“NEC Future Creation Forum”
The 2nd Forum : Review
Everything from economic structures to the human brains will change with digitalization
What situations will arise when we boost the resolution of our insights on the future envisioned at the 1st Forum? We asked the members to create flip boards on how they predict human beings will be and what events may happen in 2050.
How far will technology evolve by 2050?
The members discussed scientific progress through AI and the greater diffusion of robots. Moreover, they believe that digitalization will evolve into the whole of society, and its influence will not only change the way we communicate, but also transform the economic structure, and even the human brain, body and behavior.
At the 2nd Forum, open discussions were made in which everyone voiced their opinions based on their flip boards. They explored how the future will be shaped by digging deeper into themes such as perfect capitalism, Brain Net, etc.
Perfect capitalism and its effects to industries
Capitalism will change through digital intervention
Changes to the economy and industries as a result of digitalization were cited. In regards to economic activities, Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics, explained in detail that ‘perfect capitalism’ will become the new stage in capitalism as he pointed out at the 1st Forum.
“Perfect capitalism is the ideal balance of supply and demand; in other words, the elimination of friction in capitalism. Successful companies today have adopted a system that allows consumers to purchase products from them directly by eliminating the middleman; the results are higher quality at lower prices.”
Kaku further went on to say that cases of such perfect capitalism are expected to rise in the future, and they are not only limited to products, but will include intellectual industries which involve knowledge and intelligence. Surely, we can agree when we consider iTunes as a model. And, direct exchanges between producers and consumers without the need of a middleman will continue to grow in the future. Perfect capitalism has in fact already begun.
Will people become redundant as digitalization evolves?
Though even today, jobs of many people in the world have already been replaced by machines and robots, there are concerns on whether human beings will become increasingly redundant if technology progresses ever further. In fact, according to media forecasts based on Moore's Law, AI is expected to supersede human intelligence by 2045. However, intellectual capital will exceed commodity capital under perfect capitalism.
In regards to this concern, Kaku predicts, “commodity capital, such as dangerous jobs and simple jobs, is what robots will specialize in. However, robots are incompetent in terms of intellectual capital. In other words, handling jobs which require talent and experience such as creativity and management will be difficult for robots. Therefore, human jobs will be in the fields of intellect rather than commodity in the future.”
By understanding our strengths and weaknesses, people can shift to fields they are more skilled at. Maybe the idea of the way people work is changing rather than having one’s position being replaced or being driven out of a job. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once stated, “England derives more revenue from rock ’n’ roll than it does from the coal mining industry.” In other words, even as the times change and digitalization progresses, human capabilities will still be unmatched in many ways.
A robot that bridges social disparities?!
There was also a view that diffusion of information and knowledge through the Internet, although democratic, also cause the spread of social disparities. Professional shogi player, Yoshiharu Habu said, “I believe that investment is the basic cause of the widening of disparities but on the other hand, consumption or spending tends to bridge it. What investment does in the end is create huge economic gaps. That’s why we must do the opposite by increasing spending. As spending often runs in parallel with wealth, increasing spending will be crucial for bridging disparities.”
Although people are more likely to focus their attention on investing, Habu comes up with the following unique idea; “We must increase spending. I agree that refraining from spending due to factors such as an unstable and uncertain future is natural. But with the presence of AI and robots, now should be the time to discuss the possibilities of bridging disparities with AI or a program for that purpose. Like a robot that continually spends money, for example. If it were a person always spending money, his or her family will be outraged, saying ‘what the heck are you doing?’ But AI and robots can spend more and more money merely for the purpose of bridging disparities and minimizing poverty. I personally believe that in the end, the macro approach of gradually eliminating disparities will be a practice.”
Robots and AI saving the world, by spending money... Wouldn't it be interesting to see how they spend the money when such a future arrives?!
Changes even to the food industry?!
Yutaka Matsuo of The University of Tokyo mentions there will also be changes to ‘food’ which is directly linked to human instincts. “There may one day be a global platform for food in which we will be able to eat anything delicious wherever we may be through the diffusion of cooking robots and cooking devices”. A cooking robot for every home? Does Matsuo envision something like a private chef? Or a machine for housewives to leverage? Matsuo predicts that “Delicious food for us to enjoy will be linked to high quality agriculture and logistics, healthcare, etc. and will evolve continuously.” We will be able to consistently enjoy delicious high-quality food anywhere. And if this becomes a reality, it will be great news for everyone, particularly housewives.
Human qualities / Humans & AI
Caveman and Cavewoman Principle
Should humans remain the way we are even as technology progresses? Kaku explained his theory in the following way; “We tried to make the office paperless, but it’s not. Paper has not disappeared. Why? Because humans haven’t changed since the hunting and fishing period over 200 thousand years ago. We don't want to hear stories about hunting, but instead we want to know what kinds of animals were hunted as prey, and we want to see the evidence with our own eyes, which is on paper. We want to see solid evidence that the prey was caught with our own eyes. This is what I call the Caveman and Cavewoman Principle.”
