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We are now at the dawn of the fifth stage of human society. This is a big deal.
Like all society stage before it, this one is driven by the emergence of game-changing technologies from the fourth industrial revolution. This time its significant advances in biotech, in artificial intelligence, in quantum computing, in cloud and fog computing, the Internet-of-Things, cyber-physical systems, and nanotech. We are moving from technologies we use a tool to control our environment, toward technology as our environment.
We are talking about a revolution . More than slow progress, we re seeing a cascade of innovations and significant breakthroughs in science and techs. It means a shift powerful enough it profoundly affect all facets of our society. It means about half the job types of today will be replaced by occupations that don’t even exist yet. It means that interfacing human and machines will become commonplace (for medical, augmentation or control reasons). Biotech breakthrough is accelerating, helping us transcend our limits and gain the upper hand of some serious illnesses.
In 2016, Japan has proposed an initiative dubbed Society 5.0 to purposely redesign many elements of their society using the advances of the fourth industrial revolution in order to serve its people better.
This is something important.
Most governments content themselves to react to current problems by offering immediate band-aid solutions to appease their constituents. When a government prefers to artificially sustain a company that has no hope of being competitive and turning a profit ever again to “save jobs”, or when a government issues powerful restrictive measures because it doesn’t really know how to deal with emerging technology, it doesn’t prepare its society for the future. Instead of addressing the real issue and building for the future, and It only creates an illusion of a solution, an illusion of safety. That company will have to close someday, and its employees won’t be better off then. Or those regulations will be worked around in no time by the honest proponents of the emerging technology (the less-than-honest won’t even wait that long).
What Japan is doing is facing what’s coming, and trying to incorporate those changes in their society in a positive way. They are doing it proactively and are working with the creators of those technological advances as well as with futurists to design a better future. Regulations will happen, but to shape rather than block. The approach isn’t perfect yet (as cryptocurrency proponents will attest), but the will is there.
It’s about people
Back in 2011 in Germany a workgroup proposed a plan named Industry 4.0 to address how the manufacturing industry could harness new technologies. The discussions around Industry 4.0 have evolved and spread far beyond Germany since then, helping the transition toward “smart factories” and better value-chain worldwide.
Society 5.0 is built along the same lines: part high-level plan and guidelines, part workspace for discussions. The idea is to find how we can use technology to better the welfare of people and the environment they live in (both living and working environments, as well as THE environment).
With a rapidly aging population, depleting workforce, loss of quality of life, energy and resource sustainability issues, as well as transportation challenges, these concern are very close to home for the Japanese society. Elsewhere some of those issues are less pressing, but not by much, and we still need to address them.
One of the key element is to integrate technology with our environment better so it becomes seamless. Not only this will help remove barriers for large sections of the population (not everyone is tech-savvy), but by making technology more or less invisible, it stops being about the tech itself and can become more about its beneficiaries.
Technology is meant to improve on our abilities and free us from repetitive and lower-value work, to allow us to take care of more important things. It was always the goal, and it has been a reality for entire classes of people. But that technology is imperfect and require plenty of humans to maintain it, analyze its output, and generally create value from it. Now we have reached a point where technology can take care of most of that work for us.
We are not done talking about Society 5.0
The Japanese plan for Society 5.0 gives us an exciting view of how technology can affect our lives for the better in fields such as mobility, healthcare, food, agriculture, manufacturing, energy and disaster prevention. However, it is incomplete as it doesn’t cover employment or concepts such as personal meaning in the new society. I don’t believe it to be an oversight, but rather a space left open for discussion and the initiation of new ideas.
What we need to make sure of, as a society, is that we don’t become irrelevant in the face of that technology. In the long run, we won’t be as we will find new areas where we will excel above machines. But it the short term whole swats of the population are in danger of being caught unprepared by those changes. It happened before, with each industrial revolution. We need to figure out now what we should do to help people find relevance, prosperity and meaning during the changes, rather than loss and despair.
The need for a meaningful existence isn’t just for people who will risk being left behind in this new world, but also for the who will benefit from it the most. Just think about it: let’s say new technology removes the need for you to work, take care of most chores and add 30 years of productivity to your life. Just like a new retiree, you start by enjoying that freedom like a vacation. However, before long comes the big question: “What now?”.
We, humans, need meaning. We talk about happiness a lot, but meaning is far more critical to our well-being and will bring enough happiness for us to be content. Traditionally what we do for a living has given us some meaning, family has provided another part, community another and religion too. The more of these elements you remove, the more depression, feeling of emptiness and solitude emerge. However, as our society changes, we need to either redefine and re-acquired those elements providing meaning, AND find brand new ones to replace those we move away from. Hobbies, travels, money and new experiences can be enriching, but they are not meaning, they are not our “WHY”.
As part of the Society 5.0 discussion, we need to address the subject of meaning and how it can evolve. We need to explore new paths for it, paths that will capitalize on our modern technological paradigm. There is still a place for people to move our world forward, discover new things and make life better. This opportunity is not reserved for an elite few: the world of Society 5.0 increasingly provides more of us with the possibility to engage and become a positive force in our immediate environment, or the whole world.
Being part of the discussion
Most discussions about Industry 4.0 have only involved business and industry professional, but Society 5.0 is entirely different in its nature and should include the voice of futurists, philosophers, historians, tech professionals, social professionals, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, no-collar workers, entrepreneurs and, well, pretty much everyone. It makes sense since we are all going to be affected.
The questions are deceptively simple: “Looking at what’s coming, where do we want to go as a society?”, “How do we find meaning when what we know is replaced by something new?”, “How can we leverage our new technological paradigm to create a better world for all?”, “How can we prepare and help others prepare?”.
In 2017, to find answers to those questions, I founded Hivernité: a small, think tank dedicated to finding ways to help our society become aware, to evolve and adapt to Society 5.0. It is still in its early days, but it has spawned a small ecosystem of projects aimed at educating people and opening their minds to new possibilities. We are discussing meaning, rethinking the workplace, system thinking & ecosystem design, developing human potential and more. It has been a demanding, rocky, but ultimately one of the most satisfying year of my life. I have found my “why”.
You don’t need a think tank to participate in the discussion. Just look around you. What things (work, services, opportunities) might disappear and how can you help replace them by something more adapted to the realities of tomorrow? You don’t even need to know the answers just yet. Start the discussion, and you will be surprised by the potential for positive change that will emerge.
I am a futurist, system thinker and organizational transformation expert, dedicated to easing our transition into Society 5.0. I am available as a speaker through the think tank Hivernité (www.hivernite.ca) as well as a trainer and organizational coach through Moabi Formations (www.moabiformation.com).