Society 5.0 is Japan’s vision of the future society. In line with the introduction of transformative technologies around IoT and AI, the society is transforming from the information society (Society 4.0) to a society that further integrates cyberspace with the physical space. With a human-centered focus, Society 5.0 aims to balance economic advancement and the resolution of social challenges by implementing a system that integrates cyberspace and physical space. With the increased usage of AI and IoT, a large amount of data can be gathered and analyzed in the cyberspace, before the results are returned to the humans in the physical space. By striving towards Society 5.0, Japan aims to become the first country in the world to achieve a human-centered technological society, in which everyone can enjoy high quality of life.
At the end of March, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) visited Tokyo together with their Innovation Leadership Program to study forward-looking research and innovation in Japan. The Innovation Leadership Program consists of 15 selected members, all with leadership responsibility in research and innovation, representing a wide range of fields from the Swedish industry and other relevant organisations. The Office of Science and Innovation, together with Business Sweden, planned and organized visits to companies, universities, research institutes and other relevant stakeholders to showcase policy commitment, leading technology, research and innovation in Japan.
During the visit to University of Tokyo, professor Someya and his research group presented their work on developing “wearable electronics”. The Someya Group has been working on Organic Electronics since 2003 and aims to develop novel electronic devices that harmoniously interface with living bodies. The group has, among other things, developed an ultrathin and highly elastic skin display and sensors. The devices can for instance be used to display electrocardiogram recorded by the skin sensors, and promise a vast variety of future healthcare applications. The wearable devices can monitor health by measuring vital signals or taking an electrocardiogram, and thereafter wirelessly transmit the data to other devices. In the aging society, user-friendly wearable sensors for monitoring patient vitals are needed in order to reduce the burden of nursing care. At the visit, practical applications of technologies through the spin-off company Xenoma and the collaborative partner NEC were presented, and the group then had an interesting lab tour.
Another inspiring visit, and a good example of disruptive innovation, was the visit to Cyberdyne and Prof. Sankai. Cyberdyne makes use of “Cybernics” – an integrated technology of human, robot and information systems. Cyberdyne has developed the Hybrid Assistive Limb, HAL, which is the world’s first cyborg-type robot. HAL can assist a physically challenged person to move by improving, supporting and enhancing the wearer’s bodily functions. By consolidating information from bio-electric signals at the skin surface, HAL is able to recognize what kind of motions the wearer intends to do. Furthermore, HAL can accelerate the motor learning of cerebral nerves.
Among the other visits that were made during IVA’s time in Tokyo were, for instance, a visit to Sony Computer Science Lab and to the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). At Sony CSL, the focus was towards future world changing applications, and technologies laying a foundation for AI possibly winning a Nobel Prize. At AIST an overview of the research institute was given, as well as a visit to the Stem Cell research laboratory.
A reception at the ambassador’s residence was also held on the occasion of IVA’s visit to Tokyo, which was a good opportunity for the 15 IVA members to further develop discussion with people representing the Japanese industry and academia. It was a successful evening with many stimulating and inspiring discussions among the guests.
The visits to the companies, universities, research institutes and other stakeholders highlighted several of the challenges that Japan is facing today, as an aging society and a large national debt, but also the credence that technological development and innovation can help overcome those challenges. The concept of Society 5.0 is well-established within the industry and academia and gathers efforts towards achieving a common goal. AI and IoT will play an important role in the future Japanese society, however, without leaving the human out of the picture. Dr. Ueyama, executive member of the Cabinet Office, explained his forward-looking research and innovation policy, demonstrating impressive ambitions in strengthening an already strong knowledge-intensive country.