Forum Report

“NEC Future Creation Forum”
The 3rd Forum : Review

The 3rd Future Creation Forum was held under the theme, “How the society will be in 2050” based on the various discussions made in the 1st and 2nd Forums.
How will global citizens encountering advancing technologies change the future of society? The key words were ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’. The members actively discussed the potentials of convergence and divergence through globalization.

Group photo of NEC future creation forum members

Planetary Civilization

The Forum commenced with a question to Kevin Kelly – Founding Executive Editor of WIRED magazine who participated via videoconference from San Francisco – on his view of society in 2050.

Portrait of Kevin Kelly

Founding Executive Editor, WIRED magazine

Kevin Kelly

“Society in the next 30 years will become much more diverse. And there will be an increasing variety of lifestyles and ways to make a living. On the other hand, the music that we consume, the books that we read, the things that we study in school will come to a global convergence. The same will go for basic lifelines and the social infrastructure. I think if you were to take a picture of everybody’s kitchen and bathroom in 30 years, they would all – around the world – look very, very similar. Technologically, a global platform connecting billions of people and connecting millions of artificial intelligences will be the basis of the future culture. Everyone will be connected all the time. And so, we should ask ourselves, what could we do in collaboration? What could we produce? What kind of culture will we have when we’re connected all the time with everyone? Collaboration can be for anything, such as for entertainment or for work or for just socializing. And the opportunities are very exciting because we can imagine something like Wikipedia, which was once impossible, but now it works with millions of people around the world collaborating to make an encyclopedia in real time. Then, imagine what we could do with a billion people working together to make something in real time.”

Today, the entire world is connected thanks to the phenomenal expansion of the Internet. We can now be in contact with distant foreign cultures that were beyond our imaginations, and exchange information and things, and interact with people around the world at astounding speeds. Then, what will society be like when artificial intelligence (AI) is connected to the Internet, creating a platform of various devices which cover the entire globe?

“I’m a physicist, and we look at the birth of this new civilization from a ‘physics’ point of view.”, said Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York.

Portrait of Dr. Michio Kaku

Professor of Theoretical Physics, City College of New York.

Dr. Michio Kaku

“When we look in outer space, we look for guidance from civilizations that may be thousands of years more advanced than us. And we physicists rank them into three types of civilizations. A Type I civilization is similar to what Mr. Kelly said, which is a planetary civilization. And the Internet is the beginning of a Type I system. And while many things will expand on a planetary scale, diversification of local cultures will continue to exist. What we’re witnessing today is globalization, which is the birth of a new planetary civilization.”

Kelly adds, “Yes, Professor Kaku is correct in the fact that we are headed towards a Type I civilization. I think a true Type I planetary system is still centuries away, but the movement towards that will happen in the horizon. In 2050, we will begin to already move in that direction. And so, we can begin to exploit this direction already and make the best use to try and exploit the benefits, to minimize the harms, as we design a world that we want to live in that’s going to operate as a global system. How can politics operate at a global level? Questions like this seem almost nonsensical at the moment, but they are increasingly going to become very important in designing the future of society. And I think the technology that we are creating today will have an influence on what those answers are.”

“In terms of planetary civilization, I think society will change when the way we think about things shifts from the current regional levels to a planetary scale. And AI and the Internet will remove the limitations that we have been facing. I think the society that we want to aim for is one that eliminates limitations, and then also eliminates the losses that we have had. For example, to combat poverty, there must be a better way to match up food, energy and commodities with people on a global scale.” remarks, commentator, Chiki Ogiue.

Portrait of Chiki Ogiue


Chiki Ogiue

Imagine a platform that connects the entire world on an unprecedented scale; a society optimized by AI in which everything including computers, people, as well as AI and IoT are connected to the Internet. How much will we be able to foresee in the next 30 years?

Roles of AI and Humans: Which is inefficient?

Bringing attention back to the present-day world, we’re frequently alerted by the media and Internet how AI and robots will take over jobs, leaving humans out of work. However, as AI isn’t perfect at everything, ‘harmonizing’ and ‘coexisting’ with humans will likely be the keys for 2050.

