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Future of Infrastructure 2020

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R A C O N T E U R . N E T 03 future-infrastructure-2020 volution of human society can be split into five phases, at least according to the gov- ernment of Japan. First, we started out as hunter-gatherers. Then we learnt to till the land and agricul- ture ensued. The third step was the Industrial Revolution. Fourth, came the internet age. Japan's Society 5.0 is the next step forward. In Society 5.0, social problems are solved by fully integrating dig- ital technology into the physical world. Carbon emissions are cut by driverless vehicles choosing the shortest route home. Robots take care of the elderly, using body sen- sors to f lag up if additional human help is needed. Artificial intelli- gence (AI) will sift your online his- tory and health records to build you the perfect itinerary for a city break, for example, tailored just so to your tastes and abilities, and the weather forecast. Society 5.0 is one of the key ten- ets of Abenomics, Japan's prime minister Shinzō Abe's suite of fis- cal policies. The plans are aimed to power economic grow th in a country that is struggling with an ageing population, a falling birth rate and poor rural infrastructure, which is leading to high regional inequalities. In other words, Japan has people problems, which it is hoping to solve with big data. "Society 5.0 will achieve a for - ward-looking society that breaks down the existing sense of stag- nation, a society whose members have mutual respect for each other, transcending the generations, and a society in which each and every person can lead an active and enjoyable life," according to the Japanese government. These are lofty aspirations, so how will Society 5.0 play out in real life? Dr Yoshikatsu Shinozawa, an academic at SOAS University of London, specialising in Japanese business and finance, says the Japanese public aren't that aware of Society 5.0, let alone supporters of it. "If you asked, say, ten Japanese people whether they know of the concept, more than half would say they have never heard of it," he says. "A big reason for this is there are no physical achievements related to Society 5.0 yet." In a country wanting tangible improvements to its physical infra - structure, Society 5.0 relies on things that can't be seen, like data- bases and machine-learning. For example, poor public trans- port in rural Japan is a major chal- lenge. The government believes this has led to underpopulation and a flight to other countries by young would-be workers. Under Society 5.0, driverless buses and taxis would bring rural dwellers cheap, easy access to cities and jobs. Japan's decades-long labour shortage is a huge stumbling block for the construction and engineer - ing sectors, too, and has led to a backlog of much-need infrastruc- ture improvements. In Society 5.0, this would be solved by using sensors, AI and robots instead of humans to inspect and maintain roads, bridges, tunnels and dams. Using AI and driverless vehicles to eke out the life of ageing roads, bridges and tunnels is a hard sell in a country where citizens face an esti- mated $5-trillion bill for upgrades to infrastructure ravaged by over- use and typhoons. Providing new roads, buses and bridges in remote regions is likely to be a more wel- come proposition than the promise of robot-led repairs to crumbling existing infrastructure. Building up Society 5.0's digital infrastructure will also require citizens to hand over personal information. Japan's populace has been wary of giving such details to the state. A digital identity programme called My Number, similar to the UK's national insur - ance number scheme, assigns citi- zens a 12-digit ID number and ena- bles them to access social security benefits and ta xation information. It launched in 2016, but after a year only a third of the population had joined the scheme. This year a series of lawsuits have been lodged against the government by citizens, who claim the scheme is unconstitutional. They believe the state is unfairly exposing them to the risk of data hacks and harvest - ing of their personal information by third parties. The government con- tinues to back the system. Shinozawa says integrating data, AI and robots deeply into every- day life may in fact drive members of society further away from each other, not closer together. For example, one of the core aims of Society 5.0 is to alleviate the huge amount of care needed for Japan's ageing population, by replacing human care with robotics. To illus- trate the risks, he offers me a hypo- thetical choice between a cheap plate of sushi from a conveyor belt or sushi handmade to order by an experienced chef. Unsurprisingly, I choose the handmade option. "If you can afford it, of course you would prefer sushi made by a mas- ter, to eating off a conveyor belt," he says. "But if you need to save some money, you go to the con- veyor belt. "Now imagine robotic services become available for nursing homes. Which would you prefer? Someone who can afford it can still enjoy labour-intensive human care. On the other hand, if they can't afford it, it's automatic, conveyor belt-type services by robots. These are the issues we have to think about. It's kind of a dystopia." Of course, citizens split into silos, with people separated by those who can afford human services and those who cannot, is the opposite of Japan's hopes to create a humane, highly interconnected society. A promotional YouTube video released in Japan by the prime minister's office promises Society 5.0 will transform big data "into new wisdom… helping us enjoy more fulfilling lives". The goal, the Japanese govern - ment stresses, "is a society centred on each and every person, and not a future controlled and monitored by AI and robots". But blending Japan's digital and physical worlds looks set to be a delicate, and diffi- cult, balancing act. Society 5.0: Japan's lofty plans face hurdles FUTURE OF INFRASTRUCTURE @raconteur /raconteur.net @raconteur_london Japan's ambition to create a more efficient, integrated society with a thriving economy may be difficult to achieve in a country that is crying out for huge investments in physical infrastructure Oliver Balch Journalist specialising in sustainability, business and travel, he is the author of travelogues on South America, India and Wales. Ian Fraser Financial journalist and author of Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain, he was business editor at The Sunday Times Scotland. Olivia Gagan Journalist writing about energy, sustainability and culture for titles including The Times, The New York Times and Time Out London. Mark Hillsdon Journalist covering topics such as sustainability, wildlife, health and sport, he contributes to titles such as The Guardian and BBC Countryfile. Jim McClelland Sustainable futurist, speaker and writer, his specialisms include built environment, corporate social responsibility and ecosystem services. Heidi Vella Energy and technology writer, she writes for several consumer and specialist magazines, including E&T Magazine and Global Data. Distributed in Olivia Gagan Published in association with Contributors Although this publication is funded through advertising and sponsorship, all editorial is without bias and sponsored features are clearly labelled. For an upcoming schedule, partnership inquiries or feedback, please call +44 (0)20 3877 3800 or email info@raconteur.net Raconteur is a leading publisher of special-interest content and research. Its publications and articles cover a wide range of topics, including business, finance, sustainability, healthcare, lifestyle and technology. Raconteur special reports are published exclusively in The Times and The Sunday Times as well as online at raconteur.net The information contained in this publication has been obtained from sources the Proprietors believe to be correct. However, no legal liability can be accepted for any errors. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior consent of the Publisher. © Raconteur Media raconteur.net Liam Burnett-Blue/Unsplash E 39% 23% Ipsos Mori/GIIA say the countr y is not doing enough to meet its infrastructure needs of Japanese adults say they are fair y or ver y satisfied with their national infrastructure in general 48% rate digital infrastructure (such as high speed broadband, full fibre networks and 5G) as fairly or very good Publishing manager Hannah Smallman Deputy editor Francesca Cassidy Head of production Justyna O'Connell Design Joanna Bird Sara Gelfgren Kellie Jerrard Harry Lewis-Irlam Celina Lucey Colm McDermott Samuele Motta Jack Woolrich Head of design Tim Whitlock Associate editor Peter Archer Managing editor Benjamin Chiou Digital content executive Taryn Brickner J A P A N Promoting Private Investment in Infrastructure

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