There are similar cases to this. For example, if you have a choice of seeing your favorite musician either in high-definition video format or live at a concert, most people will choose the latter. The video has outstanding image quality, with close-ups and includes bonus footages such as interviews. On the other hand, at the concert, you can only get a tiny glimpse of the musician because your seat is way too far from the stage, yet, the reason that more of us choose the live concert may be due to our human nature. “In this case, however, further progress in technology may allow us to finally overcome the Caveman and Cavewoman Principle” said Matsuo. “The level of technologies such as virtual reality, may one day become so true to life, we’ll be fully content with it.”
Seeing emotions by digitizing the brain?!
The members also discussed how the brain is structured and made a general clarification of its operating principles, which is believed to lead to the next level of the Internet by 2050. Kaku’s Brain Net is one example. With Brain Net, he claims that “People will be able to send emotions like telepathy. People may be able to retrieve their lost memories and emotions by uploading their brain’s memory.”
Do you think stories like this is just science fiction and beyond reality? NEC's Katsumi Emura, CTO, warned that “We must think of technological progress and the issue of developing human abilities as a set.” If something similar to Brain Net is possible in the future, the members agreed that the humans will need to maintain a development program with the ability to master this technology.
Super powers within human beings
Ryojun Shionuma, a priest of Jigenji Temple talked about his precious experience which can be considered an extreme in human wisdom. “I have once undergone the traditional discipline of not drinking, eating, sleeping or lying down for nine days. During those days, I have had the most fascinating experience. When I overcame the harsh circumstances during those days, one day I suddenly began to understand what my visitors wanted to say. During the discipline, I could answer the questions of the many visitors before the questions were asked. Therefore, I believe that human beings are primarily equipped with various powers within ourselves. I agree that the progress of AI and computers is important, but we must also respect each other’s physical abilities which are inherent within human beings as well.”
Habu, who agrees, follows up with his own experience. “I once met an old lady in a small village called Tono in Iwate prefecture (northern part of Japan) who told me an old story. She spoke with an ancient northeastern dialect, so I could only understand 30 to 40 percent of what she said, but for some reason, I was able to fully grasp the details. That’s because I was able to feel the power of the warmth and kindness within her.”
Habu continued that “Words are not used merely for the sake of conveying their meanings, but have something special inside them that goes above and beyond their literal meanings that we must appreciate.” And a technology such as Brain Net may one day help us smoothen communications.
In response to Habu, Emura mentioned “When NEC declared Computers and Communications (C&C) back in 1977, Koji Kobayashi, our Chairman at the time, wanted to realize a society in which people from around the world could freely and smoothly communicate with one another. The idea at the time was to create an automatic translation machine. But from there, discussions heated further to topics on what new innovations can be created through advances in technology to a point where we wondered what we wanted to create in the beginning. I think what Mr. Habu just mentioned basically asks the question on ‘what is rich communications between people?’ And our ultimate goal is to create a better society by answering and fulfilling this. Although we are becoming more and more dependent on digital technology, we must still consider how we people should live as human beings and how human beings should coexist with technology to live happily. I believe that the creation of a human reversion society will also be an issue in the future.”
In addition, although people tend to focus only on the progress of technology, we must also expand our human abilities to live more humanly and happily, rather than rely merely on robots and AI. Thus, realizing a world in which humans can harmonize and coexist with technology may be what’s desired in the future.
Human beings and communications
Sending emotions and memories?
How will our lives change when technology enables us to send emotions and memories? Kaku predicts a major transformation in entertainment and amusement. “Movies haven’t changed for the past 80 years, and neither has TV for 50 years. Basically, a screen with a picture and sound. In the future, we will have movies and television with emotions, feelings, memories, and this is going to replace all forms of previous entertainment”
Sending and receiving emotions and memories with Brain Net
What is it like to actually receive emotions and memories? Is a special device or equipment required? Or will it require professional skills? Unfortunately, the answers still exceed our imaginations. Also, aren’t we already receiving emotions through movies and dramas today, as we can empathize with the actors by laughing and crying? “That’s just the actors communicating to us by releasing and expressing their emotions. But, they aren’t really sending emotions. However, one day in the future we will be able to receive real emotions”, says Kaku.
The details of Brain Net which will enable us to send emotions and memories are still uncertain, but, just as being able to instantly receive messages and data from far-distant countries – once inconceivable –, there may come a day when we won’t have any doubts about receiving emotions. Although this may be fine for those sending the entertainment, wouldn’t there be confusion for the people on the receiving end?
Wouldn’t there be misunderstandings when sending/receiving emotions and memories?!
Chiaki Hayashi of Loftwork, remarks, “As we can convey our emotions such as “Thank you” and “I’m happy” in emails and social networking, it seems like there’s a way of sending real emotions; however, as I believe an emotion is something created based on experiences by the sender and receiver, wouldn’t it be difficult to share the exact same emotions unless we share the same experiences?”
