What is Society 5.0? Japan’s model for a digitally-inspired ‘imagination society’
“The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux.” It is a phrase written for a different time, and another sphere – a generation ago, which seems like a lifetime, to mark a political transformation, which now seems so slight
Because the future is coming into view, fast, and society is being transformed. The only question is how the transformation will finish – and, to paraphrase, how the pieces will settle, as the world is reordered around us.
“The world is facing a great tide of change,” comments the World Economic Forum (WEF) in a recent report, which sets out six priorities to avert global crisis from society’s digital reboot.
Sixty per cent of global GDP is expected to be digitised by 2022, with little distinction between the digital economy and the economy, or between digital society and society, it reckons.
The yawning divide between the digital ‘haves and have-nots’ is being mapped onto society’s old inequalities.
“The trend of digital transformation cannot be stopped and is drastically changing aspects of society including private lives, public administration, industrial structure and employment,” says the WEF.
The WEF puts focus on one model for change, from Japan, using the de-facto point-zero nomenclature of other tech movements: ‘Society 5.0’. It warrants a closer look.
Last month, the Japanese Business Federation, known as Keidanren, positioned the concept as a future vision for a fair society, enabled by digital technology – emerging from change to its every facet, including its politics, economy, and culture.
Keidanren calls it the ‘imagination society’.
“Digital technologies and data should be utilised to create a society where people lead diverse lifestyles and pursue happiness in their own ways,” it says.
“In the future, humans will require imagination to change the world and creativity to materialise their ideas. Society 5.0 will be an Imagination Society.”
Really, Society 5.0 is a parallel to the Industrie 4.0 concept, which originated in Germany, aligned with the transformation of the enterprise market – and describes the evolution from steam power, to electric power, to computer power, to a higher machine intelligence.
The difference is Society 5.0 attempts to define the society’s broader transformation, going back to hunter-gatherers, and on through agrarian society, industrial society, and information society, to arrive at this unknown place.
But is it unknown? Keidanren describes the mindset and opportunity afforded by new digital technologies. “The aim is to bring about a society where anyone can create value anytime, anywhere, in security and harmony with nature, and free from various constraints that currently exist.”
This last part is key. It describes society after all the technological and cultural barriers have been removed, and new business models emerge. It describes smart cities and zero-touch factories, staffed by robots and geared towards environmental and economic sustainability.
Keidanren references the United Nations’ ‘sustainable development goals’ (SDGs) for cities and regions, disaster prevention, financial systems, and public services. It describes the transformation of industry, as per the German vision, around new industrial structures and practices, and decentralised power, both political and electrical.
“Society 5.0 is not something to come, but something to create. Keidanren will reform itself to take the initiative in transforming Japanese economy and society. It will discuss, present and execute specific measures to realise Society 5.0 in partnership with diverse domestic and foreign stakeholders.”