TOKYO — For a year, unmanned aerial vehicles planted, cultivated, and have recently harvested wheat in a field of one hectare in the UK. They didn’t get any help doing all this.
Around the same time, the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s last book “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” (John Murray, 2018) was published after his death in accordance to his will. In it, Hawking predicts yet again that artificial intelligence (AI) will mean the end of humanity.
Which one of these opposing views will the future prove right? It’s a mystery.
Society 5.0 versus Industry 4.0
Humanity achieved the first, second and third industrial revolutions with the invention of steam engine, electricity, and computer, respectively. It is now experiencing a fourth revolution, dubbed “Industry 4.0”, which is dominated by cyber-physical systems.
As we all have been taught in history lessons, humans were initially hunter-gatherers. Then they evolved and built subsequent societies on agriculture, industry and information. The fifth and most recent evolution of humanity is called “Society 5.0”, also known as ”super smart society”.
Today, 4 billion people in the world are internet users and two out of every three have mobile phones.
From Alaska to Papua New Guinea, people are shopping online, watching their favorite shows in their mother tongues, arranging appointments on the internet for themselves from the doctor, and for their cars from the garage.
Society 5.0 will either live together with Industry 4.0’s new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, big data, learning machines, robots, or they will disappear together in the cyber-physical space.
Toru Nishikawa is the CEO of Preferred Networks, a billion dollar Japanese start-up.
He and his team have unveiled at CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) in October in Tokyo an autonomous robot that cleans and tidies up houses. Armed with the slogan “Robot for All”, Nishikawa argues that machine learning technology is not something to be afraid of:
“The good thing is, you won’t be looking around anymore asking, ‘Where did I put my keys?’ Since the robot will have tied up the place, it remembers what is where,” he jokes.
Does the algorithm say the last word?
As machine learning is used in everything from hiring to sentencing, ethical challenges arise.
As a matter of fact, Amazon quietly shut down a month ago its artificial intelligence algorithm used for job search when it was discovered to be discriminating against women.
After backlash from its employees, Google has recently announced that it ended a Pentagon contract to develop artificial intelligence-driven autonomous weapons systems aimed at remote targets.
In a TED speech several years ago, Zeynep Tüfekçi, a techno-sociologist at the University of North Carolina, predicted about machine intelligence and warned by saying “We should not allocate responsibility entirely on the machines. We need to hold on to human values and ethics more firmly.”
Inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals announced in 2015, the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) will hold B20 Summit in 2019 just before the G20 meeting in Osaka. It is aimed at exploring how to integrate Industry 4.0 into Community 5.0.
Koh Nakajima of Keidanren said, “The balance between data protection and free, unrestricted flow of information across borders should be well protected. While providing privacy, we should look at how business can be developed in digital commerce.”
Yet, digital transformation also means job loss for many menial workers.
2017 data from research firm Gartner revealed that in the future, 57 percent of the connections between 8.4 billion ”objects” speaking to each other inside IoT will be carried out by companies.
Technology companies such as taxi hailing app Uber, which can respond quickly and dynamically to changing customer preferences with a smart business model, are expected to wipe out small and medium enterprises.
What machines can and can not do
Unmanned aerial vehicles and biotechnology, such as the robotic farm in the UK, can be the solution in agriculture and similar sectors for countries like Japan suffering from labor shortage due to this rapidly aging and declining population.
However, cultural barriers and high expectations of Japanese service quality in other sectors such as those based on human relations make it difficult to use robots in those sectors instead of humans.
In an interview with The Economist, Yoko Takeda of Mitsubishi Research Institute, a think tank, says, “Japanese customers, especially the elderly, prefer people to machines”.
There is indeed a severe shortage of domestic care workers in Japan. But even though we see better and more improved prototypes, service robots are not yet able to pick up a patient or the elderly, prepare food for him or talk to him about the previous evening’s baseball game.
Japanese population between the ages of 15-64, which is defined as the working population, is expected to decrease by 40 percent after 50 years, while the “super-aged”, meaning 75 years and older, are expected to reach a quarter of the total population.
Shinzo Abe, who was re-elected Prime Minister in September, announced that Japan would invite 500,000 people by 2025 on a two-stage special visa, allowing permanent residence of qualified foreign workers in fields such as agriculture, accommodation, maintenance and shipbuilding.
However, there are those who think that such a foreign labor law is rushed. And if the robot technology moves at this speed, no one can guarantee that Preferred Networks’ house-tidying robot will not replace your Filipino cleaner on that special new visa.
Symbiotic life of man and artificial intelligence?
Daisuke Okanohara, a co-founder of Preferred Networks, said, “Robots are not perfect. They can’t communicate as well as people. They need more interaction with people”, referring to the importance of communication in the acceptance of new technologies by people.
The are already signs that artificial intelligence will cooperate with human beings to form a “symbiotic super intelligence”.
Parker Harris, one of the founders of American cloud computing company Salesforce.com, gives the example of Kone elevators: “Let’s say your elevator broke down without you noticing. The IoT system immediately connects to the cloud and makes it possible to repair and repair the nearest mobile or fixed Kone repair service,” he says.
Likewise, the tidying-up robot shown in CEATEC understands the voice commands and can react correctly when certain items are placed in certain places.
Recognized as the place where artificial intelligence was invented, the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston announced last month they were setting up a new $1 billion school to study the broader social impact of artificial intelligence.
Experts such as Stanford University professor Ed Feigenbaum and well-known roboticist Rodney Brooks, both members of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, say it2s still a lıng way until machines learn to have a mind of their own.
More than 92% of experts in a short survey answered by AAAI members think that super intelligence will not occur in the foreseeable future like the next 10-25 years. In fact, one of the four experts says the super intelligence will never happen:
“We are competing with the billions of years of evolution of the human brain. We can write single-purpose programs that compete with people, sometimes even passing them. But the real world is not a one-dimensional problem, as opposed to a virtual one,” they said.
Yet, at a time when Google’s DeepMind machine took only 40 days to master the three-thousand-year-old Go game and defeat South Korean Ke Jie, the world’s best Go player 3-0, the question of how far (or near) this future may be is constantly on everyone’s mind.
This future seems to have already arrived at a temple in Yokohama, a town south of Tokyo.
Last year, Pepper, a robot developed by SoftBank in Japan, replaced a priest at a Buddhist temple in Yokohama to conduct a funeral service.
Industry 4.0, it seems, is already embracing humanity from the cradle to the grave.
A longer version of this article was published in BBC Türkçe with the headline “What Should Society 5.0 Expect from Industry 4.0 in the Future?”