Thinking Ahead To Society 5.0

Artificial intelligence is here, and it’s already helping make lives better.


Industry 4.0 is a familiar term throughout the global semiconductor community. It conjures images of fully automated factories and computerized decision making at all levels of business. Less widely known is Japan’s thinking about the next step in technological evolution, which it calls Society 5.0. Instead of viewing upcoming technology advances as the fourth industrial revolution, Japan takes the broader perspective that future developments will impact all aspects of daily life, not just business.

The term Society 5.0 refers to the fifth step in the evolution of human civilization following the early hunter-gatherer society, then the agricultural society, the industrial society marked by mass-produced goods and our current information society. The next level – the super-smart society – was outlined by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the CeBIT 2017 computer fair in Hannover, Germany. He described a future society that leverages technology to achieve economic advancement and solve people’s problems. This aspirational goal involves recognizing that there is a limit to what people can do and that, instead of turning over all control to automation, humans can live better lives by wielding the latest technological tools.

In today’s information age, we are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data available to us. Sifting through mountains of information and analyzing it can stand in the way of reaching a solution. In Society 5.0, citizens will actively apply existing means such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data to process all the inputs and avoid information overload. The projected result will be greater economic growth as well as improved quality of life.

Some of the aspects of tomorrow’s super-smart society are already in play. For example, online shopping for goods and services is widespread. As cloud computing becomes even more pervasive, both consumers and proprietors will continue to reap benefits ranging from the greater ease and lower cost of conducting transactions virtually anywhere to the added security and protection from identity theft afforded by facial-recognition technology.

Along these same lines, integrating AI into home electronics is no longer a futuristic dream. Beginning meal preparations from remote locations and then arriving home to cozy conditions are possible today thanks to wi-fi-controlled kitchen appliances and smart HVAC systems.

With advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), autonomous vehicles are making it easier for us to get around outside our homes. Society can expect to realize safety, cost and time-optimizing advantages with the next generation of personal vehicles and public transportation options.

While self-driving cargo trucks are on the horizon, drones offer an airborne means of delivering goods, from pizzas to Amazon orders. But unmanned aircraft also are finding more vital applications in delivering relief supplies into hard-to-reach regions that have been hit by disasters, such as Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and performing aerial reconnaissance of fleeing criminals and fast-spreading fires.

Robots have the potential to free society from the physical challenges and dangerous conditions encountered on some job sites. With GPS devices being smaller and more accurate than ever, AI-enabled automatons can be precisely controlled to perform intricate tasks that could not even be considered just a few years ago. Caring for people in need is one such application. Around the world, people are living longer lives. This is especially true in Japan, the world’s fastest aging society. By 2050, an estimated third of the population will be 65 years of age or older. The country is taking a hard look at smart robotics as a means of providing enough 24/7 caregivers and unflagging physical assistance to assure independent lifestyles for its fast-growing senior population.

In addition to nursing care, the idea of a beneficial Society 5.0 extends to wearable health monitors and online medical examinations. The advent of telemedicine not only means fewer visits to clinics – and therefore less exposure to potentially infectious fellow patients in doctors’ waiting rooms – but also reduces the time and transportation costs required to get medical attention. This could present invaluable benefits to seniors and people with mobility challenges.

The vision for the super-smart Society 5.0 is to free people from everyday burdensome tasks and serve the needs of every person while not ceding all control to machines. Japan is working to become the first nation to meet its challenges by implementing such a society. To me, that’s advanced thinking.

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