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Messages from Keidanren Executives October, 2017 In the Era of a Great Once-in-a-Century Transformation

Naoki IZUMIYA Vice Chair of the Board of Councillors, Keidanren
Chairman and Representative Director, CEO, Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd.

Looking back at modern history, we can see that the world has gone through great, once-in-a-century transformations. These transformations encompassed developments such as mechanization, engendered by the invention of steam engines in the second half of the 18th century; the emergence of mass production, owing to the invention of the internal combustion engine in the latter 19th century; and the shift to computerization, arising from the invention of information technology devices in the latter 20th century. These developments have caused great changes in both the industrial and social structure.

The Luddite movement of 19th century Britain represented an explosion of anxiety among laborers about the loss of manual labor jobs that had once been available. However, that loss was linked to the subsequent formation of the middle class, which arose due to improved productivity and returns on profit. There has been talk in recent years of a neo-Luddite movement. This movement argues that technological development is leading to a decrease in job opportunities, and so perhaps we should hold excessive technological innovation in check.

However, with respect to science and technology we are now in an era where—thanks to the development of both information and communications technology and genetic engineering technology—machines are inventing machines and science has stepped into human life and death itself. There is talk that we will reach so-called singularity in the 21st century, a point at which artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Under that condition, human beings will have to give serious thought to how they are going to live.

We have long been faced with the problems of inequality and poverty. British economist Richard Layard has offered seven factors affecting human happiness: family relationships, financial situation, work, community and friends, health, personal freedom, and personal values.

Even though supply may grow due to changes in the industrial structure, the economy cannot develop further if demand is not generated. Change is accompanied by innovation and disruption. These should be thought of not as antagonistic developments that require choosing one or the other, but rather as developments that can be concomitant. I believe it vital that we build a national consensus on the kind of society we should aim for with this broad perspective in mind.

"Society 5.0" should be one that seeks to create a new model for our nation's growth that squarely faces up to the mid- to long-term reality, imagining a totally optimized situation. I think it will be crucial for the government to consistently implement the Japan Revitalization Strategy that incorporates this, to clear away the anxieties that most Japanese have about the future, and to transform Japanese society into one brimming with anticipation of creating a better tomorrow.