“Let me talk about my job and whether I will be out of a job in the future.” said Kaku. “People are saying that the teaching profession is going be turned upside down by technology because MIT we will have most courses online But almost 90% of the people who enroll from Pakistan and India wanting to become experts in AI from Stanford and MIT drop out. Why? Because they want mentoring, timely guidance, someone to grade their homework assignments; career guidance; someone who will teach their correct career path to fulfil their dreams. And AI is not advanced enough to give you individual human advice, so we will still have teachers in the future. And, people say that computers will put scientists out of business, but as a scientists, I will tell you that we use computers as ‘adding machines’ because that’s what they are good at. They simulate the solutions of the equation, but you have to have a scientist to make the equation. So, we cannot be replaced by a robot.”

“I had a plumber come to our house recently, and I was really surprised because as he was using a computer screen to work on the sink and the toilet.” said Kelly. The screen showed diagrams of the complicated plumbing system.

“So, every occupation is going to be complimentary with technology. And the way that the tasks will separate is that any task that can be measured, or thought or evaluated in terms of efficiency, goes to the robots, and the tasks that humans are really good at are things where we are inefficient. Science, art and innovation are inherently inefficient processes. Because, if you are 100% efficient, and a scientist, you are not going to learn anything. Even in the 30-year horizon, humans will do things that are less efficient, while we are going to work together with machines for the tasks that are more efficient.”

Portrait of Ryojun Shionuma

Chief Priest, Jingenji Temple

Ryojun Shionuma

However, Ryuojun Shionuma – Chief Priest of Jingenji Temple – said “the key to coexistence depends on humans taking the initiative. It is important to acknowledge that humans have to be controlled by humans themselves, and I believe that by around 2050, humans and AI will coexist in harmony. But how can we control AI creatively? I think humans have to be the ones that take the initiative. And if we misuse it, the consequences may be dire. Adding human behaviors, such as praying and the ability to love, into AIs, can only be accomplished by human beings. When you think about efficiency and inefficiency, the training that Buddhist monks engage in is very inefficient because it takes time for the inner self to grow. I heard once that many of the Buddhist statues that exist today are hundreds to more than a thousand years old. However, it is clear that even though they had poor tools compared to what we have today, our ancestors were able to create better, more detailed Buddhist sculptures. How was that possible? Probably due to their inefficiency. So, I think in arts, and even what we try to do in the Buddhist religion and our inner selves, these are things that remains unchanged today.”

Portrait of Yoshiharu Habu

Professional shogi player

Yoshiharu Habu

In response to Shionuma’s remarks, professional shogi player Yoshiharu Habu mentions the need of a group or organization for accepting inefficiencies. “Behind the many fabulous successes are many, many failures. So, rather than eliminating those inefficiencies, inefficiencies must be accepted. Whether nationally, regionally or by companies, I’m not really sure, but I think there should be some form of organization that accepts the opinions of people and societies, that dispute righteous arguments and optimal solutions. Over the course of our very long history, human longevity has never increased so considerably. Take for instance the 100-year lifespan, it’s very difficult for us to imagine living that long. What are we going to do during that whole time? So, maybe, doing something inefficient will be better than something efficient for humans if we are going to live this long.”

Ogiue said, “What we see as inefficient or efficient will change over time, and I think inefficiencies will make society more open-minded. For example, there is a debate on working reforms in Japan on whether men and women both should have maternity leave/childcare leave. We do have this system in place, but men aren’t taking it. That’s because of the tradition we have; we are limited by the past traditions. Men didn’t take it in the past, so they still shouldn’t today. And we have this belief that men are the ones who go out to work, and women should be at home doing house chores. So, what people thought was most efficient is creating the gender discrimination we see today. And now as we know that this idea is prejudice, we now have more nursery schools, day care services and baby sitters. And with Internet services that match the baby sitter with the individual, more women are now able to go to work. So, while we wonder whether things that we thought were inefficient until now were really so, we’ll have technologies that make what was inefficient in the past more efficient.”

Chiaki Hayashi, Representative Director of Loftwork and forum moderator, suggested, “Maybe we need to change our mental approach for efficient versus inefficient. ‘Inefficiency’ should be called ‘creativity’ instead, because efficient work is not creative.”

Kaku, agreed. “Yes, what separates us from animals and even robots is creativity. We humans have a brain that is a neural network, and we don’t simply add numbers, but we learn whole concepts. And we’re creative because we take the world that is, then create the world that could be, and we simulate the future. And that, I think is what separates us from animals and even machines, we constantly live in the future. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you’re obsessed with what you are going to have for breakfast, who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to do. When animals get a little hungry, they go hunting, and if they feel sleepy, it’s time to sleep, and that’s about it for animals. So, I think that we have to look at breaking down the creative instinct.”

