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EU Automation takes a closer look at the Japanese vision of Society 5.0. By John Young, APAC director at, EU Automation

From Industry 4.0 to Society 5.0, it is hard to keep pace with the latest buzzwords. This might leave you wondering if many of these slogans are offering new value. 

Here, John Young, APAC director at automation parts supplier EU Automation, demystifies the concept of Society 5.0 and explains how this notion can be an invitation for businesses to think about tech in more imaginative and collaborative ways.

If you are already reading this article, then chances are you have heard of the idea of Industry 4.0? The phrase can be traced to the Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011 where three Germany engineers set out their vision for how the latest smart technologies would fundamentally transform manufacturing.

The notion of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ was further popularised in a 2015 essay for Foreign Affairs by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab. Both ideas are heavily associated with digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart sensors.

Building on these ideas, the Japanese government introduced the idea of Society 5.0 in 2017. This is based on the idea that the world has experienced four distinct civilizational stages: hunter gatherer societies, the agricultural revolution, industrial societies and now the current ‘Information Age’ or Society 4.0.

The next phase, Society 5.0, will be reached by using digital technologies like robotics, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the IoT to solve societal problems in ways that were previously out of reach. 

This concept has been the centrepiece of the Growth Strategy of the Shinzo Abe governments in Japan and it has been embraced by the Business Federation of Japan as the ‘Imagination Society’.

Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0 are sometimes used interchangeably, and a cynic might see the latter as a buzzword that offers little that is new. 

Yet while it may be over-exaggerating to talk about a further revolution, Society 5.0 does encourage us to further broaden our horizons when thinking about technology. It therefore takes us beyond the confines of Industry 4.0 in two distinct ways.

Firstly, Society 5.0 is about making sure the benefits of technology to ordinary people and our everyday lives are not lost in the pursuit of technological advancement for its own sake. In the Japanese context, it is a way of leveraging technology to address societal challenges such as an ageing population and low levels of productivity.

Secondly, Society 5.0 is about solving problems. Furthermore, it is about solving problems that technology has, until very recently, struggled to find answers for. 

For example, gathering vast data is of little use without the correct tools to make sense of it. The transition from 4.0 to 5.0 is therefore marked at the point at which AI allows human beings to take advantage of the vast amounts of data being generated by digital technologies.

 

Smart Sensors

In manufacturing, smart sensors can monitor the condition of factory equipment and upload real-time data to the cloud. This data can then be monitored by AI applications and replacement parts can be ordered from a reliable parts supplier like EU Automation using predictive maintenance.

Implemented properly, this is quicker and more reliable than having a human agent fulfil the same task. This sort of technology is a classic example of what people envision when they talk about Industry 4.0.

Society 5.0 encourages us to direct our focus toward how this technology can help address societal problems. Let us take healthcare as a good example, given the salience of this sector right now.

Modern wearable technologies can be embedded with smart sensors that monitor your vitals. This data can then be relayed in real-time to the cloud. Your health practitioner can now monitor the general wellbeing of patients with chronic conditions digitally, allowing them to react quickly to any warning signs and provide timely advice without necessitating physical contact or traveling to and from a surgery.

 

Drones

Some companies are now experimenting with the use of drones in manufacturing. While this technology has the potential to be an effective addition to the factory floor, it is currently in its early stages of development. 

Right now, the best use of drones in manufacturing is for carrying out visual audits of large areas that require regular checking and monitoring for safety reasons.

Moving away from the factory floor, the impact of drones might be more fundamental. In Australia, both academics and industry are already collaborating to use drone technology to help tackle the threat of bushfires. 

Used effectively, drones can map and predict the size and spread of bushfires much more effectively than existing satellite technology. They are also being used to help discover and monitor and widely loved but endangered species, the Koala bear.

In Singapore, meanwhile, there is talk of using drones to deliver urgent medical supplies to citizens. While in China drones are being used in an agricultural setting to combat labour shortages. 

What these examples show is that an existing technology might currently have limited applications from the perspective of Industry 4.0, but things look quite differently through the lens of Society 5.0.

It is difficult to view Society 5.0 as a revolution that supersedes the fourth industrial revolution, given that both appear to rely on the same set of technologies. However, in the ongoing debate over the role of technology in society, the ‘Imagination Society’ is a welcome stimulus to think about technology and its uses in novel and interesting ways.

 

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