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Japan’s vision of the future: supersmart society

Teppo Turkki peers into the Japanese future.


Teppo Turkki


In Japan’s vision of the future, people-centred bias and structural changes in society are strongly represented, writes Teppo Turkki in our Weekly Notes blog. In the middle of March, I took part in NISTEP’s seventh conference of the future in Tokyo. NISTEP, The National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, is Japan’s most important foresight and research institute. It has been in operation already for nearly 30 years as Japan’s most important institute of the future, monitoring and anticipating the strategic challenges of the future. The interesting characteristic of NISTEP is that its activities cross the boundaries of ministries, industry, companies and society. The core of NISTEP consists of research on science and technology and of preparation for future scenarios and policy recommendations. In NISTEP’s latest 10th science and technology report, people-centred bias and structural changes in society are strongly represented in the vision of the future. Future Japan will undergo a radical change and open up in relation to the globalisation that is under way. Over the coming years, Japanese society will be permeated by increasing digital communication and interaction of various networks. Japan’s vision of the future talks about a “supersmart society”, which wants to make Japan the most innovation-oriented country in the world. In that supersmart society, the use of information technology will have spread as widely as is possible: at the same time as artificial intelligence solutions and robotics are increasing Japan’s productivity and its products’ international competitiveness, the latest technology is used especially in care services, medical care and well-being services, smart traffic and financial services. “Supersmartness” also means that Japan is preparing to meet numerous and simultaneous socio-economic crises and changes. The government of Japan decided a month ago to invest, over the next five years, one per cent of the country’s huge gross national product (203 billion euros) to ready itself for these things and for future research, science and technology. The Nomura Research Institute and Oxford University’s Martin Programme on Technology and Employment estimated in a study published at the end of last year that more than half of Japan’s current jobs will be taken over by artificial intelligence and robots within the next 10 to 20 years. The study modelled 601 different jobs carried out by Japan’s current 43 million employees. A computer simulation used in the study calculated that in the future 66 per cent of the current jobs could be performed with the help of artificial intelligence and robotics. In other words, 49 per cent of Japan’s workers can be replaced by smart technology. The work concerned is mainly ordinary work or requires less training. It includes administrative work, transport jobs, work in banking and financial areas as well as cleaning and hotel work.

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