Indeed, the word ‘inefficiency’ does seems rather negative, yet the quality of coexistence between AI and humans will most likely improve with robots helping people boost the speed and accuracy of work, and having humans handle creative jobs which can’t be accomplished by robots.

AI and VR: How will it change the way people work?

The discussion next shifted to how people will work in the near future. Will technology really change the way we work? At the beginning of the Forum, Kevin Kelly mentioned that “there will be an increasing variety of lifestyles and ways to make a living”, and that certainly implies to diversity in the way we work.

“If driverless cars become the norm, then the way we spend time will definitely change, because while we are being transported, we’ll be able to use that time more for other productive means, such as working or watching a movie, etc.. And through AI and Virtual Reality (VR), we can transcend time and location, so before, you had to be together in the same space, but today, we can have conferences in different locations. I think in the future, regardless of where that person lives, or whether they’re male, female, or even a child, they can take part in a mission (job), without having to set aside their time to be in a certain place. So, the daily routine of having to go to the office and engaging in our hobbies after work, is likely to change.” said Ogiue.

As an influential advocate and writer on the issues of the socially vulnerable, Chiki Ogiue has high expectations on the "physical and mental liberations through robots and VR", yet, he also indicated that old-fashioned sensitivities may delay social reforms.

Kelly predicted the future of VR in the following way.

“I think VR is one of the technologies that’s on the horizon within 30 years. We tend to think of this as something that is really for gamers, but the more important kind of VR is something called augmented reality or mixed reality where you put on a pair of clear glasses and you see the room that you’re in, but these clear glasses present virtual screens where you can see objects that you are working on and the virtual colleagues you collaborate with. You actually can get work done that normally would require someone sitting face to face with you. I think it is really going to make a difference in how we work and what kinds of work that we do because it can take away the time needed for commuting, so that you only do it a few days a week, or once a month. It can allow us to find other people in the world who think and resonate with us. This technology really allows us to have true collaboration in an emotional way.”

Regarding collaboration, Kaku pointed out, “The canonical size of a tribe for humans is a little over a 100. Any more than 100, the human brain cannot keep track of everybody. Many people predicted that the tourist industry would collapse totally because of teleconferencing and VR, but it didn’t. If you ask people whether they’d want to see their favorite rock band on video or at a live concert, I think most people would want to go to the concert even though the video would have much better quality. We prefer high-feel and high-touch over high-tech because we are descended from hunters and gatherers. We want to feel the hunt with our senses, and bonds cannot be formed when the canonical size exceeds 100 people. So, we humans have to realize that we are really cavemen and cavewomen(*), and that our basic personality hasn’t changed much in 200 thousand years.

*Learn about the “Caveman and cavewoman principle" from the 2nd Forum

Portrait of Yutaka Matsuo

Project Associate Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo

Yutaka Matsuo

On the other hand, Yutaka Matsuo – Project Associate Professor of The University of Tokyo – believes the way we work won’t change so suddenly.

“I think matching work with people through crowd sourcing is functioning well now. But will we be able to sell our capabilities at the best price, and work whenever we want to? It’s probably not that simple. I don’t think belonging to companies will be totally eliminated. As Dr. Kaku’s caveman and cavewoman principle, people want to be in a group when we face an enemy. So, what is this group? Who are your allies? And, who are your enemies? Even if they are just virtual, you have to have them in your mind.”

NEC Chief Technology Officer, Katsumi Emura gave his views on the situations of companies and how they should be evaluated.

“When you look at my company, NEC, the design of the way people work is based on the past when we were a manufacturer. So, we looked for productivity, we looked for people really sweating and working, what kind of problems we are solving, and when the way we work changes, I think the way we assess and evaluate people will also change. I think that the way we will construct our work will change. Also, when we have AI collaborating with humans to improve performance, we’ll have to look at the whole task and depending on the way we allocate the work between the two, it may be that although the person who is right in front of you is not working so hard, it may bring great results. So, based on what we imagine might happen in the future, I think we are now entering a phase where the way companies function and the way we evaluate people have to be redesigned together.

