the Midwest and the west coast seem to come and go. What will be the plan that actually works?
Blockchain is a solution that will advance security, transparency and fraud prevention in society. Cognitive AI is producing results toward the goals of Society 5.0; either it be a cashless society or a consumer-focused one. Voice-prompted AI assistants are currently providing consumer support by depositing money, performing trades, mastering trading platforms, networking, and onboarding of customers. This omni-channel integration will result in finance and banking evolving to grow around customers needs. With this evolution we will see far less need for cash and brick and mortar banks.
In the end, data alone is just code without meaning to its user. But, when technologists and entrepreneurs implement AI to its max potential, a true difference will be seen. In Society 5.0, humanity and machines will solve the greatest issues society faces in the 21st century. We must embrace what Japan is creating with Society 5.0, or we will simply become a vestige of the technological past.