Matsuo, in agreement, follows up, “I agree a technology for transmitting one’s emotions is fascinating, but I think people are still more likely to hide their emotions. Like, not expressing your dislikes with facial expressions. And I think doing so is also a necessity in human society…”
Shionuma, who also agrees, remarks, “I agree with Ms. Hayashi on the need to share the same experiences with people you encounter to understand everything. For example, even if a person conveys 100 percent of his or her emotions, the amount of empathy the listener has may only be around 50 percent because the level of experience shared with the sender is low. Therefore, I think experience is in fact very crucial.”
In regards to hiding one’s emotions, commentator Chiki Ogiue adds, “We see this everyday with people using their smartphones on the trains and buses. Even if a person is sending a message full of emotion saying, ‘Thank you for such a wonderful time. I love you.’, that person’s face is rather expressionless. Sometimes, people who want to exchange an overflow of emotions may not want others around them to know. If there are channels for rich emotions, then there are also channels for poor emotions, and we should accept such behaviors as having a wider range of choices.”
Progress should not be limited to technology alone
Hayashi asked the following question, “Mr. Shionuma wrote ‘Spring’ as his keyword in his flip board. To the Japanese, spring reminds us of a very splendid season because it comes after the hot summer, cool autumn and cold winter. But when we share consciousness or emotions of some kind, as we basically want to avoid physically and mentally painful emotions, is it possible to only share the bright emotions and wisdoms of Yang of Yin & Yang, like receiving only the good emotions that will make us smarter?”
She continued, “When all the information which gives us ill feelings and moods can be instantly switched off, wouldn’t there in fact be something meaningful hidden in that off mode?”
Ogiue replies, “Regarding your point, I believe their distribution will change. Yin & Yang existed in every era, but the allocation fluctuates from time to time.
Even as times change, it seems we still won’t be able to obtain only what we want. But how much distribution of Yin & Yang is needed to create a good balance? This answer may one day reveal itself on its own as technology progresses.
However, we can agree that people must make an effort to accumulate more experiences and understand pain to accept new technologies. Human beings must also strive harder to properly communicate what they really want to convey and properly receive the information they want. And they must utilize technology to do so. Thus, humans and technology must evolve together, rather than one progressing ahead of the other.
Social design, social ethics
The topic then shifted from the ideal ways of future communications to social norms. New rules will be necessary when people and technologies change. We must consider issues, such as risks involved when we use technology for receiving emotions and memories, including demerits and potential dangers when misused intendedly by others.
“The engineer’s must have ethical values” said Ogiue. “How and which technology should be controlled will definitely depend greatly on the engineer’s ethics and thinking. By sharing certain concepts, we can ask fundamental questions on the ideal principles of its design and make modifications. Take social networking for example. Getting people to be more and more connected has given us the advantage of accelerating communications, as connecting everything is one of the missions of the Web, and some believe that this is precisely one of the spirits of cyberspace. However, recently there seem to be questions coming from all directions on how to control confrontations and “discommunications”, or miscommunication, caused through overload of connections.”
Ethics and shared concepts required by engineers
Ogiue said, “For example, the creation of the concept ‘hate speech’ will create a reporting function against it. A technology which will ask users trying to post a hate message to think twice about posting it, will be created. This will increase the hesitation to post hate messages and will help deter hate speech diffusion. This kind of technology will still ensure the user the freedom of posting whatever he or she wants, as there is no censorship function.
Ogiue proposes, “That’s why engineers must be more conscious of designs that ‘question the user’s own ethics’ and ‘provide the user awareness’ rather than unilaterally controlling speech.”
Matsuo agrees adding, “As technology evolves, I believe that new controls and technologies that promote honest actions by providing incentives to users will also progress, just like what many Internet companies are doing today. But I doubt if existing laws and constitutions comply with them.”
Legislations are still primitive
Matsuo believes the current legislations are still primitive. “Although the same can be said for just about everything, quite a lot of laws and standards today are very outdated due to reasons such as not being able to detect violations with the existing technologies, and even if detected there are no means for catching the violator. Therefore, more refined laws and standards must be implemented. Take speeding violations for example. The issue of speeding is not about the speed of the car, but about the risk of causing an accident, isn’t it? So, what really should be measured are the potentials and levels of danger, however as there was no technology to measure danger in the past, there was no choice but to measure only the vehicle speed. In other words, a concept that raises the abstraction to a slightly higher level than speed must be introduced. I believe such things will be required in the future.”
Indeed, when a new technology is introduced to the world, it should be provided together with a law or rule. This is the same principle as developing a poison together with its antidote. However, in any case, laws and standards are often conceived after an incident occurs. Therefore, our obligation may be to prepare corresponding laws at the same rate as the progress of technology.
In closing, Hayashi expressed her impression of the 2nd Forum in the following way. “I believe there are two types of technologies based on our discussions today. A technology which boosts efficiency by eliminating wastefulness; and separately, a technology that brings happiness to people or for the sake of peace. And I believe both are required.” The search for the ideal balance between the two may be what identifies us as human beings living today.
Through the wide range of opinions by each member, this 2nd Forum has led us to agree that technology cannot exist without people and they must evolve together at the same rate. At the next Forum, the members will delve deeper into topics such as relationship between human beings and AI, technology and economy, and future communications and ethics. Please stay tuned.
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