Portrait of Katsumi Emura

Chief Technology Officer, NEC

Katsumi Emura

What kind of future schools will improve children's abilities?

With the 3rd Forum coming to a close, moderator Chiaki Hayashi asked the members one final question: “If you were to establish an elementary school next year, what kind of school would you like to create?” All members agreed that new educational methods are required to improve children’s abilities in the future, and to nurture diversification for the future with respect to the children who will inherit the future of our planet and the future of technology.

Portrait of Chiaki Hayashi

Representative Director, Loftwork Inc.

Chiaki Hayashi

Ogiue: “I think it’s very important to learn positive vision from various role models. I’d like to start a micro-school for children who have difficulties in mainstream schools. They would all get on a microbus from different areas, and go, not to a school building, but instead to different places where they can learn through experiences.”

Shionuma: “I’d like to build my school in the countryside of Japan with very few students. As some children can learn quicker than others, there will be different types of education provided for different people, because our barometer of what happiness is will differ from individual to individual.”

Habu: “Well, I think the elementary schools we have right now probably provide just one type of education. But maybe we can transcend regions and countries by creating a converged education system so children can experience several different types of learning from different countries or different cultures.”

Matsuo: “What I really want the students to learn is how to learn, but there is no methodology. So, in lieu of that, we just try to teach them to acquire the most powerful weapon, and once they go out into the real world, they actually learn for themselves how to succeed and survive. In Japan, the students who like the STEM disciplines are not blessed with schools that will extend their skills. So, I would like to start a school where you just do the sciences, math and computer programming. The school will even teach the reasons behind the liberal arts in a similar approach to maths and sciences.”

Emura: “All children are interested in science and ask their parents, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ But when kids get older, they start to ask more sophisticated questions, and the parents don’t know so instead reply, ‘Go ask your teacher’; but when they ask their teachers, the teachers don’t know either as they didn’t need to study the STEM disciplines for their profession. That needs to be changed. And if creativity is going to be more important in learning, then we need to teach basic skills, of course, but I think half of what needs to be taught should be experience based, like exposing them to wonderful music, multiple experiences, and various deep learnings. That is the elementary school that I would like to be a part of.”

Kelly: “You want to know how you learn best, and to take a child and help them understand how they learn best – because we all learn differently – is a real achievement. I imagine an AI that gives answers very, very accurately and very well. And I imagine a young child at an elementary school spending all day asking “Why? Why?” and that there is an AI that’s giving really good answers. What that will teach the child is that in the future if you want an answer, you ask a machine. So, what you really want to be doing is training children to ask good questions, because the power of questioning and listening are going to be really valuable. Questioning is the most important key to every creation.”

Kaku: “Nobel Prize Winners always say the same thing, ‘When I was 10, something magical happened.’ Curiosities at this age like the expansiveness of the universe and the wonders of the natural world are the driving forces of their creativities. But by the time they are 15, all of a sudden, learning becomes a drudgery. That’s why, I think between 10 and 15, instead of memorizing the parts of a flower, they should learn their evolution; instead of memorizing every element in the periodic chart, they should look at the big picture of why we have metals, and so forth. Because science is taught as memorization, rather than concepts and principles, we lose millions of born scientists between the ages of 15 and beyond.”

Scene photo from 3rd Forum

What aroused from the discussions of the 3rd NEC Future Creation Forum was the question on how to fill the gap between convergence and divergence.

Emura looks back on the 3rd Forum in the following way. “Mr. Kelly said that in the changes in future society, we will see divergence as well as convergence within globalization, and I think we have to keep that trend in our minds. Then, we have to be aware of the gap that we have between that and now. And then, what will we do? What will individual people do? What will society do? We haven’t talked about this today, but the UN has adopted the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for the global issues, that tell us what we need to do. And, we haven’t talked about that either, but I think this is a major point to consider. What problems can be solved by focusing on the SDGs? For example, where do we divide the roles for AI, robotics, and humans? I believe we should really deepen this discussion, but it seems AI should focus on the efficiency area, and the humans should focus on the creativity area. I think that’s the basic image that we have. And, based on that thought, how should companies establish themselves? How should societies be designed so that humans can really exert their creativity? I think we see this link there as we look toward 2050. So, this is something that should be discussed in the 4th Forum.”

Portrait of Katsumi Emura