Digitization: Japan wants to become Society 5.0

Germany has coined the slogan ‘Industry 4.0’. Japan responds with its initiative of ‘Society 5.0’. Did we miss a step in the development? What does Japan expect from the digital networking of a society?

Even though Society 5.0 sounds a little bit extravagant, Japan’s visions of a digitally networked society should be taken seriously. On the one hand, because Japan will be hosting the Olympic Games in 2020, which offers an opportunity for it to present itself as a digital nation to the world. On the other hand, because the Japanese with their design of the future directly refer to the German concept of the Industry 4.0, only in relation to society as a whole. Japan distinguishes as follows: 1. Hunter and gatherer society, 2. Agrarian society, 3. Industrial society, 4. Information society, 5. Society 5.0.

Both the government and the national trade association Keidanren have published framework concepts for Society 5.0. They are about the development of a technology-centered society towards a people-centered society and their corresponding understanding of technology. Sustainability, inclusion and openness are the three core values on which Society 5.0 is based.

Japan’s digital strategy

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Japan’s specific national problems are the rapid and increasing aging of society and the associated depopulation of rural areas. Here, Japan promises solutions through the digitization of health care and geriatric care. Autonomous public buses will provide access to rural areas. Also, exoskeletons as well as social robots are being tried out by senior citizens, which advances the topic of socially inclusive possibilities by technology altogether.

In addition, Japan is struggling with an increasingly critical water and energy shortage. Here, digitization can actually provide a relatively simple remedy through smart consumption management.

We must give credit to the Japanese! The so-called Meiji Restoration in the 19th century (transition from shogunate to modern nation) was a globally unique process, during which Japanese society showed capable of transforming itself. At the same time, Japanese are much more willing to accept machines and AI as everyday companions than Westerners. An important reason for this may be the Japanese belief in Shintoism. In the Shinto religion, a soulfulness is granted to the entire being, even to those of non-living nature such as mountains and even cultural objects like tools, vehicles – or even robots.

“#Sustainability, #inclusion, #openness: #Japan wants to create #Society 5.0 with the help of #AI and #robots.“

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Comparison with Europe

Here, too, the general public is becoming aware that the networking of production processes will not stop at factory gates and that artificial intelligence is not just a new tool in business intelligence. Digitization will affect all areas of society, not just our work. This holistic approach has been clearly communicated in Japan. Problems such as aging or depopulation of rural areas also affect Germany, albeit less strongly.

The fact that there are fundamental differences in the way Japan and Europe view technological developments – similar to the issue of nuclear power – can be explained by differences in mentality and a different spiritual tradition. But it’s exactly these different assessments that make the view on the respectively different concepts of future technologies exciting. Whether the effects of digitization on different areas of life such as work, school, age, mobility or consumer behavior are bundled in one overall topic, as is being done in Japan, or whether there are parallel debates taking place like in Germany, depends also on the different cultures of discussion.

Do you think that societal concepts such as Society 5.0 are useful in the digital transformation?