Caring for seniors and filling labor shortages: Japan wants to solve pressing societal issues by connecting the Internet of Things to robots and artificial intelligence. The country’s officials believe forging an ultramodern “Society 5.0” is the answer.
In 2017, the Japanese government announced nothing less than a new era of human history. “This age, where all things are connected and technologies merge, is the beginning of Society 5.0,” said Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the tech trade fair CEBIT in the German city of Hannover. But unlike the German concept of Industry 4.0, which is focused on the digitalization of specific sectors of the economy, the Japanese are aiming to digitalize their entire society. All aspects of life in the island nation are set to be linked via IoT technology and combined with Big Data, robotics and AI to solve Japan’s most pressing problems – especially the country’s ageing and declining population, which is also causing an acute labor shortage.
DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE IN FOCUS
Japan’s society is rapidly ageing. Already today, more than a quarter of all its inhabitant are over 65 years old – and this trend is accelerating. Moreover, there aren’t enough nursing staff to care for the elderly. So robots are already assisting at nursing homes – whether it’s helping people walk and stand, or even as artificial companion seals to cuddle. As digitalization continues, further healthcare applications are being planned – such as telemedicine, which allows doctors to care for patients via video conferencing from home. Or monitoring services that use cameras and sensors to keep an eye on a patient’s condition around the clock in order to take pressure off nursing staff.
But the so-called Society 5.0 goes far beyond medicine: From delivering goods via drone, cleaning services deploying collaborative robots or monitoring food supplies with connected refrigerators: The super smart society aims to make daily life more efficient.
A DIGITAL POWERHOUSE IS READY
Conditions for realizing Society 5.0 appear ripe: The third-largest economy in the world is already considered a robotics superpower. Japan is currently the number one manufacturer of industrial robots globally and accounts for 52 percent of worldwide demand, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). In 2015, the Japanese government sparked a robotics revolution with a five-year plan. Its goal is to expand on Japan’s lead in robotics, as well as increasingly combine robot technologies with AI and the Internet of Things.
The market for IoT is expanding rapidly and is expected to reach a volume of more than $140 billion in 2018. “Domestic IoT startups are on the rise,” according to an analysis by the German Economy Ministry. However, the Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi still sees room for improvement. Only in August 2018 he urged for more investment in IoT technology. Currently, only 20 percent of Japanese companies are already using the Internet of Things compared to 40 percent in the United States.
SOCIETAL ACCEPTANCE REQUIRED
The government is attempting to drive the country’s digital transformation forward. But what does the population think? The findings from a recent study by the Pew Research Center are ambivalent: Although 74 percent of Japanese believe new technologies will make the economy more efficient, just as many fear it could be harder to find a job when machines take on more and more work.
Japan will still face many challenges on the path to Society 5.0. The Japanese business group Keidanren speaks of “five walls” that must be surmounted – from updating the country’s legal system to risks to cyber security: “What we need is a societal consensus.”
IoT Marketing Communication Manager
Pamela Buchwald has been part of the Telekom cosmos since 2016 and is very familiar with the Internet of Things. From general IoT trends to industry know-how and connected mobility, the blog highlights exciting topics related to connected things.