Japan’s Preference Towards Society 5.0

 Pankhuri Gaur, Assistant Professor, RIS


The developing countries are embarking on the Industry 4.0 (I4) to strengthening their manufacturing capabilities, and a new concept of Society 5.0 (S5) has emerged in recent years, which would be useful at present with increasing number of COVID-19 variants and frequency of lockdowns. The notion of S5 aims at focusing on a human centric society with greater degree of convergence of Cyber-Physical System while balancing between the economic growth and social and environmental problems. It was first proposed in the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan by Japan in 2016 and subsequently adopted by the Japanese Cabinet[i]. It was further discussed in the G-20 Summit in 2019 at the B20 Summit. The S5 aims at creating new values to human beings using advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, big data and other technologies falling under I4.

Society 5.0 is identified as the fifth stage of societal innovation, preceded by Information Society (S4), Industrial Society (S3), Agrarian Society (S2), and Hunting Society (S1)[ii]. A leap in S5 from its predecessor (Information Society) refers to the fact that the latter would provide information stored in the cyberspace which can be subjected to further exploration and examination. However, in case of S5, information is stored in cyberspace through sensors in physical space which is analysed by artificial intelligence, exceeding human potential and competence, and results are provided to the humans in the physical space. This automation of the entire process results in minimizing human involvement and their efforts and hence, reducing work-hours in the whole process.

Super-Smart Society (or S5) focuses on using I4 technologies into the niche areas of the economy like healthcare, environment, agriculture, trade and manufacturing, energy, etc. A major difference between I4 and S5 is that while the former is a revolution for the industry and services sector, latter is an evolution for a human-centric society, which harmonises work pressure and benefits people[iii]. I4 focuses on simplifying the method of doing a job, whereas S5 aims at minimizing the human effort and man-hours to undertake the job. S5 is going a step-ahead of I4 to a super-intelligent society, beyond industry transformation, to contribute to economic, social and environmental welfare while maintaining human centrality in the process.

Japan being a developed nation, faces multiple challenges with stagnant economic growth. With low birth rate, ageing population and infrastructure, reduction in labour force, local de-population and frequent occurrence of natural disasters, Japanese economy is expected to be burdened with a number of problems relating to work force participation and production[iv]. As a solution to these problems, Japanese government came up with its Science Technology Innovation (STI) policy of Society 5.0, centered on humans and surrounded by I4 technologies with integration of virtual and real space. It further aims at achieving the SDGs through S5 and has identified areas such as infrastructure, healthcare, finance technology, logistics and artificial intelligence as its pillars.

Japan aims at delivering goods and services at the doorstep of the consumers using intelligent transport systems and automation technology. There could be several examples to present relevance of S5 in the society. For instance, consumers would be able to choose the fabric, colour and size of products and it would be delivered from the garment industry. Machines like refrigerators would monitor food stocked to prevent food allergies and reduce waste. Use of big data for weather, crop and market information and application of AI and automatic tractors to toil the field, etc., would boost the agricultural production with replacement of retiring workers. Through I4, S5 may provide information on disaster prevention, status of power plant, charging and discharging of Electric Vehicles, etc. and enhance energy efficiency in households.

Japanese government has released country’s Growth Strategy for 2017, providing specific plans for Society 5.0. The Japanese cabinet has approved “Investment for Future Strategy 2017” and emphasized on S5 to materialize the country's medium and long term growth[v]. Other than the government, the private sector is also playing an equally important role in adapting and promoting S5 in the country. Keidanren has introduced delivery of SDGs through S5 in its charter and promoted Super-Smart Society in its policy proposal in 2016[vi]. Major companies like Hitachi, Panasonic, Toyota, NEC, Fujitsu, etc. have also introduced S5 in their business strategies. A collaborative effort is underway by the government, industry, academia and society to achieve Super-Smart Society in Japan.

Having advantages of technology and innovation with free flow of data, Japan is already in the process of transforming its society into S5 with a huge collection of data for the cyber space and planning to liberalise existing regulations for digital technologies. But relevance of such STI policy of Japan for developing countries is subjected to further scrutiny, where these countries are already facing challenges of unemployment, limited access to resources and high-end technologies, high cost of technology, less skilled labour and limited or no policy available for data security. The concept of S5 is highly dependent on technologies used in I4 and until developing countries are acquainted with such technologies, achieving S5 for developing countries may be an elusive target. The societal problems that Japan facing now, is not a standard situation for all countries in the developing world.

However, the objectives of S5 are similar with the United Nations SDGs and hence, can be applicable universally to all[vii]. The technologies used and developed in S5 would help in fostering production and consumption through automatic distribution with least human intervention while reducing greenhouse gases with use of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Other social issues like health, smart agriculture techniques, waste management, gender equality etc. are covered under S5 which are also argued to achieve SDGs in the country[viii]. Moreover, given the current rise of COVID-19 pandemic and emergence of different variants of the virus, S5 could provide an enduring solution to the struggling population. It would provide access to healthcare facilities at virtual space and can deliver medicines through drones. It would also steer the economies under lockdown and continue production and consumption process without going out of homes, thereby saving precious liv


End Notes

[i] Cabinet Office (Council for Science, Technology and Innovation). (2016). The 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan. https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/english/basic/5thbasicplan.pdf

[ii] Hitachi-UTokyo Laboratory (H-UTokyo Lab.). (2020). Society 5.0 A People-centric Super-smart Society. SpringerOpen. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-2989-4

[iii] Pereira, A. G., Lima, T. M., & Charrua-Santos, F. (2020). Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0: opportunities and threats. International Journal of Recent Technology and Engineering, 8(5), 3305-3308.

[iv] Fukuda, K. (2020). Science, technology and innovation ecosystem transformation toward society 5.0. International journal of production economics, 220, 107460.

[v] Fukuyama, M. (2018). Society 5.0: Aiming for a new human-centered society. Japan Spotlight, 27, 47-50.

[vi] Carraz, R., & Harayama, Y. (2018). Japan’s innovation systems at the crossroads: Society 5.0. Digital Asia, 33-45.

[vii] Onday, O. (2019). Japan’s society 5.0: going beyond industry 4.0. Business and Economics Journal, 10(2), 2-7.

[viii] Zengin, Y.; Naktiyok, S.; Kaygın, E.; Kavak, O.; Topçuo ˘glu, E. An Investigation upon Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0 within the Context of Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability 2021, 13, 2682. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13052682

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